South Africa - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

South Africa


Early Childhood Education in South Africa


In South Africa, early childhood development (ECD) is the term used for “the processes by which children from birth to nine years grow and thrive, physically, mentally, emotionally, morally and socially.” According to the 2001 Census there are approximately 8.3 million children in this age group: 5,418,204 from 0-5 years, and 2, 872,254 from 6-9 years.

South Africa still faces formidable challenges in addressing the rights and needs of her children. Racist colonial and apartheid policies have left socioeconomic imbalances between black and white and rural and urban South Africans. There is high unemployment and many households live with the stresses of hunger, the lack of formal housing, and high levels of crime and violence including sexual abuse. Many children die of preventable diseases, with the under 5 mortality rate averaging 59.4 per 1000 in 1998. The revised projection for 2002 was 100 per 1000, attributed to the toll of the rising HIV/AIDS pandemic. The migrant labor system and rapid urbanization have eroded traditional family structures, and poverty-stricken female-headed households are common. At an overall prevalence of 29 5 percent, HIV/AIDS is a serious threat impacting on the livelihoods and family structure, with the burden of caring for children in badly affected regions falling upon the elderly and increasingly on older siblings. Many caregivers have low levels of literacy, making it difficult for them to fully support their children’s early education.



In South Africa, provision for the care and education of young children outside the home was initiated last century by the community, parents, and welfare organizations. By 1940 there was limited state support, with per capita subsidies paying for full day centers under the auspices of social welfare and approved nursery schools from education departments. Creches (day-care centers) were seen as custodial and nursery schools as primarily educational. Because subsidies did not keep up with inflation, centers had to rely more and more on fees to cover costs. Nursery schools with trained teachers became privileged middle-class institutions, while creches serving working-class children could only afford basic custodial care. This reinforced white privilege and black disadvantage.

When the apartheid Nationalist government came to power in 1948, they were not in favor of provision for young children before school. Until 1969 government policy discouraged the development of early childhood services except for limited service provision for poor white children through differential per capita education subsidies based on parent income and the introduction of parent income limits for a welfare subsidy.

Provision for white children expanded considerably in the 1970s and there was some development in other communities in response to the Head Start movement in the United States and Non Governmental Organization (NGO) initiatives funded by international foundations.

Because of the lack of state involvement in ECD the community and a variety of NGOs shouldered most of the burden of providing ECD services. During the 1980s and 90s a substantial number of NGO providers were set up to provide in-service training for community-based ECD teachers.

After their election in 1994 the democratic African National Congress (ANC) government identified children’s rights, which included ECD, as a key area in the process of reconstruction and development. The last decade has seen the evolution and ongoing development of new policies aimed at promoting the rights of young children and career paths of ECD teachers. These policies are excellent, but the challenge to find resources and capacity to support implementation on the ground is great.


Coordination of Services

Government departments with key responsibility for the provision of services to children in this age group are education, social development (welfare), and health. The health and welfare departments focus on children up to five years. While education is concerned with the full 0-9 years and its policies reflect this, its priority has been to provide a Reception Year for children from 5 years, mostly within public primary schools. An integrated plan for servicing 0- to 4-year-olds has recently been developed by the three departments. This provides for a range of health, social support, and stimulation programs focusing on children at home as well as those in centers.



Democratic government policy in South Africa needed to address decades of racially discriminatory policies affecting the majority of children in South Africa. Values underpinning our policies include access, redress, equity, quality, and democratic governance.

Education White Paper 1 in 1995 defined government’s commitment both to working interdepartmentally and to young children, starting with the phasing in of a Reception Year as part of compulsory schooling. An Interim ECD policy followed in 1996, and a National Pilot to investigate the phasing in of a reception year, accreditation of teachers and training providers. Recommendations from the pilot were the basis for the 2001 Education White Paper 5 on ECD. This provided for the phasing in of the reception year for children turning 5, prioritizing the poorest of the poor. It is intended that all 5-year-olds will be in Grade R classes by 2010. For children younger than this, the White paper prioritized the development of the strategic plan for intersectoral collaboration, with education focusing on program curriculum and quality. Education policy includes a focus on very young children with disabilities to allow for early identification and intervention but children with disabilities make up as little as 1.4 percent of children attending ECD facilities. Children from 5 and a half to 6 years are eligible to attend compulsory primary schooling, which is governed by the South African Schools Act of 1996.

