Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)/ Archive
Two out of three children aged birth to 4 years in South Africa are not enrolled in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme.

These children are contributing to the 175 million children of pre- primary age not enrolled globally, according to the first global report by the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) on pre-primary education.

The report highlights lack of investment in pre-primary education by the majority of governments worldwide.

It found that children enrolled in at least one year of pre-primary education were more likely to develop the critical skills needed to succeed in school, less likely to repeat grades or drop out, and more able to contribute in societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

“Children in pre-primary education are more than twice as likely to be on track in early literacy and numeracy skills than children missing out on early learning. In countries where more children attend pre-primary programmes, significantly more complete primary school and attain minimum competencies in reading and maths by the time they finish primary school.”

Comparing South Africa with other countries, Unicef has commended the country for its strides in pre-primary enrolment.

The report noted that 96.6% of 6-year-olds attended an educational institution. Furthermore, South Africa, in the year 2000, took on the ambitious agenda of universalising one year of pre-primary education - Grade R.

“Thus today only 5% of children in South Africa are not enrolled in GradeR,” said the report.

“The country provides an example of how a combination of political will and public funding can established the universal provision of a public pre-school programme over a relatively short period, countering a history of inequality and deprivation.”

However, it was also noted that the allocation of funds for implementation from national government to provincial governments through an equitable share formula alone was not sufficient.

“Countries with high numbers of children not in pre-primary education were at risk of suffering deep inequalities from the start. In low-income countries, only 1 in 5 young children were enrolled in pre-primary education,” the report said.

Unicef urged governments to commit at least 10% of their national education budgets to scale up ECD’s and invest in teachers, quality standards, and equitable expansion.

Professor in the Department of Social Development at UCT Dr Eric Atmore said: “The most recent School Realities report of the national department of Basic Education gives a different picture of Grade R enrolment (called pre-primary in the Unicef press release). The department of Basic Education’s own numbers indicate that the percentage of children in Grade R is at about 79%.”