Earlier this month, the ruling African National Congress and teacher unions butted heads over education as an essential service. While both make strong arguments it is often in debating education policies that we tend to forget the most important players in education are the children, and in order to correct our past mistakes we need to get back to basics, the basics being early childhood development.
It is estimated that over 83 percent of children in South Africa do not access any form of structured early childhood learning.
Of the 17 percent that do access Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres more than half have limited access to proper sanitation, inadequate access to stimulating resources or activities and are exposed to less than hygienic environments.
According to a study conducted by the United Nations in 2011, pupil to teacher ratios further hamper learning for children in ECD centres.
“A large number of schools have teacher-pupil ratios in excess of 40 in Grade R. Class sizes of this magnitude are problematic and do not meet the needs of early childhood development.”
These alarming statistics have impelled Cotlands to champion the right to education for all children in South Africa.
“It is imperative that we tackle the issue of early childhood learning with great urgency. If we, as a society do not address the problem that lies before us then we too contribute to infringement of the rights of thousands of children,” said Cotlands chief executive officer, Jackie Schoeman.
Children with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are even more marginalised as resources for children with special needs become devastatingly scarce in low-income areas.
With limited resources and poor funding, children in rural and township areas have little chance of competing in the job market with children in more affluent regions. Children who do not receive access to learning opportunities early on will almost always be at a disadvantage and needing to ‘play catch up’ throughout their academic years.
Cotlands maintains that while education is essential , declaring it an essential service to merely prevent teachers from striking without addressing the key problems serves no purpose. It is crucial that government, together with all stakeholders work towards reducing the teacher to pupil ratio, create facilities for children with learning difficulties as well as children with disabilities, increase access to early childhood development centres and address the issue of sanitation and nutrition at schools. Declaring education an essential service does not negate our responsibility to provide children with quality education.
“The basic principal is simple - children start their learning journey through play. For us it is essential that we create access to resources that will develop those skills needed for later learning and we do this through well-crafted play sessions or play with purpose,” added Schoeman.
Cotlands has formulated play sessions that target vulnerable children who do not have access to ECD centres. The children’s organisation offers this essential service free to community children along with a nutrition program that addresses yet another imperative right.
“It is important that we strengthen the fabric of our society by allowing children access to the rights set out in our constitution. We encourage all wanting to improve the quality of education to join the fight to advance the state of early childhood development.”
- Lois Moodley is marketing and PR manager at Cotlands.