Importance of ECD

ECD as a Growing Issue

Children playing with the WPI Team at the ECD programme in the Vygieskraal Stadium.

Children playing with the WPI Team at the ECD programme in the Vygieskraal Stadium.

Under South Africa’s apartheid government, blacks and coloureds (a unique racial category in South Africa) frequently lacked access to basic educational services (Atmore, 2013). Eric Atmore (2013), a professor of social development and director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), has summarized developments in ECD since the end of apartheid. New government policies implemented after the end of the apartheid system have guaranteed the right to education (Constitutional Court of South Africa, 1996), outlined goals for increasing enrolment and performance in primary education (Ministry of Education, 2001), and advocated for the provision of ECD related services in marginalised communities (Department of Basic Education, 2009, 2015). These developments have helped to improve access to basic education for children who had previously been excluded under the apartheid government.

While access to educational services has improved since 1994, not all efforts have been successful. Many communities lack the proper infrastructure to harbour effective learning centres, with several facilities serving upwards of forty children per playroom (Atmore, 2013). With respect to ECD services, only 47% of ECD practitioners have any form of ECD qualifications, since many who were raised before 1994 were denied an extensive education (Atmore, 2013). Despite their lack of formal training, these teachers are significant assets to their communities owing to the fact that ECD centres can already be severely understaffed. Finally, hunger and nutritional gaps have negative impacts on the development of children, and are basic needs that should be addressed in ECD programmes (Atmore, 2013).

Since 2010, projects developed by the Cape Town Project Centre (CTPC) have actively recognised and addressed the issue of early childhood development in South Africa. One specific example of this was the 2013 Early Childhood Development Connection Project, which had the main focus of creating a “foundation and network of ECD knowledge and partners to be used” by the future CTPC projects (Zhang, Nicosia, Deraney, Wadell, & Higgins, 2013). The connections made by the 2013 CTPC team helped lay the framework for future WPI projects.

Recognising the Impacts of ECD Improvement

Improvements in ECD impact multiple areas of society. The benefits that young children receive are the most evident, but these improvements also have a significant impact on families and communities. In the newest draft of ECD Policy, released in 2015, the Department of Social Development (DSD) notes that ECD is “central to the realisation of the national development goals of reducing poverty and inequality.” The Department of Basic Education in South Africa also notes some of the benefits of ECD to society, pointing out that ECD creates a “scope for primary caregivers to take up employment and further education,” as well as “opportunities for increased economic activity and productivity” (Department of Basic Education, 2015). In addition, having proper early development has been shown to result in a “later age of motherhood for young women,” as well as “improved family situations, including the empowerment of women” (Garcia, Pence, Evans, Open Knowledge, & Ebrary Academic, 2008).

Further emphasising the benefits of ECD, the Nationwide Audit of ECD Provisioning in South Africa points out that “ECD sites are ideally constructed as community-based, addressing the children’s needs in an integrated manner” (Williams et al., 2001). In the context of informal settlements, this means that ECD services would ideally be established in such a way that they are realistic for the community to maintain and manage. Integrating these ECD sites into a community without considering the implications of effectively operating the establishments defeats the purpose of creating them in the first place. The Nationwide Audit also indicates that there is a tangible link between ECD and the roles of women, specifically, citing that expanding ECD services gives women “the freedom to choose and develop their own lifestyles and careers,” thus acting as a channel for empowerment (Williams et al., 2001). In many areas of South Africa, women are still the primary caretakers for children. Setting in motion the creation of more ECD opportunities for young children provides channels of growth for children, while also giving women the opportunity to pursue other roles in society.

A 2014 case study in Malawi on the role of community-based childcare centres (CBCCs) contributes to the conversation on the importance of ECD for young children. The study cited an increased demand for pre-school education due to an escalated “number of idle children in communities due to, among other factors, being very young for enrolment in primary school” (Munthali, Mvula, & Silo, 2014). These idle children were documented as disturbing “their parents and guardians from performing economically productive activities,” suggesting that the parents could be contributing to society more actively if their children had a safe environment to play in (Munthali et al., 2014). The observation of these idle kids in the streets puts into perspective the reality of community life for many young children without access to ECD services. There is a sense of urgency to create a supplement to existing ECD efforts in marginalised areas to better equip children with access to safe and healthy outlets for development. While the creation of ECD outreach programmes benefits the children directly, it also creates a channel of work for unemployed adults. A noteworthy aspect of effectively expanding ECD services in target areas is assuring “that [they] are affordable as well as accessible” to ensure that communities can benefit from them (Garcia et al., 2008). Operating these programmes from “borrowed buildings” and public spaces increases this accessibility and makes the outreach programmes more feasible for communities to implement (Munthali et al., 2014).