Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector financing, investment, and budgeting: Where do stakeholders go wrong?

June 28, 2022

Education stakeholders should address the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector financing gaps to set an excellent foundation for children. Although they have continuously made commitments to push for policy implementations and budgetary allocations for the sector, minimal action has followed. They committed similar during Kenya’s bi-annual 2022 Uthabiti national policy conference on Early Childhood Care Education and Development (ECCED).

What roadblocks could the stakeholders and policymakers be facing?

The desire of every parent is for their child to be in good health, enjoy adequate nutrition, have access to opportunities for learning, receive responsive care, and grow in a safe and secure environment. However, many families may not realize this `because of poor funding at the most critical stage of human life.

The key sectors which children rely on for their well-being are education, health, gender, agriculture, water and sanitation, and social protection. While each of these sectors receives annual budgetary allocations, the ECD budget merged with that of primary education. It then becomes difficult to differentiate between what is budgeted for primary education and what is budgeted for the ECD sector.

The budgetary allocation to the sector needs to be pushed to at least 10 % of the total allocated to education which will tremendously reduce disparities in school infrastructure, the number of teachers, desks, class size, and teaching materials across the country. In the 2021/2022 financial year, the national budgetary allocation to sectors promoting quality childcare was KES. 406 billion, a meager 11% of the total budget. Of this, the education sector was allocated KES. 2.9 billion shillings.

Though this is substantial, it is still inadequate as 33 % of education funding is covered by Kenyan households. While the government provides financial relief to cushion some households from socio-economic shocks, the government should expand the program to provide coverage to at least 1.5 million school-going children.

The Ministry of Health is another critical sector, and it was allocated 121 billion shillings which were inadequate because, from a health sector perspective, there was a deficit of 38 %. This allocation may compromise the services because the funding is not enough. Kenya has made several commitments, such as the Abuja declaration, through which the government has committed to spending 15 % of its national budget on health. However, the Treasury’s allocations to the health departments to promote quality childcare (Curative and rehabilitative health; Preventive and promotive health) has a deficit of KES. 4.53 billion of the requested KES. 29.73 billion.

The agriculture sector is critical since it holds the key drivers of food security, poverty reduction, and the eradication malnutrition in children. The sector was allocated 71.7 % of the total government spending, the highest allocation being channeled towards increased productivity. The Ministry of Water and Sanitation received 2.1 % of the total budget. Social protection was allocated 1 % of the total budget. The State Department of Gender was given 0.1 % of the total budget.

It is the mandate of the national government to conduct specialized implementation in areas such as curriculum development through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. Some counties have taken this responsibility from the National government and developed their own ECD curriculum, which is highly recommended.

The reason why most children can’t access ECD centers is that some counties don’t guarantee this. However, most counties have made tremendous efforts to improve the sector by constructing classrooms, providing micronutrient supplements, deworming drugs and vitamin A, employing more teachers, and paying water and electricity bills. Much needs to be done to improve the service provided in the sector. Over the past three years, funding allocations to health and education departments have increased, but this was not reflected in the ECD sector. An ideal example is Busia County, which did not have any budgetary allocation for the nurturing care framework components in its 2021/2022 budget.

Emphasis on legislation and policy framework contributes to the argument that ECD issues fall under so many legislations or laws in the country. Could that be the reason why the sector is poorly financed?

Different legal provisions are in place to support ECD services, for example, the children’s Act of 2021, which provides for policies on ECD under the Kenyan constitution. This Act is a legal instrument that protects not only children but also advocates for them. The second Act, the Childcare Facility Act 2017, passed by the Nairobi City County Assembly, provides a checklist for the registration of ECD institutions. The list includes; the procedure for registration, registration fee, minimum acreage for an ECD center compound, Outdoor play space, feeding program, the standard size of an ECD classroom, etc. The primary concern is how to operationalize the acts to make them relevant. Who is going to fund that? When and how will the ECD act of 2021 be implemented? These questions remain unanswered, but maybe the solution to the funding gaps lies in their interrogation and ultimate answers.