We often talk about the importance of Early Childhood Development (ECD) as a key strategy to change South Africa. That is because children are the source of human capital. If we want to change the education system, grow the economy and create jobs, we must invest in young children. We are also not only talking to policy makers and non-profit organisations when we say this. People who are not directly involved in government or civil society often ask us what can they do to contribute to long-term change in South Africa, and we tell them one of the best things they can do is to create circles of care and support for the development of children in their communities:
Specifically, we recommend stimulating children’s language development and helping them to love stories, books and reading. Early experience with language promotes understanding and vocabulary growth, which builds the foundation for later literacy and academic achievement. If children enjoy reading, they have found a door that will open up the world for them and will dramatically improve their life chances (visit Nal’ibali to draw on their resources and support).
Alternatively, supporting pregnant or new mothers during the critical First 1 000 Days of her child’s life. Many mothers in South Africa are doing their best to raise healthy, happy, smart children who they hope will go on to have successful lives, despite very difficult circumstances. These are the mothers who most need our support. By walking side by side with them, listening to their concerns and finding ways to lighten their load, we can stand taller and prouder, knowing that together we have given these children a good chance in life (have a look at Embrace‘s movement for mothers for support).
As a third recommendation: we were recently asked how organisations and individuals can support the ECD centres in their community. ECD centres deliver an enormously important service in communities, one that too few children are privileged to receive – 1 million children from the most vulnerable households in South Africa are not attending any kind of early learning programme at all and therefore enter Grade R at a learning disadvantage. About 63% of children aged 3 – 5 years are attending a group learning programme, but no reliable evidence is available on the quality of these services. Supporting more of these initiatives to deliver a high quality service will make a positive impact on the development of children. Below we have summarised what we believe are the ingredients for great ECD centres with suggestions for support (click to download the pdf file):
In considering how to support an ECD centre or how to reach out to read to children, or even how to support a pregnant or new mother, it is important to keep in mind that the most valuable aspect of such support will involve cultivating ongoing, empathetic relationships. This involves non-judgmental listening that will help surface the big and small opportunities to contribute some of the “ordinary magic” (see video) that help children to thrive.
 Hall, K., Sambu, W., Berry L., Giese, S., and Almeleh, C. (2017). South African Early Childhood Review 2017. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town and Ilifa Labantwana. Access here.