Working mothers face difficult choices when they decide to go back to work and one of the most difficult is who to trust to look after their precious baby. Should they trust their maid or mother to look after their baby whilst they are at work or should they instead pay more for a qualified nanny or pre-kindergarten care? Choices will of course be governed by the disposable income available to the family so the more expensive options are only available to the few and not the many.
As more women enter well paid professions and benefit from their own educational achievements they are realising that the first few years of their child’s life are crucial for their development and helping them prepare for school. The quality of support in those early years will have a lasting impact on their child’s future success at school and into adult life. A UNICEF report into Early Childhood Development states that, ‘there is consistent and strong evidence to show that brain development is most rapid in the early years of life, and when the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected’.
About 6 years ago, Mihiret Abera had her first baby and was encouraged to employ a lady from the countryside to look after her baby in Addis. As Mihiret was still at home she was fortunately able to see the quality of care provided and was concerned and worried with what she saw, with the result that she ended up giving so many instructions to the helper on how to do things properly that she questioned why she was employing her. But her husband, Solomon Mulugeta, was a visionary and saw a business opportunity for them to open Ethiopia’s first nanny training school and this was set up 5 years ago. It is called Eshururu Nanny Training Centre.
They sold their house in order to be able to finance setting up the centre which is now flourishing and provides training by qualified staff in child development, preparing food, washing babies, first aid, bottle feeding and general childcare. The course caters for up to 35 women per session and lasts just over 2 months for 5 days a week covering practical and theory work, undertaken in classrooms at their centre.
One of the aims of setting up the school was to help stop the migration of women to the Middle East by providing well paid work as a qualified nanny in Ethiopia. The centre also trains women returning from the Middle East looking for work. Since opening the centre had trained over 1,700 women, with the majority taking up employment as a nanny whilst others open their own childcare business. The centre has won various government awards for these social aims. Demand is greater than supply as the centre also operates as a placement agency for families looking for nannies. The salary of a nanny is generally around 3000b to 3,500b a month depending on the nanny and can be up to 4,500 for a more experienced nanny.
I spoke to two women on the current training course. Senayit Tsegaye has been training for 1.5 months and has three children. After completing the course she is going to open her own day care business close to her home and will employ trained staff from the school. She loves working with children and told me how the training had helped her improve her childcare knowledge. For example she has learnt not to leave a baby under one year in the sun for more than 10 to 15 minutes, how to correctly wash babies and bottle feed and the importance of following instructions on making up baby formula and food.
Huluagersh Kidanu is a single mother of 2 older children and is one of 10 ladies who are being sponsored by the school and provided with free training. She heard of the school through a radio advert and applied. All applicants are interviewed to ensure they have a commitment to working with children and understand the importance of a planned programme of childcare. After completing the course she intends to work as a day nanny. When I asked her why she wanted to do the course she said she wanted to change her life and earn good money doing what she loves, working with children. She is thoroughly enjoying the course and learning new skills, such as the importance of learning through playing with children, which will benefit the children she looks after in the future.
It is important for families to realise that a nanny is not also a maid, and these are completely separate roles. The nanny is employed solely to look after the child’s needs and to focus on appropriate stimulation and development of the child, depending on their age. The centre continues to visit the nanny in her family for the first 6 months to ensure that both nanny and parents are happy with the arrangements
A more popular alternative to employing a nanny is to send your baby, from around age 1 to 2, to a pre-kindergarten and there are a variety available across the city. I visited two contrasting providers being A&E Pre-Kindergarten and secondly Flippers International School.
A&E Pre-kindergarten is owned by Azeb Alfred Shafi, who returned from 32 years working in finance in the USA to set up the pre-kindergarten in her parents’ home, with extensive modifications to create an attractive light airy environment for the children, with an attractive outdoor play area. When I asked why she had made that decision she said she wanted to give something back to her home country, realising the value of early years education. Staff employed at the school have been trained in house in child development and learning through play. There is a teacher to pupil ratio of 1:6. The school approach to learning is based on Montessori methods focusing on staff encouraging each child’s development through structured play and fun learning in a non-competitive environment. Children are taught in Amharic with some English lessons timetabled. The school is open from 7am to 5pm and fees are 3000b per month, equivalent to 36,000b pa.
Flippers International School is a privately owned school and provides early years childcare from 2 years to Grade 5, but I am only looking at early years provision. The school follows the Ethiopian national curriculum as well as integrating aspects of the Montessori approach in the early years. Teaching is in English and the school is open from 8am to 2.30pm, with termly fees of 15,300b equivalent to 45,900 pa. .All teachers have a first degree, preferably in a child related subject, and many assistant teachers also have a degree, and all staff receive in house training on child education. . Each class of up to 20 pupils has one teacher, one assistant teacher and one care assistant. Again the approach is learning through play with the teacher carefully recording each child’s daily learning in a communications book so that parents can be involved in their child’s progress.
Whether the choice of childcare is a nanny or pre-kindergarten the key to enabling your child to reach their full potential to learn is the provision of a caring and safe learning environment , together with an age appropriate curriculum focusing on learning through appropriate play delivered by a ‘professional’ who is truly committed to working with children.
Ed.’s Note: The writer is a volunteer at The Reporter.
Contributed by Pauline Smith