'Solution' to education crisis
How do we fix the education crisis? An organisation called Ilifa Labantwana claims to have the answer.
It lies in early childhood development - from the moment a child is conceived. And parents have a bigger role to play than they think.
At the launch of the organisation's Your Child is a Somebody campaign in Johannesburg yesterday, programme leader Sherri le Mottee said parents had to be empowered to ensure their children's success.
The campaign drew from research conducted over four years in five provinces, which found the first 1000 days of a child's life laid the foundation for their development. Neurological development was most rapid at this stage.
According to Unicef, the growth of 20% of South African children under the age of five is stunted by malnutrition.
"Stunting is associated with neurological damage in early childhood and poor intellectual outcomes," the organisation said.
Le Mottee said mothers should eat correctly for their unborn child to get the right micronutrients to develop and grow healthily. They should breastfeed and ensure their children were fed a balanced diet.
"We have a population that tends to overfeed carbohydrates and fat. That food might make you feel full but it doesn't have the micronutrients - such as zinc and copper - you need," said Le Mottee.
Bonding is critical - children need love in order to grow.
Also important is stimulation in early childhood and early language development.
"Talk to your children, read to them, play with them, sing to them. It plays a significant role in developing children's brains and in growing their capacity to learn," said Le Mottee.
"Parents have to recognise the power they have to determine the long-term trajectory of their children's lives, that it is not up to somebody else."
Between the ages of two and four, children are ready to play with other children and to learn. But most children in South Africa do not have access to nursery schools or creches.
In addition to going out to homes to help parents and care-givers to stimulate their children academically, Ilifa Labantwana sets up informal community-based play groups for older children.
These are facilitated by early childhood development practitioners.
School readiness, the organisation found, "improved significantly" because of these groups.
Le Mottee said if early childhood development programmes were improved, children would thrive in the long run.
"Otherwise we will never equalise South African society.
"Poverty-affected children remain prejudiced by the current implementation programmes. They go to school and they continue to underachieve because they never had the right building blocks," she said.