EU-Namibia early childhood development sector reform launched

We celebrate a new milestone in our partnership with Namibia in the education sector: We are launching a new European Union (EU) sector budget support programme in early childhood education (ECD), which will run for the next three years, and the renewal of a project partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The presence of Doreen Sioka, the minister of gender equality, poverty eradication and social welfare, and Anna Nghipondoka, the minister of education, arts and culture, are a statement of the government’s commitment to education and to a fruitful partnership in promoting access to quality education.

Our partnership with Namibia in education goes back over 15 years. This very premise, the Harmony ECD Centre at Mix settlement, is a tangible result of this long-standing commitment of the EU.

With today’s project, we take a further step in enhancing access for  pre-primary children to early childhood facilities and services, to expand the number of pre-primary classes across the country, and above all, to boost the quality of care and teaching for pre-primary children.

As decades of academic studies have shown, many crucial stages of human development occur in early childhood. A lack of opportunities, poor quality education, cognitive and emotional support during the early years of childhood can significantly disadvantage young children and reduce their potential for success. Early childhood development and pre-primary education lay the foundations for basic literacy, numeracy skills and the very start for a successful school career.

The Namibian government has shown great commitment to the well-being of children. It is signatory to the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights, it has ratified several international conventions on the well-being of children and scores highly on the public education budget, with approximately 20% of resources going to the sector.

The government’s increased focus on ECD is a demonstration of this commitment. In fact, there is a direct link between improving ECD conditions and reducing dropout rates in primary education, in increasing retention in Grade 1, and in improving learners’ overall academic performance.

Let me say a few words on the new ECD budget support programme. It is endowed with a budget of around N$320 million, of which N$262 million will go directly to the Namibian treasury, and N$60 million for technical assistance, including support actions implemented by our partners Unicef and the World Food Programme (WFP).

With the first disbursement of an initial N$100 million in December 2023, the project is running and is fully in the hands of the ministries of gender and education. Subsequent disbursements will follow as the jointly agreed result indicators and benchmarks in terms of access, quality and equity in ECD and pre-primary education are achieved. 

Today we are also celebrating the signing of an agreement with our long-standing partners, Unicef and WFP, who will provide technical assistance to the gender and education ministries in areas covered by the programme.

Let me emphasise that while this new programme builds on the results of previous experience, in this new phase we want to put a special emphasis on inclusiveness and equity of children from disadvantaged households. 

We all know that far too many children have no access to ECD and pre-primary education – in fact, less than 25% of children aged three to four.  That is why we want to reach to the most vulnerable children for whom access is even more challenging, so that they have equal chances for a good start in life and the opportunity to develop their full potential.

For small children to thrive, a number of complementary support measures need to come together in ECD: infrastructure that meets quality standards, a place where children feel protected, crucially the supply of a decent meal – and this is where the WFP assists us as a newcomer to our partnership.

For an integrated strategy and the efficient management of resources, it is critical to create effective linkages between the government, local authorities and communities. It also means reinforcing capacities at each level. The challenges of the sector will not be overcome without a strong and diverse partnership, joint planning and concerted initiatives.

In fact, we need partnership at all levels:

o   partnership with the government, which is setting the vision and steering the sector transformation,

o   partnerships with development partners like Unicef and the WFP, which can provide expertise and policy advice, and

o   partnerships with civil society organisations, which provide formal and informal education and health services, parent associations, teachers unions, and women’s organisations advocating for equality of access to education.

The 2022 Transforming Education Summit highlighted the gaps and deficits in education outcomes. The government of Namibia played an active role in pointing out these gaps during the discussions that preceded the recommendations made at this occasion. So much is relying on the quality of the interaction between teachers, educarers and the child, and the pedagogy adopted. 

The transfer of ECD from the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication, and Social Welfare to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture will be a significant step in enhancing linkages and closing gaps.

Let me close by stressing how central the sector of education, Sustainable Development Goal 4, inclusive and equitable quality education for all, is in our work with partner countries. It is no coincidence that 12% of the EU‘s cooperation budget is earmarked for the education sector. The initial target defined by our international cooperation commissioner Urpilainen was 10%.

Africa has a special place in this commitment, with a N$2 billion programme we just launched, called  ‘Regional Teacher Programme for Africa’, to improve working conditions and the quality of teaching for the teaching profession, including pre-primary teachers. It will promote innovation, equity, as well as digital and green integration in teaching.

Today, we are here, back at Harmony ECD Centre, slightly more than one year after the visit paid by our EU commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. 

The ECD centre is not only hosting a kindergarten, but also a pre-primary education classroom, a primary school operating 100m away, and a high school, which is also under construction.

I am pleased to witness such concrete steps of progress thanks to the dedication and hard work of all staff at the centre. I hope it will be an inspiration for the next centres to come. Much success with the project and in the construction of a bright future for the young generation of  Namibians.

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