OPINION | Time for all concerned to up their ECD game

The South African government has in place excellent policies on early childhood development.
The South African government has in place excellent policies on early childhood development.
Image: 123RF/ RAWPIXEL

The South African government has in place excellent policies on early childhood development.

ECD is also prioritised in the National Development Plan. This recognition by government of its importance is a victory on its own as there are numerous scientific studies proving that what happens to a child between the ages of zero and seven will largely enhance or diminish their chances of success in later life. Any country needs to take seriously this vital window of opportunity to promote optimal child development.

There are some wonderful NGOs that do a brilliant job with very few resources to support excellent,  registered ECD centres in many communities in this province. Most of these organisations fall under the Network of Early Childhood Training Agencies. The network allows these organisations to share experiences, training, resources and outcomes, and all benefit from this sharing.

Most are equipped with qualified carers and stimulation materials, as well as adequate shelter, nutrition and sanitation. In other words, they meet the strict deadlines set out in government policy.

The policy emphasises that by 2030, a comprehensive, developmentally stage-appropriate and high quality early childhood development programme will be available and accessible to all infants and young children and their caregivers.

That goal is just nine years away. But, despite the best efforts of NGOs, we seem to be going in the opposite direction. By law, ECD centres must register as a partial care facility or aftercare service with the social development department (DSD). But the department’s monitoring of these facilities is poor. It is not proactive in ensuring that they meet specifications.

This was highlighted by the Buffalo City Metro’s  own monitoring via its health inspectors, which revealed horrific statistics showing some 86% of childcare centres do not  comply with even basic health standards. They also discovered overcrowding at the height of a pandemic and lack of safe facilities. How has the DSD missed this?

Horrific statistics show some 86% of childcare centres do not  comply with even basic health standards

This newspaper has already reported on the tragic and inexplicable death of two tiny babies at an unregistered Southernwood creche – a clear indication that the DSD needs to improve its oversight.

Communities and parents also have an onus to ensure little children are safely cared for and should report unregistered schools to the department.

The government is in the process of migrating ECD away from the DSD to the department of basic education. Given the highly specialised educational requirements of ECD, this seems a sensible move.

Hopefully it will mark the start of the government giving these vital institutions the recognition, funding and care that their policy promises, while assisting those facilities that do not meet the mark to up their game.


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