Within welfare policy, provision of appropriate early childhood development services, including day care, parent education and support, is considered to be an important measure, which facilitates the optimum development of children and their families. The White Paper for Social Welfare (1996) prioritises services for disadvantaged children under five years and they are the targets for receipt of child-care subsidies. Though the subsidies are well targeted to the poor, given the total numbers of young children likely to be at risk, the number of children receiving subsidies is very low. A child support grant for children up to 14 years in poor families is another support mechanism.

The Child Care Act of 1983, which will be replaced by the Children’s Act (currently before parliament), provides that regular care and partial care services for more than six children not in a school should be registered with social services. Registration is contingent upon meeting the Guidelines for ECD services which define minimum standards for the physical facilities, health and nutrition, educational and management aspects of a day-care program. A health clearance certificate is required from local authorities.

The Department of Health provides free health care for pregnant women and children under 6 years and for older children whose carers earn below a certain threshold. Young children are a priority in the Integrated Nutrition Policy. This includes food fortification, nutrition education and growth monitoring, parasite control and food supplementation to malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women. Food support is available to children in public primary schools through the Primary School Nutrition Program.


Access and Supply

ECD services can be a significant support to children in difficult circumstances but in South Africa there are vast disparities in access to provision on grounds of race (population group) with African children having the lowest access overall. Rural areas, where 70 percent of poor children live, have only 40 percent of all ECD facilities. (Under the apartheid state, people were classified by race—white, colored (persons of mixed origin), Asian or African, which was further categorized by ethnicity. These politically imposed terms were used to socially mark people for a variety of purposes. The term “black” is used in this entry to refer collectively to all population groups other than white.) Overall enrollment in approximately 23,500 ECD centers audited nationwide in 2000 was 16 percent. This ranged from 8 percent and 10 percent in two of the poorest, rural provinces to 25 percent and 26 percent in the wealthiest and most developed Western Cape and Gauteng provinces. Access to services increases with age with only 5 percent of children under 3 in centers compared to 15 percent of children aged 3-5 and 21 percent aged 5 to 7.


Teacher Preparation

In the past the majority of ECD teachers were trained by NGOs and their qualifications were not formally recognized. All accredited education and training now falls under the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). This was set up in 1995 to develop and implement a National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The NQF is the framework on which qualifications and courses are registered and against which learner achievements are recorded. ECD qualifications can be obtained from a range of providers—private, nongovernmental, further education and training colleges as well as universities—who are accredited by a quality assurance body appointed by SAQA. A challenge is crediting the prior learning of the many experienced teachers who did not have access to accredited training in the past. Qualifications have been registered at several levels but there is little specialized ECD training at the higher levels, especially postgraduate. Teachers training for primary schooling require a four-year degree as a minimum but there are many under-qualified black teachers from the apartheid era who require upgrading.



Most ECD provision for all ages is run by welfare organizations, NGOs, community-based organizations, and private providers. Parental fees are the primary source of income for many centers, which in poor communities puts ECD facilities in a precarious position. Due to lack of resources, the quality of much of the provision is less than optimal as many of the centers are poorly equipped, teachers are untrained, and conditions may be unhygienic. The nearly 53,000 teachers of children prior to Grade 1 earn very low salaries; 44 percent earn less than R 500 per month (approximately $77) and another 30 percent between R 500 and R 1500 ($230).

Provincial departments of social development subsidize children from 0 to 4 years in some registered centers on a per capita basis per attendance day and this varies from R 2 to R 6 ($0.31 to $0.92) across the provinces. In 2004/5 these subsidies were paid to about 20 percent of centers in South Africa. Provincial education payments are made also on a per capita basis of R 3 ($0.46) per day for up to 200 days per annum to learners in registered Grade R classes. There are also a small number of Grade R teacher posts funded in some provinces. The numbers of Grade R children subsidized will increase substantially starting with poor schools as Grade R rolls out until there is universal coverage. National norms have been recommended for increased per capita subsidies for both education and social development.


Early Childhood Development Programming

Principles for programming include holistic development of the child, contextually and developmentally appropriate activities, a focus on human rights and values in the curriculum, and opportunities to play and learn informally through experience in a nurturing environment.

There is no prescribed curriculum for children under five years though the Department of Education plans to test and introduce curriculum guidelines for under fours. There are concerns in both the government and NGO sector that the requirements and delivery may be overly formal for such young children. ECD service guidelines reflect the need for stimulating activities as well as provision for health and nutrition.

Curriculum for 5-year-olds forms part of the Revised National Curriculum Statement for the Foundation Phase (Grades R-3 or approximate ages 5-9 years). The focus is given to literacy, numeracy, and life skills programs. South Africa follows an outcomes based education (OBE) system that clearly defines the outcomes to be achieved at the end of the learning process with grade-related assessment standards. Outcomes for each learning area are based on achieving a set of critical and developmental outcomes that focus on producing learners with knowledge, skills, and values for productive engagement in the workforce and a democratic and caring society.


