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Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 30:220–229, 2009 Copyright © National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators ISSN: 1090-1027 print / 1745-5642 online DOI: 10.1080/10901020903084256

print / 1745-5642 online DOI: 10.1080/10901020903084256 Teacher Training for Early Childhood Development and

Teacher Training for Early Childhood Development and Education in Kenya

UJEC1090-10271745-5642JournalJournal ofof EarlyEarly ChildhoodChildhood TeacherTeacher EducationEducation, Vol. 30, No. 3, July 2009: pp. 1–20

TeacherT. MbuguaTraining in Kenya


University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA

The training of early childhood development and education (ECDE) teachers in Kenya remains a priority in recognition of the vital role well-trained professionals play in the quality of early childhood experiences for children ages 0+ to 5+. This article pro- vides a detailed overview of the current structure and training of ECDE professionals, including pedagogical strategies and curricular guidelines. Specific attention is given to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s intersectoral framework for stakeholders and the holistic, child-centered, multidimensional approach to coordi- nated early childhood development and education. A cross-section of challenges to training ECDE teachers and recommendations are offered.


Twenty-first-century initiatives for early childhood education and development have gained momentum in many countries with a two-pronged focus: prioritizing early child- hood education as a foundation for later learning and success (UNESCO/OECD, 2004b) and preparing highly qualified teachers of young children. Subsequently, the importance of Early Childhood Development (ECD) is supported by empirical research findings that continue to underscore the importance of ECD in laying the foundation for the later suc- cess across the life span, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood (Charlesworth, 2004; Heckman, 1999; Junn & Boyatzis, 2007). A brief overview of international commitments concerning early childhood care and education can be traced in three documents that have been signed by many countries of the world calling for action to ensure that children’s needs are met, and that growth and devel- opment are promoted. These documents are the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Conference on Education for All (EFA), and the World Summit for Children. The World Conference on Education for All, adopted in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990 was a dec- laration that highlighted the fundamental principle that learning begins at birth. Subse- quent progress made during the 1990s included the World Education Forum that took place in Dakar, Senegal. There, an EFA Framework of Action was adopted, which high- lighted improving early childhood care and education as the first among six EFA goals (UNESCO/OECD, 2005; UNICEF, 2002). This goal expressed a worldwide commitment for expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, espe- cially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. But expansion and improvement need to be based on elements that add up to quality, such as well-trained teachers; low teacher–student ratios; safe, stimulating surroundings; and strong ties between staff and

Received 1 December 2008; accepted 29 January 2009. Address correspondence to Tata Mbugua, Education Department, University of Scranton, MGH 145, 800 Linden St., Scranton, PA 18510, USA. E-mail: Mbuguat2@scranton.edu


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families, “so [that] children know there is loving continuity in their lives” (Hancock & Wingert, 1997, p. 36).

A Brief History of Early Childhood Development and Education in Kenya

Specific to early childhood development and education (ECDE), Kenya has established itself as a leader in the African region, given its notable experience in the area of early childhood development and the relatively high rates of participation of young children in ECD services in the country for the past 20 years (UNESCO/OECD, 2004a). The frame- work for ECDE has been established through an intersectoral collaborative approach of stakeholders drawn from the Ministry of Education along with provincial and district edu- cation officials, Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), National Centre for Early Childhood Education (NACECE), City Centre for Early Childhood Education (CICECE), District Centers for Early Childhood Education (DICECEs), UNICEF, Bernard van Leer Foundation (BVLF), The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), NGOs, faith-based organizations, private training colleges, universities, and the private sector. Since 1963, when Kenya gained independence from British colonial rule, early child- hood development and education has experienced significant growth. Initially, there were only a few training programs for preschool teachers. As a consequence, by 1971, only 400 of 5,000 preschool teachers had received basic training (cited in World Bank Technical Paper #367, 1977), and teachers and local communities carried the largest burden of ECDE in terms of providing land, supplying materials for building classrooms and provid- ing their talents for collecting stories, riddles, poems, and games that were edited and dis- tributed by the programs (Mbugua, 2004). During the 1970s, ECDE continued to flourish after being given impetus by three critical developments. First, in 1972, a 10-year Pre- School Education Project (PEP) was undertaken at the Kenya Institute of Education, spon- sored jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Bernard van Leer Foundation. This research project focused on the improvement of quality preschool education in the follow- ing key areas: development of training models for ECCE personnel; development of a quality curriculum; and development of support materials for use by children, teachers, and trainers. In addition, two notable initiatives, the Gachathi (1976) and Kamunge (1988) educational commissions, played a key role in creating greater recognition of preschool education within the Ministry of Education (MOE, 2006a). The 1980s saw the Ministry of Education assume responsibility for ECD services through the Presidential Circular Number One of 1980 (Godia, 2008). The Ministry of Education further established the National Center for Early Childhood Education (NACECE), an endeavor aimed at disseminating PEP results and harmonizing the growth, training of personnel for ECCE, and the evaluation and monitoring of early childhood education across Kenya. This was followed by the establishment of a network of sub- centers at the district level. These centers were called District Centers for Early Childhood Education (DICECE). They performed the following functions: training of preschool teachers and other personnel, supervision and inspection of preschool programs, commu- nity mobilization, and the development of preschool curriculum (Gakuru, Riak, Ogula, Mugo, & Njenga, 1987). Within this well-established framework for early childhood development and educa- tion in Kenya, the 1990s and early 2000s have continued to witness a steep increase in the number of trained teachers (see Table 1). This phenomenon can be attributed to the expan- sion of DICECE training centers through funding from the World Bank/ECD Project. The World Bank project undertaken from 1997 to 2004 provided another important opportunity


