While significant progress has been made in many areas, most young children in South Africa do not have access to quality services during those critical first few years of life.
Lack of access to quality services, coupled with high levels of social fragmentation and family disruption, has meant that the foundations for early education are not in place.
This is reflected in Annual National Assessment scores, with fewer than half of Grade 3 children achieving more than 50% on standardized assessments of literacy and numeracy. The achievement gaps widen as children get older, illustrating the fact that learning trajectories are already established by the time children get to school. Poor early learning foundations contribute to costly inefficiencies in the public schooling system with profound implications for the country’s socio-economic growth trajectory.
Where good Early Learning initiatives do exist (and there are many examples in South Africa), the challenge lies in taking these to scale while maintaining quality.
Innovation in this space is desperately needed to make the most of this political commitment - to promote access to early care and stimulation, to ensure that early learning spaces are engaging and safe, to support the full development of the range of skills that make children “ready to learn”, and to create a national ecosystem conducive to promoting growth and quality within the sector.