Early childhood is the most rapid period of development in human life, during which all children progress through a sequence of physical, cognitive, and emotional stages. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain is almost completely developed by the time a child starts Grade 1. Young children respond best when care-givers use specific techniques designed to encourage and stimulate progress to the next level of development. Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes improve young children’s capacity to develop and learn.

Out of 100 children born in 2000, 30 will most likely suffer from malnutrition in their first five years of life, 26 will not be immunised against the basic childhood diseases, 19 will lack access to safe drinking water and 40 to adequate sanitation, while 17 will never go to school. In developing countries, every fourth child lives in abject poverty in families with an income of less than $1 a day


Research has demonstrated that investment in all aspects of children’s development, health and welfare from birth to age six  has enormous long-term social benefits:

  • Increases the likelihood of children remaining in and progressing through school
  • Reduces social and gender inequality
  • Enhances children’s later economic contribution to society
  • Education investments at ECD stage cost less than similar investments in adults and have more of an impact

The Benefits of ECD Interventions

  • Positive ECD programmes can change the development trajectory of children by the time they enter school. A child who is ready for school has less chance of repeating a grade, being placed in special education, or being a school drop-out
  • Children with quality early childhood education score higher on a range of competency measures when they go to school
  • Integrated programmes for young children can modify the effects of socio-economic and gender-related inequities – some of the most entrenched causes of poverty
  • Healthy cognitive and emotional development in the early years translates into tangible economic returns
  • Nobel Laureate Heckmann (1999) argues that investments in children bring a higher rate of return than investments in low-skill adults
For the vast majority of children, pre-primary education is still a luxury, with the gross enrolment ratio below 6 per cent in more than half the countries with data available in 2002.
Education for All.

Global Monitoring Report 2006, Regional Overview, Sub-Saharan Africa, pg. 2

ECD Fast Facts

Nearly 11 million children each year – about 30 000 children a day – die before reaching their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes. Of these children, four million die in their first month of life. In many of the world’s poorest countries, child mortality rates have either not changed or else they have worsened. In sub-Saharan Africa, child mortality averages 173 deaths per 1 000 live births.

Global Monitoring Report 2006, Regional Overview, Sub-Saharan Africa, pg. 2

  • Africa has the youngest population in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa has 130 million children below the age of six years (20 per cent of the region’s total population)
  • Although infant mortality declined to 105 per 1 000 live births in 1997, it is still the highest in the world
  • Of the African children who survive through age six, nearly 30 million (one-third) are chronically malnourished, weighing only three-fourths of the weight standard for their age, due largely to inappropriate child feeding practices, high morbidity and poor child-caring practices
  • About 35 per cent of children are irreversibly stunted as a result of persistent malnutrition before they reach the age of three
  • An entire generation of 130 million children below six years are physically and mentally ill-prepared for school ECD in South Africa
  • In a society characterised by poverty, HIV/AIDS and the erosion of traditional family structures, investment in the survival and development of children aged 0-6 years is essential
  • Many adults in poor communities have limited knowledge about the importance of maternal health, nutrition, physical affection and responsiveness to the needs of children along with the importance of stimulation and learning through play to children’s development

  • Children at home or with informal care-givers often lack adult attention and have limited access to educational toys and learning experiences outside their immediate environment
  • When impoverished children enter the formal schooling system they are often physically, socially, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually under-developed; thus they lack the foundation to begin literacy, numeracy and life skills work at school
  • Where formal child-care programmes do exist in poor communities, many care-givers have limited resources and training and battle to deal with the children’s needs and the demands of the Grade R curriculum for five/six-year olds
  • In South Africa, an estimate of just 16 per cent of the seven million children in the 0-6 years age group receive formal instruction during their pre-school years
  • A recent UNISA study (Professors De Witt, Lessing and Lanyani) in Grade R classrooms revealed that only 35, per cent of South African pre-school learners have attained the minimum level of early literacy skills they need to proceed to Grade 1
We believe that ECD as a pre-formal schooling experience is directly linked to efforts to increase efficiency in the schooling system. It literally lays the base for future educational gains: there are about one million learners aged five/six who are not in school and have no access to ECD: the importance of ECD is beyond question.
South African Democratic Teachers Union, 2000


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