Cape Argus

Giving all our kids a future


THERE are about 6.5 million children in South Africa under the age of 6. Some 4 million of them live in the poorest 40% of households, and 3 million live in rural areas.

This means the majority of children are born into contexts that make it difficult for them to realise their potential. On their journey towards quality jobs, most of South Africa’s young have the odds stacked against them, starting as early as their first years of their lives.

A report released by the Inclusive Society Institute titled “Understand­ing Youth Inequality” shows that young people’s future chances often begin to emerge in early childhood, setting in motion a range of inequities that tend to widen as children move through school and into the workforce.

Race, geography and gender, all of which are outside of young people’s control, continue to constrain the possibilit­ies available to them in profound ways. Last year, 8.8 million young people (15-34 years old) in South Africa were not in employment, education, or training.

The majority are black, incomepoor, without a qualificat­ion and live in households with no employed members.

The report is about how those inequities play out over young people’s lives and, importantl­y, strategies to interrupt them, to improve their chances of social and economic mobility and to disrupt structural patterns of inequality.

Early childhood developmen­t (ECD) services – including nutrition, early learning, health care and social services – have the potential to improve children’s developmen­t and future chances, increasing primary school enrolment, academic performanc­e and reducing school drop-out rates. In the critical first 1 000 days of a child’s life, infants and caregivers are expected to receive ECD services at home from community health workers, hired as part of clinic-based outreach teams.

As they grow older, children are most likely to receive care through an early-learning programme, but with limited government subsidies, access to these services is dependent on caregivers’ ability to pay fees.

Research shows that young children who grow up in poor households are more likely to be excluded from early learning and health services because their families cannot afford transport to clinics or government offices, or because the fees of early-learning programmes are unaffordab­le.

Deeply entrenched inequality is evident when one considers that twothirds of black children live below the poverty line, compared with 2% of white children.

This means that most black children start their schooling career on an unequal footing. It also illustrate­s the inextricab­le link between income levels and access to early-learning programmes and child outcomes – further driving South African inequality.

And even though access to early-learning programmes has expanded over time, there is still stark inequality in the distributi­on and quality of programmes, and the level of funding from the government.

The report recommends focused government investment in the ECDworkfor­ce and quality early childhood developmen­t services to reduce this gap. Only about 1.5% of the country’s GDP is spent on ECD, most of which goes to child-support grants.

A mere 6.5% of this budget is allocated for early learning, nutrition support and supportive parenting programmes.

For the government to unlock the multiplier effects of ECD, the first key lever is to access public financing to pay and skill the ECD workforce through sector education and training authoritie­s or public employment programmes.

The second is to develop more inclusive regulatory frameworks that allow unregister­ed ECD sites to access funding and quality support.

Models suggest that the eliminatio­n of stunting alone could generate an additional R62 billion a year, which would be enough to subsidise a national early-learning programme for 0–5-year-olds, while reducing the funding shortfall at tertiary institutio­ns.

If universal access to early learning translated into better basic education outcomes and a fully literate working-age population, researcher­s suggest the country’s GDP could be expected to grow by a quarter.

But investing in ECD goes far beyond a return on investment, presenting an opportunit­y to radically shift intergener­ational inequality in South Africa.

This is not only because it unlocks the developmen­tal potential of children, but also because it means supporting quality jobs in the community and social services sector, where women are heavily represente­d.

Community, social, and personal services is the only sector that added jobs for young people from the first quarter of 2017 to the second quarter last year, most of which (60%) went to women.

Expanding quality, affordable childcare and developmen­t not only has benefits for laying the foundation­s for children and young women in the early-childhood sector, it also enables more caregivers (usually women) to participat­e in the labour market.

Unlocking the ECD sector has the potential to reduce inequality, not only among children, but throughout the entire life cycle too, as well as alter the trajectory of future generation­s.

Occupation­al therapist and public health consultant at Percept
MICHELLE FLOWERS Occupation­al therapist and public health consultant at Percept
 ?? DARYL SWANEPOEL ?? CEO of the Inclusive Society Institute
DARYL SWANEPOEL CEO of the Inclusive Society Institute

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa