This is where we post specific challenges that we would like to see addressed and highlight opportunities for innovation
Inclusion challenge: early learning and play opportunities for ALL children
This challenge focuses on innovating for access to early learning and play opportunities for children with disabilities.
All human beings fall on a spectrum of abilities, talents and capabilities. Not everybody is able to climb Kilimanjaro, solve complicated mathematical equations and socialise effortlessly. Everybody is unique and we should be dedicated towards giving all children the right start in life and the tools to achieve their full potential.
It is especially important for children with disabilities that there is early identification of their disabilities, intervention and access to inclusive services that promote ECD.
Government policy in South Africa supports and facilitates inclusion of children with disabilities into play and learning spaces. As a nation, we envision to move toward a more inclusive society. But we continue to face daily challenges to realising this vision.
Children with disabilities are excludd from early learning and play opportunities due to the following drivers:
1. Discrimination against children with disabilities is the leading contributor to exclusion from ECD educational services, and often results in desperate caregivers ‘hiding’ children with disability from society
2. A lack of information on disability, training and resource allocation to motivate inclusive practises among ECD practitioners and services.
3. Systemic barriers within the ECD system itself and the way that services are structured. These include an inflexible curriculum and high children-to-practitioner ratios.
4. Environmental barriers such as inaccessible buildings, transport systems and information systems which don’t take into account different languages (i.e Sign Language)
5. Lack of awareness amongst parents of children with disabilities about the extent to which children with special needs can and do benefit from involvement in early learning
Areas to innovate
The most valuable strategies to promote early identification of disability and effective ECD service access are:
1. Early identification of developmental delays and disabilities allows for the appropriate type of services to be provided timeously and effectively such as quality medical and therapeutic services, assistive devices and inclusive learning programmes.
2. Support to ECD service providers in the form of practical on-site training, mentorship of practitioners, as well as additional assistants, parents or therapists working in the learning environment so that they may organise play and learning for all.
3. Support for caregivers of children with disabilities - through improved coordination of services, access to information, skills and peer learning as well as support groups. ECD services free caregivers up to seek employment and enable them to support their child financially and otherwise.
4. Inclusive cultures where all work towards building a community where everyone – children, parents and ECD personnel – are welcomed and children are treated as equally important.
While the barriers for children with disabilities to accessing early learning programmes may be great, several public, private and NGO efforts have brought awareness to the challenge and highlighted best practises in the sector.
It is our duty to ensure a smoother entry into the system and a clear pathway for caregivers trying to offer their children the opportunities to be included. Innovation in any of these areas will go a long way in making early learning a reality for all children regardless of their abilities or talents.