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Early Childhood Development key to breaking cycle of poverty

Feb 28, 2018
Early Childhood Development key to breaking cycle of poverty

In the 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA), the South African government unequivocally highlighted the need for increased support for Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes as part of efforts to break the cycle of poverty.

According to government stats, there are nearly a million children in early childhood development facilities; however Howard Arrand, Chairman of the FNB Fund says formalising ECD centres remains one of the major challenges in building measurable success in the ECD space.

“Research shows that early years of human life are fundamental to shaping our emotional, intellectual, social and physical development. This is why ECD is a critical intervention that could contribute to better education outcomes and poverty reduction when it’s implemented successfully.”

Arrand says while government can shape the agenda by creating enabling policies for effective early childhood development, the private sector has a major role in helping to ensure ECD centres have recognised learning programmes, trained educators and the appropriate hygiene, nutrition and security factors to ensure positive, measurable outcomes.

“Success at this level could give South Africa a well-integrated education and talent pipeline that will ensure that the developmental stages of our children are effectively monitored throughout the education cycle,” he says.

Early childhood development is a key focus of the FirstRand Foundation’s systemic social investment (SSI) which is driven through the FNB Fund’s ECD programme. The Fund invests in organisations that are scalable, embrace technology, mainstream disability and use data. There are many innovative approaches to this sector which have attracted FNB’s attention. The fund drives an ECD strategy through Ilifa Labantwana as well as SmartStart - key initiatives that support early childhood development at a strategic policy level and actively on the ground.

Initially, Ilifa’s five-year goal is to enable an additional one million children aged zero to five years to access a quality ECD programme through an early learning subsidy. The FNB Fund and FirstRand Foundation approved an investment of R30 million over five years (2016/17 to 2020/21) for continued support to Ilifa Labantwana. Similarly, SmartStart has been allocated R35 million for a period of five years until the 2020/21 financial year, translating to R5 million for the first year and then R7.5 million for each of the 4 years. 

Additionally, the Fund is a leading member of a consortium of likeminded partners which have formed a consortium to support the Department of Social Development (DSD) implement a R1.3 billion conditional grant released by Treasury for ECD services. The support entails providing technical resources to help the DSD with ECD infrastructure and registration, ECD financing subsidy reforms and administration, population-based planning and reporting and business plan development; and non-centre based ECD services. 

While Ilifa continues to play an active role in influencing ECD policies, SmartStart focuses on training and licensing of unemployed women and men to run standardised early learning programmes. SmartStart has over 2 000 licenced SmartStarters that look after 22406 children between the ages of 3 and 4 years.

“ECD centres need all the support they can get, not only from companies or government but also from private citizens. At FNB, we are encouraging our staff to play an active role in any early childhood development centre of their choice – whether it’s helping management with administration or a donation, we believe that  every contribution counts. Our view is that this is a sector that cannot afford to fail and that a solid education foundation is fundamental to South Africa’s prosperity,” concluded Arrand.