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Dr Sello Mokoena | 24 January 2023

There is sufficient respectable evidence to support the idea that quality ECD services play a critical role during a child’s early developmental stages, says the writer. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

As we start the new academic year with special emphasis on the matric results it is of paramount importance not to forget the crucial role played by quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) in children’s life long before they reach Grade R and beyond this stage; and to reflect on the usefulness of this programme as it serves as a stepping stone to a brighter future.

As there is sufficient respectable evidence to support the idea that quality ECD services play a critical role during a child’s early developmental stages as they offer better life prospects that enable critical stakeholders such as parents, government and civil society organisations to prepare children for a future with dignity, productivity and fulfilling lives.

As Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Survey, released during the second quarter of 2018, showed, although joblessness had increased to 27.7% up from 26.7% compared with the first quarter, unemployment levels decreased as the level of education increased. Evidently, giving vulnerable children an integrated package of education and social services is one of the most effective and efficient steps we can take to give them a head-start in life. It is against this background that as we begin the new academic year, we should focus on the crucial role played by the ECD Centres. This begs the question what is an ECD service or programme? Official documents state that these programmes offer “early learning opportunities and support to children from birth until the year before they enter formal school”. They include, but are not limited to:

Community-based play groups operating for specific hours;

  • Outreach and support programmes for young children and their families/ caregivers, at a household level;

  • Parenting support and enrichment programmes; support for the psychosocial needs of young children and their families;

  • ECD programmes provided at partial-care facilities and at child and youth-care facilities, as contemplated in section 93(5) of the Children’s Act.

These could be toy libraries or mobile ECD programmes, play groups, child minders or crèches.

The programme adopts a more holistic approach to early learning.

It is aimed at promoting social protection and ensuring reduced vulnerability.

Official policy documents further state that the purpose of this programme is to ensure that children’s cognitive and effective skills, as well as psycho-motor skills are fully developed within conducive learning settings from an early age.

The programme seeks to instil positive societal values and to improve children’s lives in meaningful ways.

The major intention is to provide every child with the basic skills of reading, writing and elementary numeracy, as well as basic digital literacy skills essential for learning that will serve as they continue with their education and grow older in life.

The programme seeks to enhance the quality of human capital; that is, individual’s competencies and skills for participating in society and workforce.

This vital bridge demonstrates the interdependence between better scholastic performance and a better life.

These are critical skills at the foundation phase of a child and they are requisite necessities for the creation and cross-fertilisation of mental, physical and emotional well-being including academic and recreational spheres, central to increasing young people’s abilities to participate in societal empowering activities known to be “an avenue for improving all people’s lifestyles”.

They enrich the changes of children participating ECD centres in relation to positive societal values and democratic practices.

As I reflect on the role of ECD I concluded that the provision of appropriate ECD services will not only enable us to serve the educational needs of children from an early age, but it will also allow us to equip them with requisite cognitive and affective skills required for successful learning throughout a person’s life.

As Kierstead and Bowman put it: “There is a need to establish concise, cognitive skills that can be measured. “Reading, writing, mathematics and computer skills can be measured, and they are examples of necessary prerequisites for an educated society.

“But it is also necessary to provide affective education pursuant to self-esteem, self-confidence and moral conscience. It is appropriate to teach social (sharing) cooperation and trust, which shape appropriate interpersonal skills.”

These are the skills essential for the economic challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

The 2012 Child Gauge report published by the Children’s Institute at UCT argues that “early childhood development services not only support children’s health, well-being and early learning, they are increasingly recognised as a sound economic investment and a key strategy in reducing inequality”.

This reinforces the notion that investing in early childhood development is not only a means of preparing children to perform better in school and giving children a head start in life, but also of contributing to the socio-economic development of the country and of ensuring that our children are fully prepared for the school system as we face new educational challenges.

Research conducted by the Gauteng Department of Social Development in 2016 to evaluate the status of the Social Development Prototype ECD centres revealed that while the presence of the centres was found to improve community pride as well as community’s confidence in the government and, stakeholders’ perceptions of the impact of the ECD programme implemented at the prototype centres was favourable several stakeholders suggested that there was a need for a standardised curriculum.

This would serve to ensure the quality of the programme, as well as to enable standardised assessment across the centres.

This would, in turn, enable better monitoring of the impact of the programme as this evaluation research revealed that many of the centres were identified as not being accessible for disabled users due to the absence of ramps, handrails and age appropriate ablution facilities for children with disabilities.

Furthermore, educators were not capacitated to teach intellectually and physically disabled children.

This requires the initiation of a broad network of processes comprising a range of activities undertaken by primary stakeholders such as academics, NPO representatives, parents, business, faith-based and political organisations from all walks of life, among others.

This requires people with the ability to influence educational policy and educational practices at various levels, including curriculum experts who understand that education is primarily concerned with the development of different types of skills and values.

* Mokoena is an applied broadcasting, educational media, international communications, policy and development studies expert. He is head of research and policy at the Gauteng Department of Social Development. He writes in his personal capacity.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.

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