In his state of the nation address President Cyril Ramaphosa announced: “This year we will migrate responsibility for early childhood development (ECD) centres from social development to basic education, and proceed with the process towards two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter Grade 1. Another critical priority is to substantially improve reading comprehension in the first years of school. This is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in work and in life – and it is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
These measures will not only meet the educational needs of children from an early age, but also equip them with an assortment of skills and attributes required for learning and for harmonious coexistence with others.
As Fred Kierstead and Jim Bowman put it in their article, Global education in America: Its failures and futures: “There is a need to establish concise, technical skills that can be measured. Reading, writing, mathematics and computer skills can be measured and they are examples of necessary prerequisites for an educated society. But it is also necessary to provide effective education pursuant to self-esteem, self-confidence and moral conscience. It is appropriate to teach social (sharing) cooperation and trust, which shape appropriate interpersonal skills.”
Evidently, these are crucial skills at the foundation phase for preparing children for lives with dignity and responsibility, and for equipping them with appropriate attributes for inculcating positive societal values from an early age.
The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town found that: “Early childhood development services not only support children’s health, well-being and early learning, they are increasingly recognised as a sound economic investment and a key strategy in reducing inequality.”
This reinforces the notion that investing in ECD is a means of ensuring not only that children are fully prepared for the school system but also that they perform better in school and at the tertiary level, thus creating better prospects for children from poor households, advancing their socioeconomic rights and increasing their standing in society. Clearly, this statement augments the notion that education is the key to success.
As Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, released during the second quarter of 2018, showed, although joblessness had increased to 27.7% up from 26.7% compared with the first quarter, unemployment levels decreased as the level of education increased.
Evidently, giving vulnerable children an integrated package of education and social services is an effective and efficient way to prepare them for life.
And, as evaluation research conducted by the Gauteng Department of Social Development showed, current institutional arrangements fail to adequately address the needs of the ECD sector. Among other issues, the evaluation identified that centres experienced challenges registering Grade R classes with the basic education department, and this resulted in social development funds being used to fund Grade R classes.
Equally important is the need to review, redesign and standardise the curriculum from pre-Grade R classes. This would not only serve to improve the quality of educational services, but also enable policymakers to standardise the assessment of these centres. These measures would, in turn, enhance planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluative research measures crucial for assessing the impact of the programme.
Taking these practical steps would enable policymakers and other critical stakeholders to sort out the educational deficiencies plaguing this sector, which include the chronic shortage of educational resources, such as well-qualified ECD specialists and several categories of learner-teacher support materials, as well as poor physical infrastructure.
Clearly, developing cutting-edge strategies to address many disparities existing in this sector will also address the issues relating to poor quality of services and efficiency. What the country urgently requires is the initiation of a broad network of processes comprising critical stakeholders such as academics, parents, civil society organisations and municipalities, as they also play an important role in the provision of ECD services. Also required are experts with credentials to shape ECD policies and educational practices and curriculum specialists who understand that ECD is primarily concerned with preparing children for better scholastic performance and giving them a head-start in life.
We have to ensure that children do not run the risk of underperforming and becoming the next generation of under-achievers, dooming them to perpetuate intergenerational poverty.
Clearly, there is nothing as important as an idea whose time has come.
Mokoena is director of research and policy coordination at the Gauteng department of social development
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