Why so many South African children struggle to read and write
"We cannot try and fix their learning challenges at matric or tertiary level, but at an early age." Early childhood development specialists talk with Move! Magazine's Bulelwa Mokori on just how crucial the foundation phase is in a child's education.

This information from Move! highlights the importance of early childhood education. Parents and educators are warned that shortcomings in the early years can lead to problems later on in a child's school career. 

There's a major concern that kids in our schools are still struggling with the basic skills of reading and writing, as well as understanding maths and science. Specialists in education say in as much as efforts are being made to help matriculants with their studies, a child needs to be prepared at the foundation phase when they turn six. 


One of the aims of South Africa’s National Development Plan, which was introduced by President Jacob Zuma, is to improve the quality of education in our country. The plan placed high priority on early childhood education for four and five-year-olds. But Ian Corbishley, director of operations at Unlimited Child, believes that about three-quarters of the country’s seven million children under the age of six are not yet benefiting from the plan. He says that corporates and individuals have to help fill this gap in order to positively impact South Africa’s future. Studies done by the United Nations Children’s Fund have shown that good early childhood education programmes help prepare young children to learn more effectively through primary and high school.


Ian says many of the first-graders starting primary school have already been short-changed as real learning starts even earlier, with well-planned early childhood education. “Internationally, education specialists agree that a child’s ability to learn is shaped during the first six years of life. Cognitive development is the mental process of acquiring information and knowledge through experience and senses, and those who miss out on early childhood education may never fully catch up on their cognitive and personal development, and will probably battle with learning to read, write, spell or do maths,” he says. 


According to Ian, a child’s education begins at birth and this period until the age of six is critical. “We cannot try and fix their learning challenges at matric or tertiary level, but at an early age,” says Ian. Vanessa Mentor, who is an early childhood development expert at Afrika Tikkun, says that investing in early childhood development recognises that the protection and development of children in their formative years safeguards their well-being, and provides the best guarantee of future prosperity. “In a country where 40 per cent of children grow up in abject poverty, there exist numerous challenges to ensuring the adequate provision of early childhood development to all children,” she says.


Vanessa says parents must choose their child's crèche carefully. “Many crèches do not have formal accreditation. Therefore, teachers are, in truth, babysitters rather than educators,” she says.  

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