Early childhood development in trouble
The South African Early Childhood Review released by Ilifa Labantwana last month found that there are 2.5 million young children from age three to five living in households below the food poverty lines, leaving the future of South Africa at great risk as the children may face exclusions in early learning due to lack of affordability. This leaves them at a further disadvantage which will be carried over into their formal schooling years. Several studies also show that poorer children are more likely to receive poorer quality learning programs.
Despite the high rates of poverty and unemployment, reported rates of fee payment for ECD services are high. Of the 2.7 million children under the age of six, who attend some kind of early learning programme (below grade R level) or are in the care of a childminder, 84% have fees paid for them. Fees range from under R100/month to over R 2000/month. Nearly half (45%) pay over R 200 per month, more than half the value of the Child Support Grant.
The access gap between the richest and poorest children is widest among the children aged one to three. A three-year-old from a rich family is twice as likely to attend an early learning programme than a child of the same age in a poor family. The gap between the two disappears at the point of entry into Grade R where all children have access to free schooling.
The review also states that children who attend at least two years of high quality early learning programs are more likely to start primary school in track.
The national development plan proposal stated that by 2024 all children must have attended at least two years of compulsory early learning before entering grade one.
3 million children under the age of six living in rural areas still have challenges of ECD service delivery due to the lowered population densities and the dispersed communities. Children of the Northern Cape have less than 60% access to early childhood programs. Media liaison officer for Northern Cape Department of Education, Geoffrey Van Der Merwe explains that the migration of ECD from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education is not yet done, hence the responsibility still rests with the Department of Social Development.
Ilifa Labantwana is a nonprofit organisation that aims to expand access to quality early childhood development.