Early childhood development 'is critical during the lockdown'
“Early childhood development (ECD) education should always be prioritised. I don’t think the government realises the impact and importance of this phase of education and the cost-to-benefit ratio in early interventions,” says Anna Talbot, volunteer programme designer and co-ordinator at the Rhodes University community engagement division.
Talbot believes that ECD education should be a priority alongside other academic plans for this year which have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
She says that while there are particular skills that children need to be taught that may put them on the back foot with their academic progress, they can catch up on these skills and she urges parents to keep their children mentally stimulated during the lockdown.
“This is the perfect time for children to learn through play, which doesn’t need to take place at school but can be done at home. Parents should encourage free play and structured play and include them in daily activities,” she says.
She adds that by including children in the cooking of meals and allowing them to help write a shopping list, even if they don’t have the ability to write letters yet, they learn direction, measurement, pronunciation and fine motor skills such as stirring which are all skills needed for literacy and academic development in stages of learning.
Single mother Sinoyolo Manyota told TimesLIVE that is has been difficult to keep her four-year-old daughter mentally stimulated during the lockdown.
“My daughter is a very active child. I try to keep her mornings busy with stories and drawing. I need to constantly keep her busy and changing [our] afternoon routine to see what works for us,” she said.
Manyota says that the creche her daughter attends was initially helping with learning plans but as the weeks progressed they went quiet and left everything up to the parents.
She added, “I am not coping with creche being closed, mentally it’s a lot. I am a student myself and we are reopening work soon. Being a single mom and wearing different hats is exhausting.”
Being present and attentive at all times is the most challenging part for her but she chooses to endure because she says she has no other choice.
Research shows that a high percentage of South African children are not acquiring basic literacy skills at a significant rate within the first three years of their learning. The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) report showed that 80% of SA's children in grade 4 did not meet the recognised level of reading literacy — in any language.
Talbot, who is the ECD programme manager for BuddingQ, a programme that aims to address the literacy crisis in Makhanda, Eastern Cape, says that the biggest impact of ECD centres closing down is on the livelihoods of teachers.
“We work with 11 out of the 19 primary schools in Makhanda and for some of these teachers ECD is their passion and their sole income,” she says.
With crèches, ECD centres and day cares being the backbone of some communities, some have not been able to provide resources to parents as they are run in a quasi-informal manner. However, the Rhodes University community engagement division is continuing its programmes in different capacities to provide daily resources and activities to help facilitate academic achievement.