T. Mbugua

Table 1 Trend in enrollment and teacher recruitment in preschools (Kenya Institute of Education, 2005)


Number of



% of Trained teachers


































for the government to expand its vision on early childhood. The main focus of this initia- tive was on teacher training and community capacity building for service delivery. As a consequence, DICECE training centers grew from 9 in 1985 to 31 by 2003, with each center graduating about 100 teachers every 2 years (MOE, 2004). Additionally, due to the government’s intersectoral collaboration, the number of private training providers also rose. Private organizations registered by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) to provide ECD training for preschool teachers numbered 49 by 2004. Nonetheless, parents and local communities provide the greatest support for ECD services through preschool committees followed by NGOs, mainly religious-based and private organizations (MOE, 2006a). Although the increased demand for early childhood care development and education has created a need for training programs for early childhood teachers and caregivers, Table 1 reflects a high number of untrained ECDE teachers by 2002 (49.3%), prompting Mwai’s (2003) contention that many early childhood education teaching posts are filled with untrained teachers. This suggests that the professional training of the ECDE teacher, which is of paramount importance, is still a work in progress in Kenya. There is a paucity of systematic research and current data about specific programs that offer training for teachers of early childhood development and education personnel and for early childhood education teachers. Since many studies indicate that the average quality of care for young children is inadequate, the importance of training early childhood teachers has become increasingly important (Adams & Swadener, 2000; Mwai, 2003; Wortham, 1998). The emphasis has been “quality” as a significant component in any dimension of training early childhood professionals (Gonzalez-Mena, 2000; Mbugua, 2004; PDE, 2008). Underscoring the vital role well-trained ECE teachers play in the quality of early childhood experiences, longitudinal studies show that better quality child care is associated with better cognitive and social outcomes for children (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007).

Definitions of Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Development and Related Terminology

In order to realize the significance of early childhood education and by implication, the training of ECDE teachers in Kenya, some definitions are necessary. According to Penwell (2007), early childhood education refers to the combination of physical, intelligence/cognitive, emotional, and social learning of a child during the first 6 to 8 years of her life. Early

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Childhood Development (ECD) is the term used in Kenya to refer to the discipline con- cerned with the care, development and learning of young children ages 0+ to 5+ years (UNESCO/OECD, 2005). This broad definition is bifurcated in Kenya to reflect two basic categories that high- light the purposes of training early childhood education professionals. First, there is the broad definition of early childhood education as articulated above. The scope of children served by ECE is typically birth through age 8. This training takes place at the university level at both Kenyatta and Moi Universities in Kenya. Second, there is early childhood development and education, which primarily caters to children birth through age 5. This is a definition that goes beyond the provision of education and stimulation for young chil- dren. It encompasses the provision of social, health, and psychological needs of a child in holistic approach (MOE, 2006a). This level of training takes place within District Centers for Early Childhood Education.

