The education of South Africa’s youth was touted as one of the top three national priorities in former finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s 2018 budget speech. An amount of R57 billion was set aside towards this initiative, however, without a solid early childhood development strategy the government would be building on unstable ground.
This was the takeaway from a thematic report on early education titled: Early Childhood Development in South Africa for 2016, delivered by the Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke on Tuesday.
In his report, Risenga echoed the sentiments of President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in his inaugural state of the nation address, said: “If we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor.”
Statistics South Africa, the national statistical service of South Africa, in its attempts at quantifying ways of breaking the cycle of poverty demonstrated that there is a link between poverty and a lack of inadequate early childhood development.
“A lack of decent early childhood development would be detrimental to a child’s ability to unlocking his/her life-long term potential,” explained the report.
Contrary to popular belief, the report also showed that there is a need for early childhood development to start as early as when a woman is pregnant, since “good nutrition and medical care for the mother is essential in order for her to deliver a healthy child”.
The statistics also showed that during the period 2015–2016, 61% of pregnant women made their first antenatal visit before 20 weeks and the antiretroviral treatment coverage for pregnant women was 93%. “This intervention has had a significant impact on ensuring that children born to HIV-positive women stay HIV-negative and healthy,” said Maluleke.
Among other things, this report addressed a crucial dilemma, that of: when should a child be permitted to start school in South Africa, especially since the age keeps changing.
“By the age of 5, almost 90% of a child’s brain will be developed,” explained the report. This is significant as the study shows that children should be allowed to start school at age 5 so as to coincide with their intellectual and emotional resources to do so.
This is not the case with most children as shown by a study reported by Fin24 and compiled in 2017, that the cost of private school education in South Africa costs R2.2 million per child and that not all children can even afford the ‘free’ primary and high school education. Moreover, during these formative years children need “adequate healthcare, good nutrition, good quality childcare and nurturing, a clean and safe environment, early learning and stimulation will, to a large extent, influence his/her future as an adult,” the study said.
This is why the message by Gigaba – that of increasing the fee-free higher education budget while in the same breath decreasing the budget for basic education – came as a contradiction since the report demonstrates a need for equal attention in both spheres of education.