Early Childhood Development diploma students make progress [Archives:2008/1203/Local News]

October 30 2008

By: Ola Al-Shami
SANA'A, Oct. 29 – A first of its kind diploma on early childhood education was introduced last year and gained wide interest from its first batch of 21 students. Now they have started the second and final year and looking forward to implementing their newly acquired knowledge in the Yemeni society.

The Early Childhood Development (ECD) diploma is an important step the efficiency of which we are testing for the first time at Sana'a University,” said Dr. Najat Al-Faqih, Professor of Education at Sana'a University and the supervisor of the diploma.

Supported by the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood (SCMC), UNICEF and Social Development Fund (SDF), this program was announced by the University's Postgraduate Studies Center towards the end of September 2007 and commenced a month later. The two-year program aims to train qualified specialists to deal with children in order to develop their mental and physical skills.

There are 21 students in the diploma program, 16 of them are girls. The students are expected to find work in NGOs, kindergartens and schools after their graduation helping children to enhance their communication skills.

The SCMC, UNICEF and SDF cooperate to support the funding of the diploma. Dr. Najat Al-Faqih said that the UNICEF organizes workshops and training with an ECD expert for the programs students, and that the SDF has provided the project with necessary equipment while the SCMC supervises the whole program.

“This program is open to any graduate from any college,” Al-Faqih explained, “It's a hands-on experience as we don't have a specific syllabus. Instead, students visit different child caring institutions, such as kindergartens and hospitals, and write reports on how children are being treated there. We then consult suitable references from the Central Library in Sana'a University or the faculty library, and teach the students according to feedback from their reports. This data is mainly collected for research purposes.”

The students study five days a week, with a lecture of more or less three hours each day.

Joining the program is easy and affordable. The prerequisite is a Bachelor's degree in any field. Most students join so as to later take on an active role in society by spreading awareness on how to treat children during their critical development period which is from 1 to 8 years.

Ashwaq Abo Talib, a psychologist and a current student of this diploma, said that she wants to change some social behaviors such as child neglect and abuse. In addition, she said that children in primary school should be taught according to guidelines by experts from the field of ECD to better deal with disruptive behavior and positively influence children's attitudes.

“We go to visit children in different settings [schools, hospitals, kindergartens] to interact with them in various ways and we take note of their responses,” she said.

On the other hand, there are some students who aren't so optimistic. Abdulkaher Al-Homaidy, a supervisor at a number of primary schools in Sana'a and also a student in this diploma, said “There were many promises from the Ministry of Education to us as teachers, but these have not been kept,” said Al-Homaidy.

Al-Homaidy explained that the Ministry of Education had promised them that their salaries would not be deducted while they attended the program.

Mona Al-Olofi has mixed feelings about her studies: “I'm so glad to take part in this program but there isn't enough support from society as people don't fully understand the importance of developing early childhood skills. We are struggling to convince society.” She said she benefits from the workshops as she is extensively involved.

According to several parents, who are also students, their interaction with their children has changed for the best. Abdulkaher, who is a father of three, says that his relationship with his children has improved as he is better able to understand their needs.

Masahiro Kato, ECD program officer at the UNICEF, said he hopes that this diploma will progress till the students can reach a Masters Degree.

Dr. Najat Al-Faqih said that this is an experimental diploma and that its supporters will hold an evaluative workshop to see what they should modulate or add after they finish this diploma this year.

All students are optimistic about the program as they aspire to be positioned in influential roles that could better the status of children in Yemen. They have called for the establishing of an institution to deal with early childhood development for conducting local research on the reality of children in Yemen.

Research findings indicate that the environmental factors are important in enabling children to be more effective communicators. These findings say that a child's environment should be visual and tactile.

The more visual or tactile an object or toy, the more a child can concentrate on meaning. The more this child focuses on meaning, the more his or her communication skills will be developed.

This program serves all sectors of the society. However, it needs the appropriate support from the Ministry of Education.