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Plans to reopen society should not leave behind immediate future of early learning

Early childhood development centres playing a huge role in society and any talk about the reopening of the economy should factor in this sector, and how we envisage it to be like post-lockdown. /123RF
Early childhood development centres playing a huge role in society and any talk about the reopening of the economy should factor in this sector, and how we envisage it to be like post-lockdown. /123RF

The move to alert level 3 of lockdown means more sectors of the economy can now operate, but under strict conditions, to mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19.

A greater part of the labour force is now free to return to work. As more people go back to work, what is to be done with children - particularly younger children - who remain at home and will continue to require supervision and care?

Former President Nelson Mandela once said: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."

The priority given to the services, facilities and those responsible for the care of children also gives evidence to the character and disposition of society.

The silence in the broader public discourse on the lockdown, on the impact on ECD (early childhood development) centres and the personnel that attend to the needs of the young is concerning.

Outside of providing lessons, activities and stimulation critical to the physical, mental and social development of young children, ECD centres such as créches and preschools also play an enabling role that is crucial to the efficient functioning of the economy.

By providing care for young children during work hours they make it possible for parents to participate in the economy to earn a living to support their families as well as to contribute to the profitability of businesses and economic growth.

Talk of reopening the economy should therefore centre the ECD sector. Economic relief cannot be sufficient if it does not prioritise this sector because it is indispensable to the progress and success of the economy.

As part of reimagining the economy and society after lockdown and post-Covid-19 greater consideration needs to be given to the kind of ECD model that supports the vision of an inclusive economy where there is equitable access to opportunities.

Investing in the development of children has potentially greater returns than investing in older people because young people have more years ahead of them to make decisions and exploit opportunities to move up the social mobility ladder.

As one businessman put it, it makes more sense to invest resources in a disadvantaged child than in a poor adult. In supporting a child there is an opportunity to shape a future and contribute to a lifetime of success for that child, their family and their community.

In his State of the Nation Address in February, President Cyril Ramphosa asserted: "The most significant contribution we can make to inclusive economic growth is in the development of appropriate skills and capabilities. The investments we make now in early childhood development and early school learning will yield great economic benefits in the next two decades - and beyond."

He reaffirmed the commitment his administration made in his Sona of February 2019, announcing the migration of ECD to basic education from the social development department as well as two years of compulsory ECD for all children before going to grade 1.

Not only are these centers important for child development but they are also a source of livelihood for the workers and owners who operate them.

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