Over a million SA children at risk of being underdeveloped

As South Africa commemorates National Children’s Day on 05 November, more than a million children aged birth to six in the country are not in early childhood development programmes.

This is despite government having prioritised access to early childhood development as stipulated in the National Development Plan 2030 to support optimal development of South Africa children.

The signing of the Early Childhood Development Policy by Cabinet on 09 December 2015 further made provision for two kinds of the service delivery platforms to improve access for children in various living circumstances and backgrounds.

The one platform is centre-based and the other is community or out-of-centre programmes. Cotlands has since taken a stand to lead the cause of developing a non-centre play-based learning approach that is anchored on playgroups and toy libraries to address the plight of vulnerable children.

The 80-year-old non-profit early childhood development organisation which is concerned with ensuring that children in South Africa thrive in their formative years has already managed to reach 17 000 beneficiaries in 2016 with our play-based learning programmes. This is in communities across six provinces – Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwa Zulu Natal, North West and Mpumalanga.

Cotlands Chief Executive Officer, Jackie Schoeman says the organisation’s play-based learning approach is designed to take early childhood development programmes to communities where, due to small numbers or space restrictions, it is not possible or viable to build ECD centres.

“Various play-based learning programmes are offered in community halls, garages, shacks, homesteads, or in other safe temporary structures to ensure that no child is excluded on the basis of where they live,” she says.

Schoeman explains that through the toy libraries, Cotlands gives crèches and other non-centre based early childhood development facilitators access to a collection of carefully selected educational play materials, sessions and training on how to use toys to encourage development.

“Our toy libraries and early learning groups, while rendering a vital service to vulnerable children, are also the models we use to monitor, assess and improve the quality of early learning services we provide to children,” says Schoeman. She says all South Africans must be concerned that more than a million children are not in early childhood development programmes.

“We all need to understand that the brain develops quickly in the first five years of a child’s life. The establishment of new neural connections and pathways are influenced and advanced through exploration, thinking, problem solving, as well as language expression that occurs during structured or targeted play.

This is why ideally all children must be placed in early childhood development programmes,” Schoeman says.

She warns that children who do not receive these early learning opportunities are most likely not to reach their full developmental potential and to become frustrated with classroom learning later in life.

This will subsequently lead to a higher drop-out rate, which poses a serious threat to the future economic development of a country already juggling a high youth unemployment rate.