Afghan Children Missing their Foundational Years of Education
In Afghanistan, children are enrolled in schools at the age of 7 in urban, and at age 8-10 in rural areas. The delayed enrollment deprives children from the foundational years of early childhood education and development. Research shows that early childhood education plays a profound role in the personal, physical, emotional, social, cognitive and linguistic development of the children.
Thus, for Afghanistan to breed a well-educated generation, the government, foreign aids, NGOs, civil society, and parents should focus on investing in the early childhood education and development programs.
Early year’s education and development is very significant because what happens in childhood shapes the personality and later life-style of the child. The basic brain architecture is constructed in the early years and its capacity for change decreases with age. For example, in the first year the part of the brain that differentiates diverse sounds gets specialized according to those sounds and languages that the child has heard. Because in early years a child brain cells grows in abundance and the child brain is 2.5 times active than compared to the brains of the adults (Shore, 1997).
With the passage of time, children start losing the ability to recognize different sounds found in other languages. Although the “windows” for complex language learning and other skills remain open, these brain circuits become increasingly difficult to alter over time. It means that the more exposure a child gets with diverse sounds and languages in the first year, the greater would be the ability of the child in learning different languages.
Similarly, the rapid development of the brain during the early months and years is crucial, and newborn who receive proper care and stimulation will be readier to enter school on time and to learn. Children to whom early years education and development is provided show higher intelligence quotient, improvements in practical reasoning, eye and hand coordination, hearing and speech and reading readiness (Myers 1992).
Moreover, investment in the early years can instill all those qualities in children which are severely needed particularly in the context of Afghanistan. Considering the inherited war-torn behaviors of aggressiveness, exclusion, hatred within Afghanistan, we need to inculcate the seeds of pluralism, sense of humor, love, passion and unity in our children.
All these qualities need to be inculcated in the early years and early childhood programs can bring dramatic changes in children’s behavior (Kagitcibasi 1996) making them less aggressive and more cooperative, behave better in groups, and accept instructions (from parents) well. Overall the children going through early childhood programs have higher self-concepts and are more socially adjusted.
In particular, evidences show that the participations in early education and development programs lead to reduce the criminal behavior and less delinquency as an adult (Yoshikawa 1995).
Unfortunately, in Afghanistan the least attention for children’s education and development is given in the early years and all the available investments are done when children are 7-10 years old which is too late. It is suggestive to invest on children’s early education and development because providing supportive conditions for early childhood education and development is more effective and less costly than attempting to address the consequences of early adversity later.
Therefore, for having a well-educated generation in Afghanistan, early education and development of the children should be given a priority from, pregnancy through early childhood, the environments in which children live and learn quality of their relationships with adults and caregivers, should be considered because they have a significant impact on children’s cognitive, linguistic, emotional, personal and social development.
The writer is a graduate of Aga Khan University and is currently working as a Programme Development Officer at the Aga Khan Education Services, Afghanistan.