Most of the centres are run by elderly or retired people with very little knowledge of how to stimulate children mentally.
This is according to Sarah McGuigan, a director of Ntataise, an NGO focused on skills development and capacity building in the sector.
She said children who are not exposed to quality ECD programmes often have poor cognitive and linguistic abilities which lead to a life of struggle in their later schooling years
McGuigan said a recent Child Gauge by the University of Cape Town revealed that, “early investments offer greater improvement in education and earning potential than intervention implemented in middle-childhood, adolescence or early adulthood”.
She said children who received quality foundation education were less likely to drop out.
Education researcher Dr Nicholas Spaull said a great number of pupils dropped out of the education system. “Of 100 children who started Grade 1 in 2007, only 51 made it to matric, 40 passed and 17 got bachelor’s passes.
"So, the pass mark of 78% is probably more like 40% if you take into account the 400 000 kids that drop out the system before matric.”
As the academic year gets into full swing, McGuigan said greater efforts and resources needed to be invested in the sector because it was neglected in the past.
“It’s about laying a life-long foundation. Children need to develop problem-solving skills and emotional ability so that when they go into the schooling system, they are able to cope. You will have a decreased drop-out rate and children are less likely to be held back,” said McGuigan.
She said there was a greater need for the government to provide subsidies to the majority of children from poor households that did not have access to quality ECD programmes
“It is about universal access, there are about four million children receiving child support grants, they are the ones that need support with subsidised early childhood development,” she said.
“We need an outlook that seeks to leave no child behind, to make the passage into the first day of school as seamless and attainable for all as that of the last day of school.”
She said the ECD sector is lagging behind when it comes to properly qualified practitioners. Currently, the highest ECD qualification available is a level 6, Vocational Certificate.
However, McGuigan said various bodies, assisted by the Department of Higher Education and Training, have put in place processes to introduce Level 6 (a Diploma) and Level 7 (Degree) in order to attract young people into the ECD profession.
“There is an acknowledgement that we should professionalise the ECD sector. We are putting together a curriculum so that this qualification can be offered by universities by 2020,” she said.
According to the South African Early Childhood Review of 2017, children from about three derive great educational, social and emotional benefits from participation in high quality group-based early learning programmes.
“These programmes may take different forms such as playgroups, crèches and preschools. For optimum cognitive outcomes, the evidence suggests that two years of high quality preschool programmes were better than one; that a minimum of 15-30 hours per week is needed; and that outcomes are optimised if children are enrolled before the age of 4 years,” said the report.
“Over half of South Africa’s young children live in just three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.”
According to the report, there is a lack of data on how many children were receiving the “per child early learning subsidy” .
“The administration of the ECD conditional grant calls for vastly improved administrative data to track the number of children requiring and accessing subsidised early learning programmes.”
The ANC’s election manifesto outlines plans to develop ECDs, including extending core responsibilities of the Department of Basic Education to include the provision and monitoring of ECDs, standardising guidelines, norms and standards for ECDs and setting employment targets in the sector.