Failing to flourish? Here's what the largest survey on South African preschoolers has revealed

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Children during Thrive by Five Fieldwork 2021 JHB ECD Centre. Photo: Thrive by Five
Children during Thrive by Five Fieldwork 2021 JHB ECD Centre. Photo: Thrive by Five

According to Thrive by Five Index, the largest survey on preschool child development in South Africa, 65% of four to five-year-olds fail to meet their age's expected early learning and physical growth standards.

This survey released on 8 April also states that these children will start Grade R at a considerable disadvantage, with possible long-term implications for their education.

Exactly 5000 children aged 4-5 years enrolled in various types of Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) around the country were assessed by The Thrive by Five Index. The survey looked into three areas that are predictive of a child's performance in school: early learning, physical growth, and social-emotional functioning.

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The learning tasks that were assessed fall into five groups:

  • Gross motor skills.
  • Fine motor skills.
  • Early literacy.
  • Early mathematics.
  • Executive functioning - the child's ability to solve problems and pay attention.

It was found that less than half of 4-5-year-olds are on track for learning.

It was reported that 55% of children attending ELPs could not do the learning tasks expected of children their age, with 28% of children falling far behind the expected standard.

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Both physical growth and socio-emotional functioning are essential measures for children because they influence their ability to succeed at school and beyond.

It was reported in this survey that one in four children (25.1%) showed signs of long-term malnutrition, which presents itself as stunted physical growth.

Stunted children, on average, perform worse at school than their non-stunted counterparts and are more likely to be unemployed as adults, notes this survey.

Stunted children are also at higher risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension and are vulnerable to being trapped in intergenerational cycles of poverty.

The Index found that 27.5% of children did not meet the standard for age-appropriate social relations with peers and adults for social-emotional functioning. In comparison, 33.4% were found not emotionally ready for school.

The survey also reported that children from poor households are disadvantaged before formal schooling starts.

While there are instances of considerable variation in performance within income groups, this survey found that, on average, children from poorer households are falling behind their better-off peers due to the challenges they face in their earliest years.

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According to this survey, children thrive by age five when, from birth, they experience a nurturing and safe environment. They have access to quality healthcare and nutrition and opportunities for learning - both in the home and in ELPs.

Urgent action is needed from all sectors in South Africa; urgent collective action to decrease the performance gap between young children in the richest and poorest households at entry into school.

The Thrive by Five Index has also called to increase the percentage of young children in South Africa who thrive by five, setting more children up for success.

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Thrive by Five Fieldwork 2021 JHB Child Assessment. Photo: Thrive by Five.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says that The Thrive by Five Index will enable the Department of Basic Education to track progress in providing integrated services that improve child outcomes over the next 10 years.

Committed to making a difference, FNB CEO Jacques Celliers highlights that the value of this Index is that it highlights the optimal support needed by SA's young children as they progress from grassroots to greatness.

Celliers says that Thrive by Five's actionable insights will influence targeted interventions that will result in quantitative and qualitative outcomes and ensure that all stakeholders make measurable progress in the coming years.

Watch the video of the Thrive by Five Index report here.


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