Early Childhood Development Services

The term early childhood services refers to all types of formal, nonformal and informal early childhood care and/or education services catering for children from 0+ to 5+ years and/or their parents (UNESCO/OECD, 2005). There are seven key early childhood devel- opment services within the ECDE program in Kenya as indicated in Table 2. Preschool is a generic term used to refer to early childhood education services for children 2/3+ to 5+ under the responsibility of the MOEST. Nursery school, catering to children ages 3+ to 5+, is the most common type of ECDE and is central to the MOEST’s planning of ECD services. Kindergarten caters to children 2+ to 5+; home-based care caters to 0+ to 3. The later service is primarily done by extended family members such as grandmothers or by ayahs or house girls, who provide in-home care (Swadener, Kabiru, & Njenga, 2000).

Current Structure and Training of ECDE Teachers—Diploma in ECDE

The training of ECDE teachers has been the core activity of the MOEST through estab- lished structures under the auspices of KIE and through the National Center for Early Childhood Education (NACECE), District Centers for Early Childhood Education (DICECE), private organizations registered and approved by MOEST, and other institu- tions of higher learning such as Kenyatta and Moi universities. The MOEST is in charge of certification of preschool teachers. Launched in 1985, the duration of the ECDE Diploma course is 2 years. The primary emphasis of this diploma course is to equip the ECDE teachers with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes desired to stimulate children’s growth in preparation for primary education (MOE, 2006b). The structure of the diploma course entails two programs: Preservice and In-service. The Preservice program comprises 23 units, with each course unit requiring a minimum of 35 contact hours to be covered in four school terms. All ECDE trainees require an ECDE institutional attachment of 100 hours (one month). The trainee submits a written observation report to the training institution. The In-service program is covered in six res- idential sessions (theory of ECD and development of play/learning materials) during the school holidays of April, August, and December (the academic year in Kenya runs from January to December with three one-month holidays every three months). Each ses- sion requires a minimum of 3 weeks (three units) and 7 hours per day for 5 days of a week (6 × 3 × 7 × 5 = 630 hours). Student Teaching practice requires one full school term


Custodial care



Play group

and early

2 + to 5 + Rich urban




0 + to 3 Urban slums/arid

No requirement


or semi-arid

On-the-job training and a few short courses None

Custodial care

care center


and early


Table 2 Profiles of key early childhood services within the ECD program (NACECE, 2004)

Integrated Islamic

Program (IIEP)

Care/ religious

To be Koranic teachers





2 + to 5 + Rural/urban


Custodial care and early stimulation Secondary education (12 years of schooling)


Day nursery

2 + to 5 + Nairobi only



Custodial care, early stimulation, preprimary education Secondary education (12 years of schooling)

2-year preservice



and 1-year

*Some teachers are trained through 1-year preservice training of the Kenya.

Rich urban

5 + (reception class) 2 + to 5 +


early stimulation

education, some

Headmistresses Kindergarten Association and Montessori.

Preschool unit

Nairobi only

Secondary education (12 years of schooling)


Schools in



3 + to 5 + Rural/plantations

(largest service)

Primary or secondary education (8 or 12 years of schooling) depending on the area 2-year in-service

Nursery school

Custodial care


and early




ministry- authority

level for


Child age






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counted as eight units or the equivalent of 300 hours. The trainee submits a one-month written observation journal. In addition, the trainees prepare a final research project of 105 hours. This project is assessed by the institution offering the Diploma course and the marks are forwarded to Kenya National Examinations Council. This Diploma course is designed to run for the duration of 780 contact hours and 300 hours of student teaching. The overarching goal of the unit’s design is praxis, linking theory to practice by providing trainees with the theory of child development and stimulation and an opportunity to work with communities and children in ECD programs. All trainees are trained to use the ECDE Guidelines to enhance teaching–learning processes and provide for holistic development of children in pre- schools. The Diploma course further serves two important roles: (a) it fills the gap between ECDE certificate and the ECE degree program, and (b) it provides an opportunity for upward mobility in the ECDE program. An alternative course targeting trainees who do not qualify for the regular ECDE diploma course is also offered as well as an Islamic Integrated Education Program (IIEP) targeting Koranic teachers at Madrassa (Muslim) preschools. The entry requirements to the ECDE training program involve any one of the following:

(a) A minimum of KCSE Grade C plain, (b) Long service as an ECD teacher with a KNEC proficiency examination certificate, (c) A DICECE or Kindergarten Headmistress Association or Montessori certificate with at least a D+ in KCSE, and (d) a P1 certificate for primary school teachers.