Early Childhood Development and the Family

Building partnerships between home, preschool, and the early years of primary schooling is recognized as important in supporting children’s development. However, there are challenges in establishing partnerships. Many parents lack the time, confidence, or understanding to be involved in their children’s early education. Many teachers do not value parent input or are uncertain how to involve parents. For these and other reasons parents, especially those living in poorer communities, are not generally involved in the schools their children attend. When they are they are most often involved in fundraising and maintenance rather than the educational program.

The other aspect of partnership with families is to reach the majority of children who are not accessed by center-based services. Programs targeting primary caregivers and supporting them in their role as educators and providers for their young children have been developed and run by NGOs for many years. In poor communities the outreach workers involved in these programs play an essential role in linking parents with resources such as clinics, social grants, and income generation as well as focusing on developing their knowledge of how to support early learning. Recently, as part of extension of government programs to children under 5, the departments of health, social development, and education are planning a strong focus on parenting. But this is still at the planning stage.

There has also been a focus on educational media programs for young children, of which Takalani Sesame, the South African version of Sesame Street, an initiative of the SABC, Department of Education and Children’s Television Workshop, is the best known. As well as television and radio components it has an outreach arm that trains parents and teachers to use the programs to enhance the development of their young children.

Further Readings: Biersteker, L. (2001). Early Childhood Development—A Review of Public Policy and Funding. Cape Town: Children’s Budget Unit, IDASA; Biersteker, L., and A. Dawes (forthcoming). Early Childhood Development. The Human Resources Development Review 2006. Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council. Will be available online at; Department of Education (2001). The Nationwide Audit of ECD Provisioning in South Africa. Pretoria. Available online at; Department of Education (2001). White Paper 5—Early Childhood Development. Pretoria. Available online at; Short, A., and P. P. Pillay (2002). Meeting the Challenges of ECD Training in South Africa. Paper presented at the Omep World Council and Conference, Durban.

Linda Biersteker


Poverty and Young Children in South Africa

Many of the roots of child poverty in South Africa were firmly planted by the Apartheid government in its disenfranchising policies of underdevelopment and poor education.

The 2000 South African Income and Expenditure Survey was used to quantify the extent of child poverty from a monetary point of view. Two poverty lines were used to calculate child poverty at national and provincial levels. These are slightly higher than the international standard of $1 and $2 per person per day. Using the higher line, 74.9 percent of children aged 0 to 17 in South Africa are poor—more than 13 million children. With the lower poverty line, 54.3 percent of children across South Africa are ultra poor—some 9 7 million children.

Poverty is not evenly distributed across the nine provinces in South Africa. The provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo together were home to 60 percent of South Africa’s income-poor children. These provinces all include the previous “homeland states,” entities established by the South African government under apartheid to deny South African citizenship and rights to the black majority. They were overcrowded, and had bloated and corrupt administrations. These rural areas are significantly underdeveloped.

The biggest single contributor to household poverty is the very high rate of unemployment, which has been on the increase since South Africa opened its economy after the end of Apartheid. The official unemployment figures of September 2004 show that 26.2 percent of the economically active population was unemployed. Given the Apartheid legacy of racial discrimination, employment levels are highly differentiated by race. Black South Africans who make up 79 percent of the population have a 31.3 percent unemployment rate, whereas the same rate for white South Africans is only 5.4 percent.

These unemployment statistics are only a partial reflection of the work situation in South Africa. A more useful expanded definition of unemployment includes those people who would like to find employment but are discouraged work seekers. On this calculation, unemployment levels are at 41 percent in South Africa.

While there are large numbers of children living in absolute poverty, South Africa, a middle-income country, is also marked by stark inequalities. The United Nations Human Development Report 2004 includes a range of indicators of inequality. South Africa is ranked 119th out of 177 countries reflected in the report with a Gini coefficient of 59 3. (The Gini coefficient is a commonly used measure of how evenly or unevenly income is distributed within a nation). The poorest 20 percent of South Africans have access to only 2 percent of income.

The extent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as the government’s weak response to it, have deepened poverty. While there is a comprehensive plan for prevention campaigns and to provide medication to those infected, a lack of political will and weak health services infrastructure have hampered delivery, particularly of Antiretroviral therapy. The best data on the impact of HIV/AIDS comes from the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) model. Estimates of the spread of HIV/AIDS for 2004 derived from this model are that 5 million South Africans of a total population of 44.8 million are currently infected. An estimated 63,000 children were infected at birth or in the course of breastfeeding in 2004. This is in contrast to some one million babies born uninfected. The model also estimates that in the same year some 245,000 children from birth to fourteen years were HIV positive or had AIDS defining illnesses. AIDS has made a substantial difference to infant mortality with 40 percent of child deaths (IMR) attributable to HIV/AIDS.

