While the country is believed to be facing an education crisis a lot has to be asked about the plummeting ECD sector. Photo: Jason Boud
While the country is believed to be facing an education crisis a lot has to be asked about the plummeting ECD sector. Photo: Jason Boud

Education in crisis: What about early childhood development?

By Opinion Time of article published Nov 10, 2021

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Madeline Hoban

South Africa has been facing an education crisis for many years, says Madeline Hoban, spokesperson for inHome Montessori.

To give this some context, a recent Amnesty International survey is quoted as saying:

“More than three quarters of children aged nine cannot read for meaning and in some provinces, this is as high as 91% (Limpopo) and 85% (Eastern Cape).

“Of 100 learners that start school, 50-60 will make it to matric and 40-50 will pass matric.

“Only 14 will go to university.

“The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the disruption and uncertainty.

“Many schools adopted strategies to bridge the gap – including online schooling – but teachers had to adapt overnight and no official curriculums were designed to meet children’s needs under the new learning conditions.

“This period also highlighted how disempowered and ill-equipped parents felt in supporting their children’s learning journeys, and served as a collective call to re-think the role of the parent, especially in their child’s early development phase.

“The true cost of a poor learning foundation is particularly apparent when we see how, statistically, school leavers are ill-equipped in the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and basic literacy.

“These subjects are the most in-demand for our fast-evolving world and providing a solid foundation to a child’s learning journey, focusing on age-appropriate STEAM and literacy skill is critical.

“Sadly, quality education in South Africa is a privilege, despite it being a basic human right.

“Private schools have mushroomed and offer incredible facilities, but they come at a cost that most cannot carry.

“And so, the gap widens.

The National Department of Basic Education defines early childhood development (ECD) as ‘... The processes by which children from birth to nine years of age grow and thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, morally and socially.’

“The first 1 000 days of a child’s life are crucial in their learning journey, but mandatory education only starts after day 2 000.

“Early childhood development is the foundation for all future learning.

“Quality early learning programmes are essential for equipping children with the tools necessary for social, cognitive, physical and emotional development.

Only quality ECD programmes can lay a solid foundation for holistic development, while cultivating an innate love for learning.

Unlike primary and high school, the Department of Social Development is responsible for ECD, not the Department of Basic Education.

As a result, when the ECD sector faced pandemic disruptions, it became somewhat neglected.

ECD also became the last of the education phases to bridge the gap with suitable alternatives like online schooling.

Yet home-based programmes needn’t be overcomplicated, just structured and aligned to the child’s correct phase of development.

Curbing the ECD crisis

“The Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“Several schools have closed and many can’t afford to reopen due to high costs brought about by new Covid-19 regulations.

“Families can’t afford to send their children to ECD centres due to job losses and parents have also been fearful to send their children back to school.

“Many parents are now working from home.

“But it’s not always manageable to supervise a pre-schooler while focusing on your job.

“Home-based online programmes empower caregivers and parents with the skills and tools to provide a rich and fun learning environment in the home.

“For younger children, these programmes are flexible enough to fit into a family’s existing routine, while providing adequate stimulation and enjoyment for the child.

Power to the parents

“More specifically, a home-based Montessori programme could be a viable solution to assist those who do not have access to quality ECD centres in their community.

“When the curriculum is properly designed, the holistic and scientifically proven learning methods developed by Dr Maria Montessori ensure that the early years are maximised and the best possible foundation is laid.

“Montessori, an acclaimed Italian physician, educator and innovator, designed her approach around the way children learn naturally – the premise that children learn through play, not from behind a desk.

“Hands-on, self-directed learning allows children to make creative choices, enabling them to discover and explore their world and develop their maximum potential.

“Quality online Montessori programmes can be applied as an alternative to traditional ECD schooling.

“Alternatively, these programmes can improve learning for children who are placed in ECD centres as a form of childcare but are not receiving a fully developed curriculum, as a supplement to the child’s existing school curriculum.

“There is nothing more fun and natural than learning. It should NOT be a stressful process for the parent or the child.

Choosing your ECD home-schooling model

“Home-schooling is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and many parents are unsure about its legal implications.

“Staying compliant and above board should begin with looking for a programme that falls under the prescribed government definition of ’pre-school’ education.

“Under this definition, you are well within your rights to choose to educate your child at home, under your own care or with the help of an au pair or child-minder.

“Regulations only become more complicated once formal schooling begins in the foundation phase.

“Finding a quality programme designed around the goals set out set by the Department of Education could ensure that children will be more than adequately prepared for their next stage of education in either a private or government school, with a strong STEAM and literacy foundation.

Montessori and the whole child

‘“The social, emotional and individual benefits of a well-run Montessori system are limitless.

“Children who experience a Montessori education from birth are very often early readers, which boosts the child's ability to learn independently.

“This provides a solid foundation for their healthy development and future academic career.

“And we should be encouraging children to be self-motivated, self-disciplined and to practice age-appropriate self-control.

“A well-prepared Montessori learning area empowers the child with influence over their environment.

“And this space doesn’t have to be a separate room, it can simply be a dedicated corner of the room or table space that the child can use as their personal ‘learning station’.

“This boosts the child's confidence to explore, problem-solve and complete tasks independently.

“Dr Montessori believed that the focus should be on every aspect of a child's development, while respecting their individuality.

“Each child's learning journey is guided by their own passion and pace, ensuring that they reach their fullest potential when they are ready.

“Maria Montessori said, ‘the greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, The children are now working as if I did not exist’.

“This is something that the Montessori philosophy stands by and it has proved to give young minds the winning edge when preparing for the ever-changing world out there.’’

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