Pedagogical Guidelines/Curriculum for ECDE

The Early Childhood Development and Education curriculum in Kenya has five compo- nents: (a) The Guidelines for Early Childhood Development referred to as Guidelines for Early Childhood Development in Kenya (MOE, 2003), derived from the Pre-school Edu- cation Project (PEP) of 1972; (b) the Kindergarten Headmistress Association curriculum; (c) Montessori; (d) the Islamic Integrated Education Program (IIEP); and (e) the curricula for parental and community education programs. Notable amongst these is the Guidelines for ECD in Kenya, which are comparable to the Association for Childhood Education International’s (ACEI) Global Guidelines for ECE in the 21st Century (1999). The latter have been piloted in a number of countries around the world. In addition, the ACEI Guide- lines have been translated into Chinese, French, Spanish, Korean, Greek, Russian, and Swahili languages. The Guidelines for ECD in Kenya are designed to emphasize accept- able ECD curriculum standards for children 0–6 years, and a child-centered approach that encourages children’s learning through play, manipulating, observing, exploring, and experimenting, and a thematic integrated learning approach (MOE, 2003). The Guide- lines, which are aligned with the country’s EFA plan, further guide preschool teachers to work with parents and community members toward the provision of quality preschool ser- vices, suitable facilities, learning and play materials, feeding programs, health services, and safety for children.

Training of Trainers Model Offered by DICECE

The Training of Trainers (TOT) model received a significant stipulation by the MOEST in 2006. This stipulation mandated that trainers of ECDE teachers meet two criteria: (a) hold the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree in Education (preferably ECD), and (b) be one level higher in academic and professional qualification than the level at which


T. Mbugua

he/she is providing training. The ECDE trainers program trains the preschool teachers in participatory methods, which are nondidactic teaching that include problem-solving, dis- cussion, and active learning. The training entails a 9-month induction course, which is provided by NACECE. This includes three one-month residential sessions focusing on a variety of pedagogical strategies. These strategies include group discussions, role-playing, practical activities, and demonstrations (MOE, 2004). The majority of ECDE teachers hold bachelor’s degrees in ECE from universities, while persons who hold master’s and/or doctoral degrees in ECE train ECE trainees at these institutions of higher education. In order to cater to all categories of children attending ECD centers in the country, the ECDE trainers generally follow a syllabus that is divided into three levels: Level I (baby care) for children 3 years and below; Level II (preprimary 1) for children age 4 years; Level III (preprimary 2) for children age 5 years. The overarching goal of the training is that ECD teachers and their trainers should acquire full knowledge of the multidimensional aspects of child development.

Promoting Cultural Competencies in ECDE Teacher Preparation Programs—Cultural and Abilities Diversity Teaching

An important feature is that all preschool teachers are recruited locally with the goal of ensuring that they have a good understanding of the culture, language, and environment of the communities in which they will work. The objective is to prepare future early child- hood teachers for what Hyun (1998) terms developmentally and culturally appropriate practice. Within Kenya, this perspective is imperative, given its ethnic, religious, and lin- guistic diversity. From a linguistic perspective, whilst English and Swahili are the official languages, English is the main medium of instruction in all educational institutions. In effect, although Kenyans belong to different ethnic groups, races, and religions, these dif- ferences need not divide them. An intentional emphasis on one of Kenya’s national goals for education, that of fostering nationalism, patriotism, and national unity comes into sharp focus in light of the tensions that resulted in violence and death precipitated by con- tested presidential elections in December 2007 and January 2008. These ethnic tensions caused untold human suffering, death, and internal displacement of children and their families. The role of education ought to be one of helping young people acquire a sense of nationhood by removing conflicts and promoting positive attitudes of mutual respect as national and global citizens in an interconnected and interdependent world (MOE, 2006b). In the Kenyan urban areas, the demographic characteristics of ECDE classrooms are far from homogeneous. Children in these settings and classrooms have cultural, linguistic, religious, and ability diversity that is different from their teachers. These teachers need to be culturally responsive to the needs of all their students, while developing home–school connections that foster these cross-cultural understandings. Consequently, recommended practices by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Division of Early Childhood emphasizing a thorough understanding and knowledge of the diverse needs and characteristics of families, children, and their communities is an imperative (NAEYC, 1996). Preschool teachers further need to learn how to identify children with special needs, which in turn will lead to early intervention. The special needs of children include physical and mental characteristics, sensory abilities, emotional and social adjust- ment, or communication abilities. The synergistic effects of comprehensive and intensive early assessment followed by intervention is beneficial to children with special needs, their families and society at large in that it enhances intelligence, prevents secondary dis- ability, and reduces family stress (MOE, 2007). Another important category of children

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are those in especially difficult circumstances such as street children, orphans, HIV/AIDS infected and affected children, and children of urban poor who live in slum areas. It is the responsibility of ECDE professionals to advocate for these children as well.

