President Cyril Ramaphosa
Cape Town - While education experts welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement during his State of the Nation address of the plan to bring Early Childhood Development (ECD) under the ambit of the Department of Education, they said the training of ECD teachers was pivotal.

During his address, Ramaphosa said the responsibility for ECD centres would migrate from the Department of Social Development to Basic Education. This would mean two years of compulsory ECD for all children before going to Grade 1.

Ramaphosa said: “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.

“The department’s early grade reading studies have demonstrated the impact that a dedicated package of reading resources, expert reading coaches and lesson plans can have on reading outcomes. We will be substantially expanding the availability of these early reading resources across the foundation phase of schooling.”

But David Harrison, who is involved in ECD development and is the chief executive of the DG Murray Trust, said more trained and skilled ECD teachers were needed.

“Currently we only have between 90000 and 100000 early learning practitioners, which is not enough. To teach ECD is a specialised skill, not all teachers can teach it.

“It (ECD) will prevent a lot of children dropping out of school before completing matric. ECD teachers lay the foundations for reading and maths.

“The ages between 3 and 6 years are a very important time for children to develop.”

Harrison said currently only between 1% and 2% of the education budget was spent on ECD, but that the migration of ECD to Basic Education “could mean the more efficient allocation of public funds to early childhood development, which is a good thing”.

Eric Atmore, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Development at UCT, said any government intervention in the quantity and quality of early childhood programmes was welcomed.

“But the implementation of it would be vital.”

He said 80% of children were being reached with early childhood development.

“There are also many early childhood development programmes provided by the non-profit sector across South Africa,” Atmore said.

@RusanaPhilander

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Cape Argus