South Africa’s current ECD ecosystem excludes 70% of the poorest children from quality early learning programmes, and as a result more than half of all children fail to thrive. Home visiting programmes only reach a very small portion of these poor children. South Africa is also missing out on the economic and development benefits that come from investing in the female-led care economy.
There are approximately 1.3 million children in South Africa aged 4–5 and most of them attend some type of early learning programme (ELP). However, data from a survey conducted in 2021 shows that half of 4–5 year olds attending early learning centres face barriers to thriving 1 Action brief Findings , while a further 16% will start Grade R at a significant disadvantage. For most poor children in South Africa, their experiences in the first five years of life have long-term implications for their education and employment prospects.
The majority of South Africans are stuck in an inequality trap with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Most are stuck in intergenerational loops of exclusion with few chances to escape. Breaking this cycle requires a fundamental change in life trajectories, starting in the womb.
Think of a Möbius strip – just one twist in the circle allows you to trace a completely different pattern. Instead of being stuck on the inside of a loop, you emerge on the outside. In the same way, escaping the inequality trap requires a fundamental twist to set South Africa on a new path.
Ilifa Labantwana is motivated by global evidence that confirms investment in ECD develops individual potential and builds countries’ human capital, resulting in long-term economic growth, labour market productivity and public health savings. 2 De Lannoy, A., Mudiriza, G. (2019). A profile of young NEETs: Unpacking the heterogeneous nature of young people not in employment, education or training in South Africa. Cape Town: SALDRU, UCT. (SALDRU Working Paper No. 249).
Ilifa has seven strategic goals which are the foundation to achieve our vision for an equitable and prosperous South Africa that is built on quality ECD services for all children and a women-led care economy. These goals are:
We want to see 2.1 million children aged 0–5 accessing early learning programmes by 2027. One million of these children should be subsidised and 300 000 of the most vulnerable children aged 0–2 should benefit from home-visiting programmes.
Universal access to quality ECD services has direct benefits for caregivers and households through childcare, parenting programmes and income support for eligible households. Free or affordable and safe spaces in an ELP means that as many as 2.3 million caregivers, who are mostly women, have the opportunity to seek employment.
We want to enable 1.4 million female caregivers to participate in the labour market by 2027, due to the wider availability of childcare in low-resource communities. In addition, we want to play a role in creating opportunities for 300 000 women in the care sector by 2027.
If all children are developmentally on track by the time they start Grade R in terms of physical growth and early learning, their lifetime earnings potential is 25 to 40% higher. Bridging the service gaps for the poorest 60% of households is an opportunity to catalyse human capital formation by improving skills and working conditions, shifting the ECD workforce from unskilled to semi-skilled opportunities and setting a precedent for the acknowledgement and remuneration of care work.
Visit the Ilifa Labantwana website to learn more: https://ilifalabantwana.co.za
Trying to change life trajectories is ambitious and profound. It requires us to radically influence the lives of individuals and to be part of changing the circumstances in which they live.