Challenges of Early Childhood Development in South Africa

Underprivileged children living in South Africa experienced a history of neglect due to the political ideologies of the apartheid government. Apartheid was a system of racial separation that was enforced by legislation in South Africa. In the 1950s, the Minister of Bantu (black) Affairs questioned the purpose of educating the ‘Bantu’ children because he believed their opportunities and potential were limited to manual labor (Atmore, 1998). This belief resulted in a skewed education system that favored white children who were offered education at no cost, while black children attended voluntary, tuition-paid schooling.


This system resulted in minimal education opportunities for black children. Access to preschool provisions for children is currently less than 9% and for black children even lower at 6%. There are multiple reasons for the poor quality of primary education in South Africa. For instance, lack of financial resources, untrained staff, lack of equipment, and poor accommodations are challenges faced by many crèches (Atmore, 1998). In many areas in South Africa, equipment, food for the children, and teacher salaries are non-existent. Parent fees are crucial for supporting the faculty and facility of a crèche. Unfortunately, parents are oftentimes unemployed or earn very low wages resulting in an unacceptable number of children per teacher ratio in crèches. These crèches are plagued by a high turnover for teachers since staff salaries vary from R200-R500 per month. Lastly, most centres lack adequate equipment and structures for a safe and healthy learning environment. Out of the 52.98 million people currently living in South Africa, about 6 million (15%) are under the age of 6 years old. Of these 6 million young children, 5.3 million are black South Africans, with about half living in rural areas and the other half living in urban areas. Only 9% of those children that are provided with private non-formal, non-governmental organisations and community- based organisations (Atmore, 1998).

Currently, South Africa addresses early childhood development in a productive manner. These include a community-based approach, informal training, and support infrastructure. Since the previous South African government abandoned its responsibility for educare, most community members have come together to organize services for the community. As seen in a study conducted on support for crèches, 295 out of 575 crèches (51%) were started by the community. The graph below shows how some of the crèches in informal settlements originated and how much the government has assisted with this initiative (Ferrinho, 1988).

Origin of Creches in Informal Settlements

Some programmes have included centre-based provision playgroups, nutrition, food aid, and parent education. “This community-based approach to educare provision has provided for maximum participation and responsiveness to local needs and conditions” (Atmore, 1998). Non-governmental Early Childhood Development (ECD) organisations have played a facilitating role in the process to crèche and educational development. These organisations provide communities with various training, guidance, support, and even financial inputs. The trainings they offer include organisations establishing a course of action that will enable crèche facilitators to fulfill requirements of the ECD curriculum to become fully accredited teachers. Public funding for ECD is mobilized from national, provincial, and local government. Funding ECD programmes can help protect the rights of children and women as well as promote human resource development and secure proficient performance by children in school to improve the effectiveness of the schooling system in South Africa.


Atmore, E. (1998). Reconstructing Early Childhood Development Services in South Africa: From apartheid to democracy. International Journal of Early Years Education, 6(3), 291-298. doi: 10.1080/0966976980060304
Ferrinho, P. D. (1988). Health Authorities' Support for Crèches: Alexandra Healthcare and University Clinic and Department of Community Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.