The first 1 000 days after conception are critical for brain development, which continues rapidly until a child reaches the age of two. This is an important period in the growth and development of a child that requires adequate provision of nutrition, health care, cognitive stimulation and supportive parenting. By definition, early childhood development (ECD) refers to the provision of holistic policies and programmes for the physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and moral development of children from conception to the age of nine with the active participation of their parents and caregivers.
Pearl Mphuthi, FNB Fund Manager says, “Investing in ECD yields greater returns to society than any other form of human capital investment. Children who are given opportunities to explore, discover and create at a young age are able to cope better at school and have a higher chance of qualifying for university in their matric year, the provision of high-quality services makes it possible to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”
In South Africa, about 60% of all children are born to underprivileged families. Most are vulnerable and lack funds and access to ECD centers, support and services. A shift to programmes that incorporate centre- and non-centre-based interventions is therefore critical given South Africa’s socio-economic situation.
Mphuthi says that the South African National Development Plan (NDP) Vision for 2030 recognises the need to invest in early chidhood development if we as a country are to realise our national goals and dramatically improve our human development, productivity and growth in the years ahead. A national ECD Policy and associated Programme for South Africa has thusly been developed.
The FNB Fund recognises and supports the importance of centre- and non-centre-based early chidhood development programmes in South Africa.
“Early childhood development can take place in a range of settings: homes, schools, health facilities, early learning playgroups and community-based programmes. It includes activities such as childcare, nutrition support, parenting and early stimulation interventions” says Mphuthi.
Although there has been progress in the ECD sector much more needs to be done. Access to early chidhood development services remains far below national targets with only 35% of children younger than four enrolled in an early chidhood development centre and 52% of three and four-year old children accessing ECD services outside the home. Access for children with disabilities is also severely limited, with only 1% enrolled in a formal ECD centre.
“The FNB Fund supports ECD models that focus on the holistic development for children. We need to invest in the lives and futures of our children, as they are the ones that will build and lead South Africa,” concludes Mphuthi.