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Shining the light on Early Childhood Development (ECD) this Universal Children’s Day

Universal Children’s Day is a global initiative held annually on 20 November. With its key focus on ‘investing in our future means investing in our children’, it serves to promote togetherness around the world, awareness of the problems children face and to improve the welfare of all children.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
To invest in our children, and to improve their lives, there can be no doubt that accessible and effective education, from formative years to high school and beyond, is key. This is further underpinned by the South African constitution in which S 29(1) states, “Everyone has the right (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education, and (b) to further education, which the state through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”

Vusani Malie, CEO, SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT) takes this one step further. Established in 2006 by Sishen Iron Ore Company (SIOC) (Pty) Ltd to invest in the uplifting of the communities in which the mining company operates in the Northern Cape and Limpopo – education has always been a primary focus. However, Malie draws attention to the critical importance of early childhood development (ECD) within this sector and reiterates SIOC-CDT’s commitment to this.

“Early childhood development lays the foundation for a child’s life,” stresses Malie. “It provides the foundation for lifelong learning and behaviour.” Says Stats SA, “The first one thousand days in a child’s life could hold the key to unlocking his/her life-long potential. By the age of 5, almost 90% of a child’s brain will be developed. These are the formative years where factors such as 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 Early Childhood Development report released by Stats SA in February 2018 shows that of the nearly 8.2 million children aged between 0 and 6 years old, almost 46% live in low-income households. About half of these children do not attend ECD facilities. For the children who do have the opportunity to attend a preschool, the problem is not access to education but the quality of the education. As for the home environment, a large percentage of children are growing up in homes that do not provide adequate communication or play to stimulate learning.

“The role of the teacher is crucial,” continues Malie. “To provide effective education and learning to these children requires effective and skilled teachers.” To this end a key drive for SIOC-CDT is the building of a pipeline of competent and capable teachers and practitioners – for the ultimate benefit of the children.

Projects supporting Early Childhood Development (ECD), or the Foundation Phase, are targeted at strengthening the pedagogical competence and content knowledge of practicing teachers and practitioners working and willing to stay in schools and ECD centres across the beneficiary communities. “The idea is to annually fund a cohort of teachers and practitioners in the various programmes targeting various profiles of teachers and practitioners to enrol at competent and capable institutions of higher learning,” explains Malie. To date, SIOC-CDT has invested a total of R13,841,823.00 in meeting these objectives. This figure includes both recent and current training programmes. Some recent and current SIOC-CDT sponsored initiatives in the ECD sector include:

  • The ECD Level 4 graduation of no fewer than 38 ECD practitioners from beneficiary communities who received their full qualification in Early Childhood Development – NQF Level 4, offered by Custoda Trust, an accredited Training and Service Provider with the ETDP Seta has recently been completed in the Northern Cape. This programme qualifies the graduates to work as professionals in this specific field.
  • In Limpopo, the ECD Practitioner Training Support Project which catered for approximately 25 ECD practitioners (across 37 ECD centres) at NQF Level 5 has recently been completed. This training is essential to the quality of education received by ECD learners. The training programme took place over a period of 18 months and is designed and delivered according to regulations from the ETDP SETA and SAQA. It was held at Waterberg TVET College – the only public institution within Limpopo province that is accredited to offer ECD NQF level 4 and 5 and the Diploma Qualification.
  • Currently, there is a total cohort of 115 ECD practitioners in the Northern Cape who are on ECD NQF level 4 and 5 training programmes and a cohort of 50 practitioners on ECD NQF level 5 training in Limpopo.

For 2022 there are already 40 practitioners identified to undergo ECD NQF level 5 in the Northern Cape. The budget for this commitment is R 3,126,376.00.

“It was reported that for every 100 South African pupils that started school in 2003, only 40 successfully progressed to Grade 12 in 2014; 28 passed; and a meagre 4 qualified for university admission. Of these, only 1 would go on to graduate. This means that a very high percentage of South Africa’s out-of-school youth have no educational qualifications,” says Malie.

“We need to solve this at grassroots levels – at the very beginning of the child’s journey,” stresses Malie. “We need to ensure that not only is early childhood development (ECD) learning available but, critically, that is of a high enough standard to be effective – thereby laying the necessary foundation for each learner and child. We need to set our children up to embrace education and learning, not only as a fundamental right – but one that will position them to achieve their ultimate greatness! And we need to do this better!”

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