Early Childhood Development – A Crucial Start to Success
Good afternoon colleagues and thank you for affording me the opportunity to share some thoughts with you on the issue of Early Childhood Development (ECD). Before I start though, I want to commend all the award winners here today. The contributions you make to the lives of many children are most appreciated. Your work will pave the way for brighter futures. Thank you and well done. Part of the open opportunity society for all, is to ensure that every child in South Africa has access to quality education.
This however, starts long before the child walks into the Grade 1 classroom for the first time. It is imperative that parents realise just how important it is to ensure that their child is thoroughly equipped for their school career. In fact, I want to ensure that through the opportunities extended by the Western Cape Department of Social Development, in terms of early childhood development, we produce the best equipped learners in the country. I furthermore believe that well-equipped and prepared learners will ensure an increased retention rate from grades 1 to grade 12. Recently the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2012 – 2013 made headlines with some disturbing findings about our education system and its ability to position South Africa as a competitive country in the global economy.
The quality of our country’s Education System overall was ranked 140 out of 144 countries surveyed, while the quality of our Math and Science education is a dismal 143 out of the 144 countries surveyed. While this may seem excessively negative, it is not inconsistent with findings by other independent bodies. The United Nations Development Programme Report for 2011, for example, ranks South Africa 113 out of 184 countries for literacy. South Africa spends about 5% of its GDP on education, in line with countries from Western Europe and North America. So why is our education system failing us? As my colleague Western Cape Education Minister, Donald Grant often points out a major reason for schools underperforming is a lack of time spent on tasks in the classroom by teachers and learners. We have also seen how textbooks are delivered late or not at all in some of our country’s worst performing provinces. Schools also face problems of ill-discipline, truancy, and inadequately skilled teachers. In the Western Cape we have worked hard to turn this around, focusing on performance management of principals, and successfully reducing the number of underperforming schools from 85 in 2009 to 30.
However, recent diagnostic results from our schools have pointed to another major contributor to South Africa’s poor education performance. That is, too many grade 1 learners enter the school system without the basic cognitive and language skills needed to be able to learn and progress in the curriculum. Learners in this situation are prejudiced from the outset, and are more likely to drop out as school becomes increasingly difficult. This in turn fuels unemployment, crime and other social ills.
How do we turn this around? The missing piece of the puzzle is early childhood development, whether this is offered by parents or by ECD services where parents are unable to provide the service. Either way, it is crucial that parents of young children realise that from birth, their child needs them to provide adequate cognitive stimulation in order to learn basic skills. Parents need to read to their children, helping them to develop listening skills. Parents need to teach children to tie their own shoelaces, to arrange blocks in different colours and shapes, and to brush their teeth. Reading to children, and playing games with them, is not just for fun. These activities are essential for the development of children’s brains, and help prepare them for school. I know that many parents work, and struggle to find the time for this, which is why the Department of Social Development commits over R400 million a year to provide those parents with low incomes an opportunity to put their children into ECD programmes.
Like our education system, our ECDs have a long way to grow, but they are already helping more than 90 000 children a year in this province alone. Furthermore, in order to strengthen the quality of the programmes they run, this year we have embarked on a programme to train 400 ECD teachers to administer a proper curriculum that will help develop the cognitive, language and numeracy skills of children in our programmes. According to research done by the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, providing supportive conditions for early childhood development is more effective and less costly than attempting to address the consequences of early adversity later. The report further states that a balanced approach to emotional, social, cognitive and language development will best prepare children for success in school and later in the workplace and community.
It also recommends specialised interventions as early as possible for children experiencing toxic stress. This not only targets the cause of the stress, but also protects the child from the consequences thereof. From the time the baby is in the mother’s womb, and through their early childhood, their environment and the relationships they have with parents, caregivers and other adults, have a significant impact on their development – socially, cognitively and emotionally. I want to urge parents to find out more about how they can help their children to prepare for school, and to make as much time as possible to read to and play educational games with their children. While this government is committed to doing everything possible to increase the quality and reach of ECD, we need parents to help us to turn this province –and this country – into an international success story. Through this partnership, we can make our children’s lives better together. I thank you.
Melany Kühn Spokesperson for Minister Fritz 083 280 9199