Early childhood development is vital if a child is to get the best start in life and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Why does private sector investment matter for early childhood development in Kenya? Here is a youth perspective - Part One, the problems.
1. Poorly educated and trained workforce
Increasing the educational capacity of the population would maximise productive capacity across the continent and is a key element in increasing competitiveness and innovation.
Especially in today’s world, where creativity and innovation are key, businesses need such entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas and businesses to solve their problems and make them more profit.
This presents a unique opportunity in sub-Saharan Africa where under-fives make up approximately 40% of the total population. Children must be equipped with the skills necessary for a competitive global labour market during school years. Therefore, malnutrition, as one of the underlying causes for low school performance and early desertion, must be addressed.
2. Increased cost of doing business
In Kenya, expatriates can earn up to four times more than locals for the same jobExpatriates even receive more generous medical cover than locals. There is a dichotomy at many work places, where certain senior positions are exclusively held by foreigners and the furthest a Kenyan can go up the ladder is top middle management.
These appointments go on for various reasons, one of them is that sometimes they are not enough Kenyans with the capacity or educational know how to do certain jobs.
It is in the private sector’s interest to ensure that by the time our children grow up, the gap between us and the rest of the world in education and training has been closed. Hence businesses can hire more local staff at reasonable salaries rather than burdening themselves with high wage costs.
3. Low labour productivity
Labour productivity is negatively affected by a lack of investment in ECD. When stunted children grow up, they are not as productive as their colleagues at work.
All businesses should strive to build human capital, hence the private sector should ensure that their employees have the techniques and abilities to perform their tasks.
An efficient workforce is impossible if a large segment of potential employees is unable to learn and develop.
4. Reliance on child labour
Child labour is a worldwide phenomenon and is particularly prevalent in the agricultural industry. In Kenya, farmers and all agriculture related businesses have strong financial and political muscle, hence they lobby politicians and leaders to leave grey areas in policy which allow them to exploit children.
In addition to inadequate labour laws, children working in agriculture face exposure to dangerous weather conditions, equipment, and pesticides.
Because their bodies are still growing and they are continually developing mentally, children are even more vulnerable to the harsh conditions faced by all farm workers.
Often, children operate heavy equipment unsupervised and without adequate training beforehand. Children who work in the fields may also use dangerous tools like sharp knives to perform their duties. Like other farm workers, children experience heat-related conditions from intense sun exposure.
Businesses are employing children because they are cheaper than adults. However, an argument against this is that of labour productivity.
As stated earlier, we have to look at how much someone can produce; and clearly a child will not produce as much as an adult. Rather than rely on children, businesses shall be better off relying on an adult workforce.
5. Under-utilisation of people living with disabilities
Despite being more vulnerable to development risks, young children with disabilities are often overlooked in mainstream programmes and services designed to ensure child development. They also don’t receive the specific support required to meet their rights and needs.
Children with disabilities should receive good care and developmental opportunities during early childhood because they are more likely to grow up to become healthy and productive adults. This will reduce future costs of education, medical care and social spending.
Hence, the government shall reduce the amount of tax on future health costs and it and hence businesses shall make more money or government may utilise that money on infrastructure and other factors of production that would assist the private sector to grow.
One other way the private sector shall benefit is through hiring people living with disabilities. Work can be part-time or full-time and can be suited to an individual’s skills and abilities.
In an example from Australia, global firm Deloitte suggests that closing the gap between labour market participation rates and unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities by one-third would result in a cumulative $43 billion increase in Australia’s GDP over the next decade in real dollar terms.
In Kenya too, the private sector need to incorporate people with disabilities into the work place as it will benefit the country immensely. Businesses should start investing in people living with disabilities as children, so those children can grow up to be confident and capable employees and managers.