Preschool teachers have once again been side-lined with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccinations for teachers, as the vaccines have been earmarked only for educators who fall under the Department of Basic Education. Because ECD now falls under the Department of Social Development, preschool teachers and support staff have been excluded. This adds fuel to the fire that ECD is fast becoming the ‘forgotten sector’ in our education system when it should, in fact, be seen as the bedrock of a sound education for every child.
In the early stages of lockdown, the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector was hard-hit by having to close down. This meant no school fees were being paid and therefore there was no money to pay employees and owners of the schools in informal settlements, townships and in the suburbs. Preschool education is not part of government-funded education and is not available to all. It is privately paid for by parents or provided by non-profits for under-resourced communities. The ECD sector had to go to court to re-open after the hard lockdown in order to provide the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society with much needed multisensory stimulation and to also enable parents to go back to work.
Side-lining the ECD sector impacts on:
- 30 000 ECD centres
- 175 000 employees
- 1.5-million children
I have particularly strong opinions on the ‘forgotten ECD sector’ and have long been championing this cause and banging my drum. In fact, if you read any of my writings on how to ‘fix’ our education system (and the economy) in South Africa, it starts from the bottom up with these very teachers and the children under the age of six years whom they teach. The preschool years are more essential than people realise for developing the foundations required for reading, writing and numeracy, largely through play and exploration. This should be done under the guidance of trained early childhood practitioners.
Most adults do not realise that under the age of six the brain is very sensitive and in the most receptive state for learning – experts call this ‘’neuroplasticity”, essentially meaning that the brain is pliable and as absorbent as a sponge. Everything a child sees, hears, tastes, touches or smells gets mapped out by the brain as it helps the child discover themselves and the world, creating understanding and meaning in the process.
- By the age of three years, 70% of the brain is physically developed
- By the age of four years, 80% of a person’s brain potential is already developed
- By the age of four, 50% of adult intelligence is already employed
- By the age of five, a child will have a speaking vocabulary of around 10 000 words – adults only commonly use 20 000
We wait with great anticipation for the day our children are able to read and write in primary school, but we don’t often appreciate the really important stuff – that the foundations for all these sophisticated tasks (reading, writing, maths and spelling) are laid down long before a child even goes to primary school. School readiness is a journey that starts from birth and takes 7 years. These are critical years in a child’s developmental and educational journey. They are critical years for the creation of a robust, literate and employable workforce.
If these early years are used wisely, they provide a sturdy foundation on which primary school teachers can build. Tragically, for most of South Africa’s children, preschool education is a luxury that they don’t have access to. We need a functional, robust and thriving ECD sector that receives recognition and support from government and society in general. Let’s acknowledge this by ensuring that preschool teachers are able to receive the Covid-19 vaccination like all other educators.