A proper foundation is the key to emotional, physical and cognitive success in childhood, as well as later on in life. Investing in Early Childhood Development (ECD) will set children up for these sorts of achievements. The question is, to what extent has the world and, more specifically, South Africa invested in ECD.
What is ECD?
The first 1000 days of a child’s life are crucial. Essentially, children’s potential to develop cognitively, emotionally and physically is greater during this period than it will be at any time afterwards.
ECD is the all-round development children should undergo during this period, and it ought to include a number of educational and social activities. Ultimately, it encourages children to become friendly, confident and social: qualities they need to be ready for school.
What are the advantages of being school-ready? Well, children are less likely to dropout or repeat grades, plus their overall performance is likely to be better – including their social and emotional functioning.
What is the global need for ECD centres?
According to a 2013 article by the Brookings Institute, the sad reality is that ECD has not been a global priority. That is, no country in the developing world can claim to have comprehensive programmes that reach all children. What are the impediments to improving things, though?
Knowledge gaps are one problem area. These relate to a lack of awareness about the benefits of ECD among key actors in developing countries, such as policymakers, parents and teachers.
Otherwise, fiscal constraints are a factor, as is a lack of cross-sectoral cooperation between, say, governments and donor institutions.
What is the local need for ECD centres?
Just over a third of local children who ought to be in ECD programmes have access to quality, out-of-home facilities. Sadly, enrolment and access levels drop off sharply for children in poor communities, where early education interventions are needed the most.
The reasons behind why poor communities don’t have the necessary access revolve around costs and information. From a costs perspective, it’s simply too expensive for many parents to enroll their children, and government subsidies (R15 a day per indigent pupil) have been inadequate. There’s also the suspicion that these parents are not aware of how important ECD is. That is because, while 73% of ECD-eligible kids live within a 5km radius of an ECD centre, they don’t attend it. Instead, parents choose to keep them at home, or hold off from enrolling them until at least grade one.
Other problems which affect ECD in South Africa revolve around quality. That is, ECD centres lack adequate infrastructure, adequate equipment and supplies, adequate practitioners in general and properly trained ones in particular, as well as adequate health and safety measures. These findings were based on a 2014 audit, and little seems to have changed one year on.
As part of Cipla’s drive to help build better communities, our CSI initiative, Ajuga, provides an effective solution to one of the problems within local ECD: safety. Ajuga’s fire-resistant structure can have alternative forms for any sort of community care centre, including ECD centres.
Any aid you give Ajuga or the Cipla Foundation will go a long way to helping vulnerable people. Make a donation at http://www.ajuga.co.za/get-involved/ .
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