Early Childhood Development – the best start in life
Thula thul, thula baba, thula sana, Tul’ubab ‘uzobuya ekuseni
September 2011 - Lindiwe, a 21-year-old mother of two, sings this lullaby to her baby. A lullaby that has been passed down by generations, sung to her by her mother and grandmother, known to children and mothers across South Africa.
The day begins early for Lindiwe, Before the sun has broken over the horizon she has started cooking the porridge for two-year-old Vuyelwa, while she also feeds and dresses four-week-old Siya. Once the two girls are dressed and ready she walks ten minutes up the hill to the Imizamo’yethu Day Care Centre.
They are greeted with warmth and love by the Centre’s Director – Ruth Faku. If it wasn’t for Imizamo’yethu, Lindiwe would have no one to look after her children while she tries to complete her schooling, which was interrupted by her first pregnancy.
As her mom walks out of the gate Vuyelwa’s eyes well up with tears. But they are soon forgotten as her friends begin to arrive at the centre. Within 15 minutes the playground is loud with chatter and laughter, and Vuyelwa joins in the fun and games. As long as the weather is good, the children begin each day by playing outside on the swings and jungle-gyms.
Imizamo’yethu Day Care Centre was started by Ruth in 1995 in the living room of her house. She dreamed of being a teacher when she was a little girl, but could not complete her studies because she had to look after her mother who was ill at the time. Since its fragile beginnings, the centre has grown – it now accommodates 90 children at the formal premises just a short walk from Ruth’s home.
In 2011 Imizamo’yethu was recognized as a Centre of Excellence by the Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape Province. The Centre is the best in the community, and while it is already full to capacity many parents wish they could send their children to Imizamo’yethu.
“At the beginning of the year, parents know that some of the children have left the crèche to go to Grade R (Reception Class) at school. So they quickly come here to sign up their children,” says Ruth with a sigh, “but we have to turn some away once we are full.”
It is Ruth’s vision that they will be able to extend their building to accommodate more children.
Ruth is a powerful advocate for Early Childhood Development (ECD) – a term that refers to the development and growth of a child socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively between the ages of birth to nine years – through the provision of early stimulation, health care, good nutrition, psychosocial support and protection.
“Here we teach the children about love and care; about right and wrong. We prepare them for when they go to school so that they know how to be independent, how to hold a pencil, how to count. Children who do not get this when they are small, they grow up not knowing right from wrong. Many drop out of school and turn to drugs and crime,” says Ruth.
Indeed, the reality for many of South Africa’s children is in sharp contrast to the bright walls, toys, songs, and games of Imizamo’yethu. South Africa has a population of 5.1 million children below the age of five years; out of these, only 43% have access to ECD programmes in centres, homes or elsewhere. And access is very uneven – children from the richest families are almost twice as likely to be participating in ECD stimulation activities when compared to children from poor families.
“The low and inequitable access to ECD partly explains the high repetition and lower completion rates which are evident later in the education system, especially at the secondary level,” says Juliana Seleti, ECD Specialist at UNICEF South Africa.
“ECD is about giving children the best start in life. Greater investment in ECD will help ensure that children grow up to be productive citizens, who are in turn able to give their own children the best start too,” she adds.
UNICEF has been working closely with the South African Government to improve the quality of integrated ECD services – ensuring that the focus is not just on early learning, but also on health, nutrition, psychosocial care and protection. A UNICEF-supported study recently looked at how the Government is providing financial resource to ECD and how these finances are being utilised by the targeted groups in the sector. This study is currently being used as a reference point for an ECD Policy review on how financing ECD can be improved in the country. UNICEF has also supported the development of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework in Gauteng Province with the aim of contributing to improved quality ECD services.
Looking at the bright, healthy smiling faces of the children at Imizamo’yethu one needs little convincing that more needs to be done to ensure that each and every child in South Africa has access to the full spectrum of ECD services.
*Translation: Hush baby, don't you cry, daddy is going to come in the morning.