Early Childhood Education benefits all

It is widely known that the most significant growth en development happens in the early years of a child’s life. It is during this time that the foundation for life long learning is laid. Children’s experiences in infancy and early childhood will have extensive influences on their physical and neurobiological development, and these will drive biological, psychological and social responses throughout the entire human lifespan.

But, early childhood education has much greater value than simply improving the learning potential of individual children.  The real value lies in the undisputed fact that Early Childhood Education (ECE) contributes to the development of healthy children and they in turn contribute to the development of healthy societies.

According to the medical journal, The Lancet (as quoted by Gordon Alexander in the Mail & Guardian of 18 November 2011): “Early childhood is the most effective time to intervene to address inequalities and to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty”.  The implications for a developing country like South Africa, where the majority of the population live in relative poverty are enormous.  The study found that getting half of the children into pre-school or early childhood education programmes in 73 low-income and middle-income countries (including South Africa) would have an eventual economic benefit of $33-billion.

South Africa has made big strides towards progress in this area, but we still have some way to go.  According to a recent report by UNICEF, in the past five years the number of children enrolled in ECD centres in this country has risen from 16% to 43%.

When you consider that Early Childhood Development could give a 17 fold return on investment if a country increased early childhood enrollment to 50%, one is faced with the stark reality that we, as a society cannot afford to postpone investing in the education of our young children.