A useful indicator of the impact of the pandemic is that of maternal orphans, defined as children from birth to eighteen years who have lost either their mother or both parents. Currently there are some 1.2 million such children in South Africa, more than 600,000 of whom were orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. Projections are that, without significantly increased access to treatment for adults with HIV/AIDS, this number will increase significantly, rising to nearly 2 million by 2015. There can be no doubt that many of the gains made since the advent of democracy are being reversed by the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


The Impact of Poverty on Young Children

According to calculations made from 2001 census data, in that year there were 8.3 million children from birth to eight years in South Africa, comprising some 18.5 percent of the total population of the country. The most basic manifestation of poverty and inequality is the lack of household food security. The best source of information on food security and hunger is somewhat out of date—the 1999 National Food Consumption Survey in children aged 1 to 9 in South Africa. The situation of children in terms of hunger was not good in 1999. This study found that at the national level, 52 percent of children aged 1 to 9 experienced hunger. A further 23 percent were at risk of hunger. Only 25 percent appeared to be food secure.

Poor households that are characterized by greater numbers of very young or school-going children also have less access to essential services such as water and sanitation, communications, roads and energy sources, particularly in rural areas. They also have long distances to travel to access health facilities. A vigorous government program to upgrade access to basic services such as water and sanitation has increased the percentage of people with access to a safe water supply from 60 percent in 1994 to 91 percent by March 2004 and basic sanitation from 49 percent to 64 percent.

Poverty impacts on the very structure of children’s lives. As well as material poverty, poverty has social and power manifestations. Family life is most fragmented for the poor. In many poor households fathers are absent or children live apart from their parents. There is evidence that protracted physical poverty leads to social isolation of families. Poor children are more likely to grow up in communities wracked by crime and violence.


Government Strategies to Combat Poverty and Ensure Development

The South African government is acutely aware of the problems of poverty and joblessness, and antipoverty rhetoric is prominent in public life. The years of democracy have seen a number of strategies to combat poverty—some of which specifically focused on children.

In 1994, the Reconstruction and Development Programme announced a series of lead projects aiming to extend the reach of the public service into previously neglected communities. In 1996, the African National Congress government introduced the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy (GEAR) policy. Its primary objective was to stimulate growth by opening the economy, reducing public expenditure and attracting foreign direct investment, and by that means, reducing poverty. The majority of the targets of the strategy were not met. GEAR projections ended in 2001, and since then, no other unified national strategy around trade or expenditure has been announced. There has however been a substantial shift toward increased social expenditure since the end of the GEAR period.

While these macroeconomic policies were being put into place, a wide range of programs aimed at developing communities that were without housing and services were initiated, and massive institutional reform took place to unify and standardize education, health, and municipal services.

In 1998, the state introduced the Child Support Grant, a small noncontributory poverty-targeted cash grant paid monthly to the primary caregiver of the child. Initially, children from birth to six were eligible. Since 2000, this grant has been rolled out to older children so that children under 14 are now eligible. Some 5.5 million poor children now have access to some measure of income support in this very successful program.

Since 1994, there have been large-scale programs aimed at improving the living conditions of children and others. One of the first policy announcements was the introduction of free public health care to children under 6 and pregnant women. This has since been extended to free primary health care for all children and adults, and free secondary and tertiary care for children with disabilities. There have been similarly large-scale interventions in housing, with over one million new houses built for low-income families. There are however problems with the quality of these houses, their location, and their tiny size.

With respect to education and early childhood development services, the record of government in addressing the needs of children to the age of 9 is mixed. In the formal schooling sector including primary school and the recently introduced Grade R, a number of interventions have been inadequately financed and managed. Although school enrollment is high in South Africa, in the region of 95 percent at the primary school level, attendance is much lower. Efforts to support learners to attend school include the School Fee Waiver policy and the Primary School Feeding Scheme.

