Your Majesty, Queen Mother of Bafokeng, Dr Semane Molotlegi
United States Ambassador, Honourable Donald Gips
Chairperson and Trustees of the Ntataise Trust
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel honoured to open the Ntataise Annual Network Conference and to speak to you on the important matter of early childhood development (ECD). Improving the ability of our children to read, write and count from the foundation phase is the best way of laying solid foundations.
It is on such a firm foundation that we can rely when things get tougher just as they have in light of the current public service strike, also involving South Africa’s teachers, at a very critical time in the schooling calendar.
We are very worried, just as you all are, about the situation. We yearn for nothing less than a speedy solution to the current impasse for the sake of our nation’s children, particularly African children who are hardest hit.
We all know that early intervention and stimulation of young children can help unleash their potential. The early years are very critical for the acquisition of skills and concepts that lay the foundation for lifelong learning.
These include, the acquisition of language, perception and motor skills required for learning to read and write and problem solving.
We therefore have a collective responsibility to invest in early childhood development.
Our Department’s approach to early childhood development is based on the legislative framework and applicable policies that have been determined by our democratic government and relevant international instruments.
- The constitutional mandate based on the basic right to education for all;
- The National Education Policy Act of 1996;
- The South African Schools Act of 1996 which promotes access, quality and democratic governance in the schooling system, ensuring all learners access to education without discrimination;
- The South African Qualifications Authority Act of 1994, that provides for the establishment of the National Qualifications Framework for a national learning system integrating education and training at all levels;
- The National Curriculum Statement of 2002, providing the vision for general education to move away from a racist, apartheid model of education to a liberating, nation building and learner-centred system of education;
- The Education White Paper 5 on Early Childhood Development of 2001, providing for the full participation of 5 year olds in a Reception Grade and for improvement in the quality of programmes;
- The Children’s Act of 2005, as amended, calling for specific attention to the holistic development of children and their protection; and
- A National Integrated Plan for ECD which was developed to guide our work in this area.
As you well know, South Africa has ratified the United Nations Children’s Rights Convention. We are therefore obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the best interest of the child.
I am mentioning this legal and policy framework precisely because it guides our policies and approach to early childhood development.
We have a duty to ensure that there is increased access to quality Grade R for our five year olds. However, delivering on what is in the best interest of young children is not and cannot be the sole responsibility of one department.
Accordingly, we continue to work with sister government departments, including, Departments of Health and Social Development, to create opportunities and an environment wherein all children will have access to a range of safe and accessible high quality ECD programmes.
But government cannot do this important work without the involvement of parents and critical stakeholders, like Ntataise. Together we can do more to deliver a better life for our children by improving the quality of education at all levels. Education and development of our children are a societal responsibility.
I am happy to say we have made notable achievements in the implementation of the ECD policy with a major focus on the poorest of the poor.
Our data for 2009 shows that 785 886 learners in Grade 1 had access to a Grade R programme. We are on our way towards achieving universal access.
We have and are continuing to roll-out the National Schools Nutrition Programme in the benefit of millions of learners, every school day. This we do to alleviate poverty and to improve children’s ability to focus on school work.
Grade R learners have been included in the plan while younger learners are catered for through funding from the Department of Social Development in ECD centres.
We are, however, aware that much more requires to be done. While expanding access, we must also improve the quality of the educational experience for our children.
Achieving quality in all we do remains our main challenge. According to a recent study, only 44.8% of Grade R programmes in schools meet good quality requirements, based on a combination of programme assessment and observed activities.
We recognise current challenges of teacher training, inadequate supply of skilled ECD practitioners and poor infrastructure in some of our schools and centres. We therefore have to develop clear mechanisms that will enable us effectively to address these challenges.
We have taken special note of approaches for developing young children identified by the World Bank in Early Child Development: Investing in the Future (1997). These include:
- Training parents and care givers;
- Promoting community development;
- Strengthening institutional resources;
- Capacity building;
- Public awareness and enhancing demand.
In the basic education Action Plan 2014: towards Schooling 2025, we have committed to sustaining efforts aimed at improving access to quality ECD for children below Grade 1.
In this regard, our target is that by 2014 all children should have participated in a Grade R programme before entering Grade 1 and at least 37% of children from birth to 5 years should have participated in an ECD programme.
The ECD sector has a critical role to play in the overall improvement of the quality of education in South Africa. You would know that, from this year onwards, all Grade 3, 6 and 9 learners will write numeracy and literacy tests that are independently moderated.
This expected improvement will be determined largely by the quality of provisioning in the early years where you obviously play a critical role. We must all contribute meaningfully to these efforts cognizant of the pivotal role of education in society. Allow me to remind you that education is a constitutional right and a vehicle for building a democratic society based on the values of equality and human dignity.
We really depend on your support and active participation in all we do better to extend these rights to our children, for both their personal growth and for the consolidation of our democratic state.
In this regard, effective partnerships with various role-players are crucial.
Ntataise is an important stakeholder that has worked in this field for over 25 years. Our country is in desperate need of organisations like yours.
You have contributed also to women’s empowerment and creation of jobs in the sector. In my other cap, as President of the ANC Women’s League, allow me to say: Halala Ntataise Halala! Indeed together we can do more to ensure that young children have a good start in life.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a message from James Heckman, Nobel laureate:
“Invest educational and development resources for disadvantaged families to provide equal access to successful early human development; Nurture early development of cognitive and social skills in children from birth to age five and sustain early development with effective education through to adulthood. The result will then be a more capable, productive and valuable workforce that pays dividends for generations to come.”
We trust that you will have a successful and fulfilling conference.