Need to Regulate Childhood Development Centres – WB
By Paneetha Ameresekere
Many Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Sri Lanka do not go beyond providing the basic services of feeding and minding, and children often spend their afterschool hours sitting in the same classroom, with no activity or entertainment, the World Bank (WB), in a report released on 23October said.
Younger children are often forced to sleep at a certain time, to make it more convenient for the caregiver.
Therefore, it is imperative that Sri Lanka introduce necessary laws and regulations to ensure that centres do not provide integrated services, ie both childcare and education, unless they have the necessary space, infrastructure, and facilities to do so, the WB said.
Regular monitoring is required to ensure that centres are not overcrowded and that they are able to serve the needs of the children, not only during preschool hours but after school as well, it said.
In many cases, one room in a preschool is designated for infants and younger children, and, subsequently, the preschool classroom is converted into childcare space after school hours, the WB said. Further, many centres do not have enough space for children to play, rest, and learn and lack designated spaces for different age groups.
Societal demand for childcare options must be balanced with the importance and need for high-quality childcare in the early years. Although it is important to support and promote the establishment of more childcare facilities, it is equally important to ensure that the quality of childcare is not sacrificed in the process, the WB said.
The availability of necessary facilities to provide integrated services in such centres remains a challenge, the WB said.
Financial motivations have prompted an increasing number of preschools to offer childcare services, but most do so without proper planning or management, and as a result, the quality of services provided in these centers is unacceptable, it said.
Teaching staff and caregivers are also in short supply, and it is common for preschool teachers to take on afterschool shifts as childcare providers.
Although efforts have been made to introduce minimum quality standards in ECD settings, adherence to these standards is limited, the WB said. Guidelines for child development centres (CDCs) introduced in 2006 set out minimum standards for preschools and ECD centres and the National Daycare Guidelines introduced in 2017 set out the minimum standards for childcare centres.
But, along with these Central Government–level standards, provincial authorities can also introduce their own standards within each province. This duplication has led to difficulties in enforcing uniform standards across the country, exacerbated by the lack of effective enforcement and monitoring mechanisms and the unsatisfactory registration system for preschools and childcare centres, the WB said. The standards themselves require some level of revision to ensure that they include clauses on both material standards and the quality of childcare and education, it added.