Initiatives to support children before their schooling years have been very weak and have not been a significant component of the government’s poverty alleviation strategy, though plans to expand the system and make more resources available are before Cabinet. Outside the primary school environment under the Education Department, all services to children fall under the Department of Social Development. The expansion of the social safety nets to children and adults has squeezed out funding for social services, which have received very little attention. There is an almost total lack of family support interventions for parents with young children. Those early childhood development (ECD) services that do exist are facilities based but poorly supported in the poorest communities. Some facilities that are able to register receive a per child per day allocation based on parental income levels which varies in different provinces. This is a contribution toward staff salaries, educational activities, and nutrition. The majority of ECD facilities are however, unable to register because of norms and standards that do not take the living conditions in rural areas, informal settlements and inner-city areas into account. Lack of funding can mean poor or no nutrition offered to the children and lack of educational equipment but more seriously impacts on the wages earned by the educators leading to high attrition from the sector, and in many cases low motivation. Facilities in poor communities have significantly poorer infrastructure in the form of buildings, water, and sanitation and this is especially so of facilities serving African children. Because many ECD facilities operate as small businesses the need to make them financially viable can lead to overcrowding.

Local government’s constitutional mandate for ECD provision is ambiguous but there are some signs that ECD is beginning to get more prominence at local government level in some areas, both metropolitan and rural, with priority to young children being seen as a social upliftment and poverty alleviation strategy.

Further Readings: For official statistics including population demographics and employment levels, contact Department of Health (2000) National Food Consumption Survey 1999. Available online at; Dorrington R. E., D. Bradshaw, L. Johnson, and D. Budlender (2004). The Demographic Impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National Indicators for 2004. Cape Town: Centre for Actuarial Research, South African Medical Research Council and Actuarial Society of South Africa, pp. 1-28; Statistics South Africa. Available online; Streak, J. (2004). Child poverty in South Africa and implications for policy: Using indicators and children’s views to gain perspective. In Erika Coetzee and Judith Streak, eds., Monitoring child socio-economic rights in South Africa: Achievements and Challenges. Cape Town: IDASA, pp. 9-49.

Annie Leatt


Early Childhood and Violence Exposure

First it is appropriate to provide some definitions. The key concepts are structural, political, and interpersonal violence. Each impacts significantly on early childhood.

Structural violence refers to a political and economic system that excludes people from full participation in society, either by law or by the nature of the economic system. In South Africa under apartheid adults and children were excluded from full participation in society on the basis of color. Education and all other services were racially discriminatory. Community life was segregated. The limited educational opportunities of blacks compromised their life chances in very fundamental ways. It also shaped the young child’s perception of those of “other” groups entrenching racist attitudes.

Structural violence can continue in a democracy if the society is highly skewed in terms of a small wealthy group and a very large population living in long-term poverty (as is the case with Brazil and South Africa). In this form of structural violence, the survival, development, protection, and opportunities of the poor child are likely to be severely compromised, particularly when there are inadequate welfare provisions.

South Africa has a strong child rights tradition. The Constitution has a special section (28) that grants children nonderogable rights to social security, protection, shelter, health care services, and education. These provisions provide powerful tools that can be used to advance children’s rights. They have led to the provision of child grants for parents who have less than a certain level of income. All children under six are entitled to free health care, as are all older children whose carers earn less than a certain threshold. Free nutrition is provided at means-tested schools and some registered early childhood development (ECD) centers. While there is much that still needs to be done, these provisions certainly offset some of the major threats to early development that are part and parcel of societies that have high Gini coefficients—a commonly accepted marker of a structurally unequal society (see Poverty and Young Children in South Africa).

Political violence is a form of intergroup conflict. In some instances the state is in conflict with a group or groups who use violence against it. It can refer to the violent actions of state forces used to oppress citizens (regardless of whether there is violent opposition or not). Political violence usually refers to intrastate conflict. Classical examples include that between the South African state and liberation forces during the apartheid years; the Irish nationalist—British loyalist conflict in Northern Ireland; and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All have affected children very deeply in a range of ways.

In South Africa, from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, thousands of young people were engaged in violent political conflict against the regime. Many more suffered under the lash of political oppression. There were an estimated 51,000 detentions of adults and children without trial between 1984 and 1988. About 24,000 children (the vast majority adolescents), were held in detention without trial in the period 1985 to 1989. Children experienced the terror tactics of the state, including threats, misinformation, smear campaigns, harassment of kin, intrusion into domestic space, as well as teargassing and closure of schools. It was not only the adolescent political activists who were affected by the invasion of schools by the police and the army. Children under the age of 9 were also affected. Their education was disrupted by school closures for long periods. Particularly traumatic, family members disappeared, and were killed. As the political struggle in South Africa intensified, it became ever more public. Teenagers would often lead the assault against the soldiers and police. They would participate in the murder of officials in public places accompanied by large crowds singing and cheering them on.

