Less than a third of children under the age of seven in South Africa get quality preschool learning because the state doesn’t have the political will, capacity or money to support its early childhood development policy.
This is the warning from Professor Eric Atmore, director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD) in Claremont. He recently completed his PhD on education policy studies, with a focus on “early childhood policy trajectory from 1990 to 2015”. His thesis looks at lessons that can be learned from policy-making during that period.
“If you are going to develop a policy, the political will must be there to drive it,” he said.
He wants to see a “policy champion” in cabinet and says that when a policy is developed it must be accompanied by a budget.
Professor Atmore founded the CECD 25 years ago to provide early childhood development programmes “predominantly for vulnerable children in communities that have been oppressed”.
According to him, only about 30% of the seven million children in the country under the age of seven are in a quality learning programme.
A good education in the early stages of a child’s life meant they were more likely to finish school, go to university and get a job. And girls were less likely to fall pregnant while still at school, he said.
“In South Africa, only a small minority has that chance, which are privileged children,” Professor Atmore said.
Poverty, inequality and unemployment are the three biggest threats to most children’s futures in South Africa.
“You can have the best early childhood programmes around; it’s not going to make a dent if those three underlying issues are not combated,” Professor At-
His CECD has worked closely with more than 300 preschools, creches, daycares,reaching about 18000 children.
“We see remarkable women every day working with young children. They are living the Mandela legacy. They do it for long hours, with shockingly low pay. They do it for nation building.”
Later this year, the centre plans to launch the Cape Town Museum of Childhood.
Chanel Fredericks, who studied social work under Professor Atmore at UCT and is now his colleague at the CECD, is working closely with him on that project.
“He is a great leader; he pushes people towards self-development. He gives us opportunities; he is a great ambassador for the ECD sector, and when I leave his presence, I always feel like I have learned something new,” she said.
Before he founded the CECD, Professor Atmore worked for the Foundation for Social Development in Elsies River and Bishops Lavis, helping young people involved in gangs and crime.
He credits his success to his late parents, Reginald and Anita Atmore, who raised him in difficult circumstances in Woodstock.