Address by Minister of Social Development, Edna Molewa, during the second technical workshop of the Africa Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) initiative, Cape Town
29 Jul 2010Programme director
World Bank Country Director, Ms Ruth Kagia
Executive Director, Dr Miriam Altman
Representatives of government, civil society and development agencies
Ladies and gentlemen
It is with great joy and a deep sense of gratitude that I welcome you all to South Africa and to Cape Town in particular. For those of you who are visiting this beautiful country, South Africa for the first time, I bid you a warm welcome on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to address this timely gathering, given that our government in general and the Department of Social Development in particular have identified early learning for children as a priority and recently put plans together on how to achieve this noble objective among other objectives.
The theme of this workshop is very appropriate, "Early Childhood Development in Action: Implementation of Quality Care, Development and Education for Young Children".
Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that the South African government is firmly committed to ensuring that best practice is applied to the provision of early childhood development programmes.
This workshop we are holding over the next three days is a key step in advancing our collective understanding of the challenges we face in Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes implementation and possibilities available to all of us to improve a reach greater heights.
It also offers an opportunity to work together to ensure that the best possible outcomes are provided to our children. Clearly, no professional or organisation understands better than you, the esteemed delegates, the importance of the subject we are here to talk about. I hope we can all learn from one another and share our expertise and experience over the next few days.
The opportunity to discuss and share our experiences on how we can improve early childhood care and development interventions is very welcome indeed. We are privileged to have your informed participation in this process which seeks to provide guidance to governments and the wider society as to how we should support, nurture and cherish our children.
The former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, and I quote: "There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace".
So as we gather here this morning, let us recommit ourselves to always strive to find concrete ways of making the lives of our children better. ECD services are an essential element in improving the lives and opportunities for our children.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, education is one of the main drivers for ending extreme poverty. The future strength of our economies depends on our investments in a comprehensive education system that begins at early years of a child's life.
I am confident that we can all agree that early childhood care and development has become an area of increased focus and emphasis, both here in South Africa and around the world.
Children constitute the future leadership and workforce of each nation and therefore require serious commitment from governments to ensure their proper growth and development into adulthood.
Consistently, numerous studies have shown the benefits of early development programmes which inter alia indicate that: primary school completion rates are higher for children who have had access to early development programmes, language development is higher and subsequent repetition rates are lower.
Studies have also shown that when young children, regardless of their family economic or social status are exposed to an educational environment that nurtures their social, emotional and cognitive skills, continue to do better later in life.
The Growth Report known as "Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development" of (2008) argues that: ECD is the foundation for the formation of quality human capital, it has the highest return in economic development and it is the most cost effective way to reduce poverty and also foster economic growth.
The fourth African International Conference on Early Childhood Development, which was held in Senegal in 2009 under the theme: "From Policy to Action", made a call for all African countries to invest in ECD programmes.
Indeed educating our children correctly is something that we must do, not just for the benefit of the children, but also for the future of the African continent.
However, as you all know, the reality is that programmes for young children are often in competition for funding with other development priorities.
As advocates for early child education, yours is a unique role, to consistently reach out to policy makers and emphasise the far reaching benefits of ECD programmes.
You need to be able to articulate how a good start in education for all children will have an impact on a wide range of issues such as poverty eradication, social equity, good quality of health, nutrition, and improvement of education indicators.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me hasten to remind you that ECD programmes are a first and essential step toward achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs). In fact, five of the eight MDGs relate directly to the wellbeing of young children:
- halving the percentage of children who suffer hunger
- reducing by two-thirds the rate at which children under five are dying
- cutting the maternal mortality rate by three quarters
- ensuring all children have the chance to complete primary school
- eliminating gender disparities in schooling opportunities.
Ladies and gentlemen, the two uppermost questions we need to ask ourselves this morning are: (1) are we doing enough to really drive home the connection between attention to ECD and the attainment of MDGs as well as other national priorities? (2) Is this connection clear in the manner in which we design and implement ECD programmes?
Distinguished delegates, we must design ECD programmes in such a way that they address the holistic picture of children's wellbeing by ensuring that children grow up healthy, well nourished, protected from harm, with a sense of self worth and identity and with enthusiasm for opportunities to learning.
This therefore implies that ECD programmes have to be concerned with influencing the contexts in which children grow up so that these programmes are supportive to children's overall development.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I said earlier, ECD is also a greater part of a strategy for poverty reduction. Considering the high levels of poverty in the African continent, and the several attempts being made towards poverty reduction, ECD is considered a befitting tool to be applied to invest in young children as a means of addressing this problem.
The Africa ECCD initiative is a perfect example of how collectively we can communicate the evidence about the importance of ECD programmes to influence policy and decisions regarding resource allocation.
We can draw on the studies which indicate the importance of the role of ECD in enabling the children to break out of poverty through the impact of improved school achievement on future earnings.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the South African government attaches high priority on education. Over the last 16 years, we have doubled our investment in education. Access to our primary and secondary schooling has reached near universal enrolment, with the participation of girls being the highest in the world.
A total of 98 percent of children aged from seven to 15 years are enrolled in schools; 88 percent for six year olds and participation rate for children aged four and five (grade R) in early child development has now reached 70 percent.
It is no exaggeration that a significant amount of progress has been made to advance the realisation of children's rights in South Africa, particularly in the area of early childhood development.
The last financial year alone has been particularly notable. A total of 2 514 new ECD centres were registered. Of this number, 1 385 centres are based in rural areas. This is part of our government plan to expedite rural development.
As at end of March, the total number of registered ECD sites was 16 250. In the same period, 719 194 children benefitted from these sites, including 432 727 children who are subsidised by government.
In South Africa, Social Development is the lead government department for services to children under the age of four years. In terms of the Children's Act (Act 38 of 2005) the Social Development Department's responsibility is to manage the registration of ECD sites, monitor their functionality and the impact as well as to provide a subsidy for those children where there is a need.
The South African government is determined to ensure that no child should ever be deprived of the opportunity to access early learning. For this reason, our ECD registration campaign has targeted rural areas, which is where the need is high, with particular focus on orphans and vulnerable children which include children with disabilities.
However, even with the track record I alluded to earlier, much more remains to be done. It is for this reason that we support the Africa ECCD initiative. For I firmly believe that this initiative will complement our determination to ensure that every child has access to and the ability to complete primary education.
Speaking at the recent 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Education Campaign Summit (1 Goal: Education for All), President Jacob Zuma made a clarion call for African leaders to invest in early childhood development and education.
As I indicated earlier, advancing early learning for young children will help us move forward on all the other development priorities. So by working together as a collective to support concrete long-term, sustainable development initiatives such as the Africa ECCD initiative and similar initiatives such as 1 Goal: Education for All campaign, we are going to be able to reach all the MDGs.
In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all ECD practitioners throughout the country. Without any doubt, the primary reason for our achievements in the ECD sector can be attributed to their hard work and cooperation.
I am also thankful to all our partners who continue to make very valuable contributions to our work. Particular thanks to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their continued support of the ECD programme.
Your support and commitment is a key factor in ensuring the success and improving the standard of services of our Early Childhood Development programme.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we stand at a moment of extraordinary opportunity in the history of our continent. I hope we will use this unique opportunity to have candid discourse and come up with concrete actions which will help us improve the future of our children.
Lastly, since you are here with us, please take time, before you depart, to visit some parts of Cape Town and have a glimpse of our natural heritage and leisure spots for your memorable experiences.
I thank you for listening, and I wish you well in your deliberations.
Source: Department of Social Development
Issued by: Department of Social Development
29 Jul 2010
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