Rethinking Early Learning and Development Standards in the Ugandan Context

Article excerpt


Early childhood development (ECD), either as a process, program, or service provided to young children from birth to 8 years of age, has always existed in Africa, although not in the form that is recognized as ECD today. Reports describe novel African child-rearing and care practices that have nurtured children to a level where they have been able to outcompete their counterparts in other parts of the world (Harkness, Super, Barry, Zeitlin, & Long, 2009). Most of these child-rearing practices and their implications for children have either not been documented or have been refused dissemination by international publishing houses that may consider them as unusual, with no Euro-American worldview (Arnett, 2008; Pence & Marfo, 2008). In the end, African communities are always expected to continue learning "best practices" in the field of ECD from the West, even if they have better experiences.

As ECD professionals and practitioners begin celebrating the dawn of a new era for ECD, which started in 1989 with ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the launch of Education for All (EFA) in 1990, and a series of other conferences and publications, ECD in Africa continues along an uncertain path. Concerns that the African child is being tailored to be a "global child," alongside other homogenizing and dominating projections, such as early learning and development standards (ELDS), have increased (Pence & Nsamenang, 2008). African communities need to be assured that global standards and global indicators will not further homogenize nations and thereby risk devaluation of traditional African practices (Kagan, Britto, & Engle, 2005)

History of Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS)

Early learning standards, also known as "early learning guidelines," are documents that outline expectations for what preschool-age children should know or be able to do (Scott-Little, Lesko, Martdla, & Milbum, 2007). In the United States, ELDS development began in the 21st century, partly as a need to design standards separate from those for children in the early elementary years that are based on "research about the processes, sequences, and long-term consequences of early learning and development" (National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 2009 & National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education [NAECS/SDE], 2002). Initial early learning standards primarily focused on literacy and math (Katz, Inan, Tyson, Dixson, & Kang, 2010). Later, the focus kept changing as need arose to include physical and motor development, social and emotional development, approaches toward learning, language development, cognition, and general knowledge (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2005).

By 2007, 49 U.S. states had developed early learning and development standards, although not all of them were comprehensive (Scott-Little et al., 2007). Increased interest came partly as a result of the Good Start, Grow Start initiative launched by President Bush in 2002. This federal initiative, designed to improve the quality of early care and education programs and promote children's success in school, required states to develop voluntary early learning guidelines to address children's language and literacy skills (Scott-Little et al., 2007). Many state standards focus on superficial learning objectives, at times underestimating young children's competence and at other times requiring understandings and tasks that young children cannot really grasp until they are older (Neuman, Roskos, Vukelich, & Clements, 2003). Some of them, however, have shelved their ELDS in classrooms and state departments of education and social services, except for a few states like Connecticut (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2003).

Despite the throwaway mentality, efforts have been undertaken to share these standards with other parts of the world. …