Generations of South African children therefore grew up in a context of political violence coupled to the structural violence of apartheid racism and poverty. They learnt that violence was an acceptable approach to the resolution of conflict, they lost years of education, and for many the emotional costs of seeing their parents and families suffer were very significant. Nonetheless, it is also true that the majority of these children showed enormous strength under very difficult conditions.

Interpersonal violence refers to that between individuals rather than groups. For children it takes many forms. Direct exposure to direct violence includes bullying in the playground, fights with siblings, and being subjected to violence by those who are charged with their protection and development (caregivers and their teachers). Indirect exposure involves witnessing violence to others (in real life or screen media). Many children witness violence at home and on the streets. While direct exposure has negative outcomes for children, particularly when repeated and severe, witnessing violence, particularly in domestic settings, is deeply disturbing, particularly to young children whose ability to process such events is not yet mature.

Young children in South Africa have suffered exposure to child abuse, and violence and alcohol abuse by their caregivers for many generations. Recent studies have shown that many live in communities in which violence is endemic. Rather than unanticipated, isolated events, the violence often consists of multiple, traumatizing events. For example in one survey conducted in a poor area of Cape Town, 70 percent of 8-year-olds had witnessed violence including murder and domestic violence and other forms of assault, and 47 percent had been victims of assault. A major problem is the chronic shortage of clinical services to deal with these children.

Despite the high levels of violence, it is essential to stress that the majority of young children exposed to violence do not show evidence of major psychological difficulties. This finding is in line with studies conducted elsewhere. While these children are remarkably resilient, this does not mean there is no effect. Many children may be deeply distressed and harbor traumatic memories. However, they have sufficient internal resources and external supports that prevent the development of psychopathology.

Child abuse is a major source of violence exposure for South African children. Due to the nature of the problem it is not possible to derive accurate figures. Nonetheless it is reasonable to estimate (based on several data sources) that some 20 percent of children experience contact sexual abuse. While police crime statistics are not accurate representations of sexual abuse, they can provide a rough guide. A South African Police Services study of recorded rape indicates that in 1998, 15 percent of South African rape victims were below the age of 12 (prevalence: 130/100,000 of female children under 12 years). These are shocking figures. Again services are limited to a few treatment centers in some major cities.

Partner violence is another serious threat to the well-being of young children. It is well known that their emotional development is compromised by exposure to violence between their carers. A recent representative South African national prevalence study found that at least 20 percent of adults were involved in violent relationships.

While many do not consider physical punishment of children to be “violence,” it is. When adults hit one another it is called “assault.” When parents hit children, it is called “discipline.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently argued that physical punishment is a violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and lobbied that it be outlawed to protect young children. A recent South African household survey showed that 59 percent of parents use corporal punishment and that the most vulnerable age is between 3 and 5.

Exposure to media violence should not be omitted from this discussion. It is worth noting the impact of media violence, particularly television, on the development of violent orientations in the young child. Children under the age of 6 are most likely to mimic screen violence as they are less conscious of fantasy/reality distinctions, and because it is a period in which children can identify with screen heroes in a manner that makes them feel strong and able to overcome difficulties in their own lives.


Implications for the Protection and Development of Young Children

Exposure to violence provides many opportunities for the young to learn violent behavior. At the same time, repeated traumatization is also likely to result in psychological states that are associated with aggressive behavior, particularly in young males. If we are serious about youth violence prevention, young children and their developmental contexts require our focused attention.

One has to start at the level of legislation to create appropriate constitutional and legislative mechanisms for the protection of the most vulnerable in society, in particular the establishment of individual rights and also social rights and protections. In South Africa this has been addressed through the Constitutional process, which includes key protections for the young. At the level of implementation, South Africa has a long way to travel.

Large-scale policy initiatives are not enough however. Many communities, schools and homes remain unsafe for young children. A key intervention is to introduce peace education and nonviolent conflict resolution in schools and ECD settings. We first have to ensure that they develop and use policies of nonviolence that operate between all persons and at all levels. Teachers and other staff need to buy into the policy and model nonviolent conflict resolution for children. Then we need to actively teach children these skills and see that they employ them in the playground. South Africa has moved forward to some extent with such initiatives in the formal primary school setting, but not in preschool settings. Reducing violence in schools and ECD settings lowers the opportunities for the young to learn the acceptability of violence from peers. In addition, if school safety and nonviolence is coupled with training in nonviolent modes of conflict resolution, the young have the opportunity to learn pro-social problem solving, to which they would not otherwise be exposed. Even though it is probable that these interventions do not contribute massively to a reduction in violence, they will in all likelihood provide better outcomes for a proportion of youth.

