South Africa needs to reignite its transformation agenda with radical decisions. Our democracy requires brave, bold leadership that breaks moulds, challenges stereotypes and reconfigures equity. I recently challenged the continued use of the phrase “previously disadvantaged” for all the negativity associated with it, and offered the term “equity-deserving” as its alternative.
Equity-deserving moves my identity from being a reflection of my past to an awareness of my present - as one deserving equity along with all my fellow citizens.
We deserve a good education. We deserve a good health service. We deserve a good public transport system. And we deserve good leaders.
And our government, at all levels, must work to build an equity-serving environment with equity-building policies and practices.
For the last 25 years we’ve referred to the collective black South African population as “previously disadvantaged”. Today that phrase has the potential of turning the black past into a current liability for one simple reason. It doesn’t value the competencies and intelligence of the black population in the room.
I could well be previously disadvantaged in a meeting I’m attending, but I could also be the most intelligent one or the most educated one in the room. My fellow attendees, as has happened, will completely ignore the qualifications and competencies of black attendees and will continue to treat them as “previously disadvantaged” and will thus conduct the meeting on the “okay, let’s get some inputs from the black guy and then we’ll get to other inputs” approach to running meetings. Yes, it happens in 2019.
What’s needed is a robust and intentional programme of equity-deserving policies and practices.
It involves components such as a focusing on how we educate children so that the inbuilt inequalities in the system, such as economics, education and infrastructure, don’t continue to undermine the outputs of the system.
This is particularly so in Early Childhood Education. If we’re going to succeed in eliminating the unequal and false starts that millions of children have in the early developmental stages of their lives, we must embrace equity-deserving policies and practices for our children.
All our children deserve the same start as every other child of privilege in this country.
The provision of equity-deserving Early Childhood Development Services (ECDS) to poor families is fundamental to the appropriate development and protection of vulnerable children, and has the potential to bring an end to the violence against women and children.
ECDS form a vital part of the development of every child. We know that children who have access to quality ECDS from an early stage in life are mostly better suited to cope with formal schooling and life in general. President Cyril Ramaphosa said, during his State of the Nation Address 2018, that “if we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor”.
The Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University stated in its publication The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development (2015) that “What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime”.
In early childhood, research on the biology of stress shows how major adversity, such as extreme poverty, abuse or neglect, can weaken developing brain architecture and permanently set the body’s stress response system on high alert. Science also shows that providing stable, responsive, nurturing relationships in the earliest years of life can prevent or even reverse the damaging effects of early life stress, with lifelong benefits for learning, behaviour, and health.”
It must therefore stand as a crucial priority for the South African government and its academic, health and education partners that ensuring access to equitable ECD education is a fundamental part of changing the story for South Africa.
In our struggle for an equal society, we must pay attention to the intentional development of equity policies and practices. All our children are equity-deserving citizens.
* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.