Cross-Section of Challenges to the Training of ECDE Teachers in Kenya

The potential for early childhood education and development practices in Kenya is great, especially given the MOEST’s expanded mandate to cater for the early care, development, and education needs of young children. Additionally, there has been increased awareness with regard to the importance of an integrated approach to the holistic development of the child. However, there are some perceived problems and challenges that need to be addressed along various dimensions. The early childhood development program has placed too much emphasis on a center-based model, while neglecting alternative models which may increase access and may be more appropriate for certain populations. Such communities include the slum areas, rural areas and the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) of Kenya. In addition, the Free Primary Education Policy has had a negative impact on access to ECD services. Many parents do not want to pay for the education and care of children who are under 5 when education is “free” for 6-year-olds. As a consequence, many preschool children are not benefiting from preschool experiences since their parents tend to keep them home until they reach the entitlement age for FPE (Anonymous, 2003). As a result, many preschool teachers who depend on parental support for salaries leave the profession due to poor and irregular pay. The issue of participation poses a challenge since regional and gender disparities in access to early childhood development impact on preschool gross enrollment rates (GER). For example, North Eastern Province has a GER of 11.2% for boys and 8.2% for girls, compared to Nairobi’s 105.7% of GER for boys and 107.2% for girls (UNESCO/OECD, 2005). The high GER in Nairobi means that there are many underage and overage children enrolled in ECD centers. This phenomenon points to the difficulty of delivering quality ECD services since it denies the preschool teachers the opportunity to practice what they have been trained to do. The Guidelines for ECD in Kenya are not accessible to all teachers, while the compe- tencies and services for children under 3 are not well developed. The Guidelines are not readily available to teachers, resulting in a lack of adherence to a set of standards for guid- ing professional practice. Additionally, some preschools overemphasize formal learning skills at the expense of a play-paradigm curriculum. This may be attributed to the demands by parents who insist on a more academic curriculum at the preprimary level. As in many countries around the world, there is little professional recognition of preschool teachers in Kenya, leading to poor self-esteem and a lack of awareness in local communities regard- ing teachers’ needs. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of formal policy linking ECD to primary education. Finally, the provision of basic needs and services to ECD teachers in disadvantaged areas and communities such as the ASAL is lacking.


The government and relevant stakeholders should come together to develop a policy framework for increasing access to ECD services and enhancing equity for vulnerable children, including HIV/AIDS orphans. The government should also make preschool edu- cation for age 5+ free and compulsory, and pay the salaries of teachers who handle these


T. Mbugua

classes. There needs to be a comprehensive national framework to ensure access to ECD Guidelines for ECDE teachers. In order to increase access to ECDE training for teachers in ASAL, the minimum requirement for admission into the ECD programs needs to be adjusted. Equally, there needs to be a review of the existing curriculum to accommodate the integration of children with disabilities. Finally, the existing gaps in implementation of the World Bank Project’s vision of expanding ECD to age 8 and creating linkages between ECD and formal schooling, need to be revisited with a view to creating policy statements that reflect the reality that ECD training caters to children up to age 6. This approach would allow for more systematic training of ECD teachers that could harmonize preschools with primary schools and could offer job security for preschool teachers and sustainability of ECD centers.


The progress achieved in ECDE teacher training in Kenya to date remains the highest amongst other African countries. This can be attributed to the MOEST’s focused goal of adopting an intersectoral approach to ECDE. While there are some challenges being faced, such as access to ECDE by children in disadvantaged situations, preschool teacher salaries, parental pressure for academic curriculum, and the danger of reversing the ECDE enrollment trends as a consequence of free primary education, the Kenya government con- tinues to stay proactive in ensuring the existence of KIE, NACECE, and DICECE for the delivery of quality ECDE teacher training. It should be noted that at the tertiary level, since 1995, Kenyatta University has been offering degrees in early childhood education, with most of the graduates being employed at DICECE and by international organizations. Other opportunities opened up by Kenyatta University include a master’s degree in educa- tion and degrees in early childhood studies at the doctoral level. In response to the demand for early childhood development and education, Moi and Nairobi universities have fol- lowed suit by starting degree programs in early childhood education, thus continuing the trend of training high quality ECDE teachers.


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