Finally, it is important to intervene with young children who are at high-risk for violent conduct due to the nature of their temperaments and their family settings (e.g. boys in dysfunctional families in high crime neighborhoods). We know that if a preschool child with a history of persistent aggressive behavior is not assisted in early childhood, the odds are that the pattern will persist. This is particularly likely if the child is troubled and has a dysfunctional parenting situation.

There are a number of well-tested interventions for children in this position. A South African example of an early preventive intervention is Petersen and Carolissen’s (2000) early school-based child and parent intervention program for aggressive preschool children. They are intensive programs and therefore are not cheap to implement. However, the cost to society of not intervening early and not assisting these children and their families is far higher in the long run. This is because these children are likely to develop antisocial behavior, have school problems, and eventually drop out.

In sum, as with other aspects of early childhood intervention, we need to prevent threats to development due to violence while we promote positive nonviolent development. Prevention of violence in the ECD setting and the school are priorities for South Africa. These must be complemented with interventions in the home that have been shown to make a difference. Home visiting programs have been shown to work in improving infant emotional outcomes. The work of Cooper and colleagues (2002) is a South African example. Again those that work are labor intensive and don’t come cheap. But that is what it takes if we wish to address the impact of both structural and interpersonal violence in developing country settings. Early investment pays long-term dividends.

Further Readings: Bierman, K. L., M.T. Greenberg, and Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (CPPRG) (1996). Social skills training in the FAST TRACK program. In R. D. Peters and R. J. McMahon, eds., Preventing childhood disorders, substance abuses, and delinquency. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp. 65-89; Bushman, B., and C. Anderson (2001). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media misinformation. American Psychologist 56, 477-489; Cairns, E. (1996). Children and political violence. Oxford: Blackwell; Cooper, P. J., M. Landman, M. Tomlinson, C. Molteno L. Swartz, and L. Murray (2002). Impact of a mother-infant intervention in an indigent periurban South African context: A pilot study. British Journal of Psychiatry 180, 76-81; Dawes, A, and G. Finchilescu (2002). What’s changed? South African adolescents’ racial attitudes between 1992 and 1996. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research 9(2), 147-165; Dawes, A., Z. de Sas Kropiwnicki, Z. Kafaar, and L. Richter. (2005). Partner violence. In U. Pillay, B. Roberts, and S. Rule, eds, South African Social Attitudes: The Baseline Report. Cape Town: HSRC Press; Dawes, A., Z. Kafaar, de Sas Kropiwnicki, Z. R. Pather, and L. Richter (2004). Partner violence, attitudes to child discipline & the use of corporal punishment: A South African national survey. Report for Save the Children Sweden. Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council; Eyber, C., D. Dyer, R. Versfeld, A. Dawes, G. Finchilescu, and C. Soudien (1997). Resisting racism: A teacher’s guide to equality in education. Cape Town: IDASA; Huesmann, L. R., J. Moise-Titus, C. Podolski, and L. D. Eron (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology 39, 201-221; Olds, D. L. (1990). Can home visitation improve the health of women and children at risk? In D. L. Rogers and E. Ginzberg, eds., Improving the life chances of children at risk. Boulder CO: Westview Press, pp. 79-103; Petersen, H. J., and R. Carolissen (2000). Working with aggressive preschoolers. In D. Donald, A. Dawes, and J. Louw, eds., Addressing Childhood Adversity. Cape Town: David Phillip, pp. 94-112; Richter, L., A. Dawes, and C. Higson-Smith, eds. (2004). Sexual abuse of young children in Southern Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press; Straker, G. (1992). Faces in the revolution. The psychological effects of violence on township youth in South Africa. Cape Town: David Philip; Van der Merwe, A., and A. Dawes (2000). Prosocial and antisocial tendencies in children exposed to community violence. Southern African Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health 12(1), 19-37; Villani, S. (2001). Impact of media on children and adolescents: A 10-year review of the research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 40, 392.

Andrew Dawes


Child Health and Well-Being in South Africa

Children’s right to nutrition and basic health care services is guaranteed by the South African Constitution, and young children up to the age of 5 are prioritized in health policies. Targets are guided by international agreements such as the Millennium Development Goals and World Fit for Children. High poverty rates impact negatively on the survival and health of young children in South Africa and the HIV/AIDS crisis has severely worsened the situation.


