Some of the 403 children at the government-owned Centro Infantil Nhelety in the Maputo’s Alto-Mae B area. Picture: Moses Mudzwiti/ANA

Maputo - South African Unicef officials have responded to concerns that they are not attending the ongoing pre-primary education workshop, saying they had "valid reasons" for not doing so and had sent an "apology" to the organisers.

Earlier this week, delegates attending the Unicef Pre-Primary Education Workshop (#3E): Expansion, Economics, and Excellence in Maputo raised concerns about the absence of South African officials.  

Responding to the concerns on Wednesday, Sudeshan Reddy, Communication Specialist, Unicef South Africa, said: "The Unicef South Africa Country Office was indeed aware of the workshop and we had in fact tendered our apology for not being able the attend, due to valid reasons, which were accepted by the organisers."

Reddy did not say what the "valid reasons" were.

On Tuesday, Pablo Stansbery, the Unicef regional adviser on Early Childhood Learning (ECD) said he had no idea why South Africa was not attending the workshop.

South Africa was invited in good time and at least three reminders were sent to inquire if any delegates would participate in the workshop, which has attracted about 100 delegates from other African countries.

Delegates from Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia are participating.

Presently millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa are missing out on early childhood learning.

The host nation, Mozambique, has a population of about 26 million people, with 4.5 million children under the age of five. Only four percent of them have access to ECD services.

Earlier on Wednesday, delegates to the Unicef workshop visited several early childhood learning centres in Maputo, including Centro Infantil Nhelety in the capital’s Alto-Mae B area.

Unicef, which provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries, has research data that shows the benefits of early childhood learning to the individual and the country that invests in such education. The World Bank is also investing in ECD programmes.

The workshop, which ends on Friday is trying to work out the cost of implementing expanded access to pre-primary education in Africa and also to establish measurable norms and standards that will ensure excellence.

However, Reddy said: "It should be emphasised that our office not attending this workshop does not impact in any way on the progress and implementation of early childhood development and pre-primary education in South Africa. 

"The reality is that the government of South Africa has expanded pre-primary education through Grade R on a considerable scale for nearly two decades."