Early Childhood Development (ECD): Why is it so crucial?

Early Childhood Development (ECD): Why is it so crucial?

Early Childhood is generally seen as the period starting with the child in the womb and ending around seven years of age. This period has been intensively researched from the vantage point of a number of disciplines.

During the developmental years, children acquire the concepts, skills and attitudes which lay the foundation for success later on in life, alongside the growth of physical attributes and skills. Particularly for children from disadvantaged communities who may not have resource-rich home environments, timely and appropriate interventions can often reverse the effects of poverty and early deprivation and maximize the development of their innate potential. One way of achieving this is by increasing access to good quality early childhood development programmes.

“Brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. When the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected.” – Unicef
“Early interventions for disadvantaged children lead to improvements in children’s survival, health, growth, and cognitive and social development..” – Unicef
“A simulation on increasing pre-school enrollment in 73 countries found benefits in terms of higher future wages of $6.5-$17.6 per dollar invested.” – Statistics South Africa

In South Africa, access is a major issue. Fewer than one sixth of the 6.4 million children of the ages 0-7 in South Africa have access to an ECD programme or facility. Civil society organisations have long been advocating for an increased emphasis on ECD; however, the public provision of ECD in South Africa is complex, falling between the departments of Social Development, Health and Education.

While ECD has a rich history of innovation and is filled with pockets of excellent and effective practice both from the public sector as well as from private providers, much of this has been uncoordinated and hampered by confusions around policy and accountability.

Recognising this, the government began to prioritise ECD and confirm it as a public good by passing the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy through its Cabinet in 2015. This is the first time since our democracy that South Africa has a comprehensive policy for very young children. Current policy developments tackle issues of coordination and integration across different aspects of ECD provision, services and standards.

Fewer than one sixth of the 6.4 million children of the ages 0 – 7 in South African have access to ECD.