Importance of early learning

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According to a survey conducted by UNICEF, 84% of children in South Africa do not have access to early learning opportunities.  This alarming statistic means that more than half of the children in South Africa will start school in 2014 without the necessary school readiness, pre-reading or pre-math skills.  The effects of this lack of preparedness is damning to the child, their family, the community in which they live and for the country at large.

Early learning is crucial to understanding basic concepts and is the foundation on which all later learning is built. In the first 5 years of life, children are most receptive to new information.  It is during these years that their cognitive, emotional, social and motor skills are developed.

Children who do not receive these early learning opportunities are more likely to become frustrated with classroom learning, which often leads to a higher dropout rate.  Studies have indicated that for every 100 pupils in Grade 1, only 52 make it to Grade 12.

While government works to make two years of pre-school learning compulsory, NGOs have already begun to provide early learning opportunities to children in under-serviced communities. The results thus far have been astounding.   According to the Education White Paper Five on Early Childhood Development about 40% of boys from under-resourced communities who attended pre–school finished primary school compared to 2% of boys who had not been involved in ECD programmes.

According to the World Bank, girls enrolled in early learning programs are better prepared for school and frequently stay in school longer. This added awareness and knowledge increases their chances of finding employment and performing better in their chosen career. As a result these women are able to make financial contributions to their families that will enable them to graduate from poverty.

Early learning not only has positive economic effects, but also has emotional, psychosocial and social benefits to each child that receives this opportunity.  In South Africa where many children are exposed to inappropriate behaviour and often fall victim to abuse, early learning programmes provide a safe environment for young children to explore and learn without fear of harm. Early learning activities, the most effective of which are play based, build confidence and allow children to express themselves in ways that allow them to expanding their critical thinking skills.


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