Millions of South African children and youth remain captive due to a lack of access to quality education as we celebrate Freedom Day on April 27 this year.
At this time our country’s educational system is at a watershed moment at every level, yet the critical importance of early childhood development in creating a pathway to prosperity is often overlooked.
Although some progress in the early childhood development (ECD) sector is noted, the ECD Diagnostic Review pointed out significant gaps in services highlighting the absence and/or poor quality of ECD services for young children - the poorest children in the greatest need have limited access to the fewest services.
According to the South African Early Childhood Review of 2017, more than half of children aged 0-5 have no access to any form of ECD. The audit also finds that 60 percent of ECD centres are not suited to providing the services that would enable them to provide a solid foundation for children’s future growth and development.
“Over six million children are at risk of missing early childhood development milestones, in turn putting them at a disadvantage throughout their school years and into adulthood,” says Candice Potgieter, chief executive officer of The Unlimited Child. “We need the private and public sectors to work together to ensure that our country does not suffer the tragedy of another lost generation.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa noted ECD as one of the top seven issues that need to be urgently addressed in his state of the nation address earlier this year. But this is not a crisis the government can solve without the full support of the non-profit and private sectors.
However, the importance of ECD is often overlooked when the private sector allocates funding to corporate social investment programmes, as it is well known that the investment into ECD is a long term one.
Says Potgieter: “It is certainly important that we keep investing in primary, secondary and tertiary education, yet we can only optimise outcomes at school and tertiary levels if we first invest in the education of children from birth.
"The early years of cognitive, emotional and social development set the stage for the later years of education; we must not fail our children from the most underserved communities by depriving them of education” as our former President Nelson Mandela said “Education is the greatest tool that can be used to change to the world.”
“The requirements to support a fully-functional, well-equipped preschool is modest and if we focus our efforts at preschool, the start of a child’s journey, then we give them the best shot at success throughout school and their early lives,” says Potgieter.