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Investing in early education for economic growth

Investing in early education for economic growth

Economists have long believed that investment in education, or "human capital," is an important source of economic growth. And only recently has this message been explored.

An essential aspect of the economic development argument supporting early childhood development (ECD) is that these programs can significantly improve the cognitive and social/behavioural capacities of young children so that later in life they will be more productive citizens than they would otherwise have been.

Something the South African Government’s National Development Plan 2030, echoes saying “we need better educational outcomes in order to raise employment”.

Dr. Lauren Stretch of Early Inspiration says: “If we can create more productive citizens, their direct economic contributions will be enhanced, and, just as important, they will place less financial burden on society: a lesser need for remedial educational services, better health outcomes, less need for welfare support, and a reduced engagement with the criminal justice system.”

According to Education White Paper 5 on Early Childhood Development (2001:2), about 40% of the young children in South Africa are exposed to harsh living conditions, neglect and a lack of stimulation. “From a poor quality of life leads to poor nutrition, which lends itself to poor early education, giving a higher chance of dropping out of school. Therefore unemployable, which starts us again at the poor quality of life, which they bring their children up. It is a cycle which needs to be broken.” Dr. Lauren Stretch explains.

Key facts:

  • According to a study by the United Nations Statistics Division (2007), 64.8% of children that start formal schooling in Grade 1 manage to remain in the system until Grade 5. Therefore 35% of children drop out between Grade 1 and Grade 5
  • Before 1994, 9% of children had access to privately funded ECD. Today 15% of children between birth and four years old are enrolled in formal ECD centres. And, 30% are in unregistered community-level care. This means, of the 5.16million children between birth and four years are not receiving intervention

Many studies have been carried out on the US around the impact of ECD on the economy, and they all lead to the same conclusion: the current physical and social environments and the institutions which govern them are limiting the chance of some groups of children to develop as fully as others.

The existing focus for children is remedial educational services rather than prevention/early intervention, and service delivery is fragmented in South Africa which is why independent organisations like Early Inspiration exists to train childcare professionals to provide the right stimuli for productive brain development.

Dr. Lauren Stretch concludes saying: “Across the nation there is a variable understanding of early years issues, but by spreading awareness of the importance of ECD and the direct impact it has on children, their education, families, society and our economy – we hope more investment will be made into the area. Until the budget exists within Government spending, we need to rely on the foresight of entrepreneurs and corporates to support this mission to grow children, giving them the right start and to create future leaders.”


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