Why Effective Early Childhood Development Is Key In Improving Education

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While work needs to be done on multiple fronts to achieve the goals set out in the National Development Plan, improving Early Childhood Development Education is key in improving the quality of education in South Africa. 

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The National Development Plan (NDP) sets out the South African government's plan to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. According to the NDP, Early Childhood Development (ECD) must be a top priority among the measures to improve the quality of education and long-term prospects for future generations.

ECD is the comprehensive approach to programmes and policies for children from birth to seven years old to develop their full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential. 

This development for young children happens at an ECD centre. An ECD centre can be a crèche, a daycare centre for young children, a playgroup, a preschool or after-school care. 

Nikki Lopes from the Santa Shoebox Project (SSP) says the foundation laid at an ECD centre prepares children for all the education that is to follow during their school years and higher education studies. While having a good foundation can potentially set a child up for success, a poor foundation could negatively impact learners.

Lopes explained that ECD centres should be equipped with all the resources needed to help build this foundation and have staff that can use these resources to assist children. 

However, not all ECD centres in the country are conducive to learning as an estimated 44% of centres do not have access to age-appropriate books and 45% don’t have running water. 

To improve ECD education, the SSB Legacy Project establishes and transforms existing ECD centres in rural parts of the country. The project has enabled three new ECD centres to be built with work on a fourth centre to start later this year.

It began with the establishment of the Soul City ECD centre in the Loskop district, Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) in 2020 followed by the Fairfields ECD centre in Ceres in the Western Cape in 2021.

The year 2022 saw the establishment of the Snethemba centre in the Draycott District in KZN and in June 2022 work will get underway on the Qandokuhle centre in the Draycott District of KZN. 

Additionally, ECD staff may not be trained to play a crucial role in the development of children. There are two types of employees at ECD centres, caregivers and ECD educators.

While no formal training or qualification is required to be a caregiver, ECD educators must have obtained a level 4 qualification in terms of the National Qualification Framework (NQF).

The SBB Legacy Project began making provisions for the training of caregivers employed at ECD centres. This saw 200 caregivers trained in March 2023 in the greater Cape Town area with Singakwenza, while 185 caregivers were trained over the last six months in ORT Perceptual Skills and Playbox training. 

Many ECD teachers are eager to learn more and upskill themselves because they are passionate about helping children. 

While these training workshops have only taken place in the Western Cape, they hope to expand the project to other provinces as the year progressors

These workshops help teachers develop the basic skills to read and the main beneficiaries of these workshops would be children ages 2-4 years old. These children will learn and build important skills through play. 

The manner in which they [children] are learning simple things like rhythm which is important for literacy, recognition of colours and shapes taught in a manner they can understand.

In 2022, the ECD function was migrated from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the migration would ensure children get access to compulsory education for two years before entering Grade one which will improve reading comprehension in the first years of school. 

Lopes says there is an ongoing debate about whether the shift has made things materially better. This is because many ECDs still have not received their grants. The ECD grant aims to assist poor children to access subsidised early childhood services through centres and non-centre programmes.

They add that it's important that the DBE address the issues ECDs are facing as the consequences of not doing this can have long-lasting consequences.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 report indicated that 78% of Grade 4 learners could not read for understanding in any language.

While the 2021 PRILS results will be released later this year, experts say this percentage of learners who cannot read for understanding may have increased.

If children are not taught the basics and do not have access to the resources, these children are not likely to complete their basic education, If you don't give the child the grounding they need to be able to learn, it shows very quickly in Grade 4.

During the 2023 Budget Speech, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana revealed an additional R1.6 billion over the medium term will be allocated to the ECD grant to increase the number of children receiving the early childhood subsidy. 

This money will also make provision to provide pre-registration support to early childhood development centres, pilot a nutrition support programme and a results-based delivery model where the service provider is only paid for the outputs delivered. 

Additional funding was allocated to enable the provision of early childhood development resource packages, which include daily activity plans linked to the National Curriculum Framework.


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