Current Indicators of Child Health in South Africa

According to the Demographic and Health Survey in 1998 the infant mortality rate (IMR) was 45.4 per 1000 and under five mortality rate 59.4 per 1000 live births. The national figure conceals wide geographic differences with far higher rates in the poorer rural provinces (urban 43.2 and rural 71.2) and population group differences with African children having the highest mortality rates (white children 15.3 and African 63.6). Between 1998 and 2002 estimates are that IMR increased by 14 per 1000 almost exclusively because of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The under 5 mortality rate almost doubled to 100 per 1000.

Leading causes of death include intestinal infection, lower respiratory infection, unnatural causes, and HIV. Malnutrition accounts for about 6 percent of child deaths. In 2003 the Department of Health reported immunization coverage of 82 percent for one-year-olds, but here too there is regional variation with lower rates in poor rural provinces. For children 12-23 months cover drops to 63.4 percent.

Stunting is the most common form of malnutrition. The 1999 National Food Consumption Survey showed that 21.6 percent of children aged 1-9 are stunted compared with 10.3 who are underweight for age. Younger children aged 1-3 are most severely affected as well as those living on commercial farms (30.6%) and in tribal and rural areas. Obesity is a growing problem for about 7.5 percent of children aged 4-9, predominantly in formal urban areas.

There is a serious tuberculosis epidemic that is increasing at about 20 percent per annum as a result of its association with HIV infection. In the more northerly and north-east provinces such as KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga malaria rates are high.

HIV and AIDS are a dire threat to the survival and well-being of very large and growing numbers of young children in South Africa. In 2004, 29 5 percent of pregnant women tested at public facilities were HIV positive. An estimated 6 percent of babies are infected peri-natally through mother-to-child transmission. Far greater numbers of children have their survival and well-being compromised through growing up in houses where breadwinners and caregivers are infected or have died. Young children are most developmentally vulnerable to deprivation of consistent, responsive care, adequate nutrition, and interpersonal and environmental stimulation. Children from households perceived to be HIV/AIDS affected are often stigmatized impacting negatively on their self-esteem and other factors that promote resilience.


State Initiatives to Address the Health of Young Children

Child health and nutrition are high on the list of the government’s priorities. The new government has introduced a number of significant policies to redress inequities in the allocation of health resources and to improve maternal and child health care. These include the Primary School Nutrition Programme (PSNP), more recently, the national Integrated Nutrition Programme (INP) for South Africa, Free Health Care for pregnant women and children under six years, the Expanded Programme of Immunisation, and Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI).

The INP includes fortification of staple foods, promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, community-based growth monitoring, developing community food gardens, and nutritional supplementation. For children in public schools the PSNP provides a nutritious snack. This is not available to Grade R classes in community schools or for younger children and there are difficulties accessing nutritional supplementation and emergency food aid in many districts.

In response to HIV/AIDS the Department of Health launched its strategic plan in 2000. This framework for responding to the epidemic has four priority areas including Prevention; Treatment, Care and Support; Research, Monitoring and Surveillance; and Human Rights. Of particular relevance for 0- to 8-year-olds are Reduction of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission and Expanding the Provision of Care to Children and Orphans.

In the same year the Departments of Health, Social Development and Education, the major social service deliverers in prevention and management, developed a national integrated plan for children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The intervention includes poverty relief, life skills education, and home and community-based care.

A Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV program started in 2001 and operates at a number of public hospitals and community health centers throughout the country. Services include voluntary counseling and testing, advice on infant feeding and use of milk formula as well as general education and support. Prevention of vertical transmission is, however, only one aspect of preventing vulnerability. Providing treatment and support to children’s mothers and other caregivers, so they can provide good care for as long as possible, is as important. In April 2004, a national Antiretroviral Therapy treatment program started. However, it has faced numerous challenges, especially in the poorer provinces, and is not rolling out rapidly enough to meet the demand for treatment. Midway through the first year only 11, 000 of a target of 53, 000 people were involved in treatment.

Important aspects of a safety net for all children affected by HIV include improving access to child support grants, which requires children’s births to be registered and adults to have identity documents. Securing foster care grants for caregivers of children not their own by birth is a slow statutory process requiring fast tracking.

Apart from the specifically age targeted PMTCT programmes there is little focus in programs on the particular vulnerabilities of very young children affected by HIV and AIDS. Problems of keeping children in school, supporting child headed households and prevention programs aimed at older children and youth have been most common.


The Early Childhood Development Services Response to HIV/AIDS

A number of service responses are emerging to address the situation of young children made vulnerable by HIV. An obvious target group is those children in early childhood development (ECD) centers and the early grades of primary schooling, but there is a need also for broader outreach to the majority of young children not reached by these services.


Early childhood development center programs. There are many training courses to teach ECD teachers and caregivers to deal with affected children in their centers. These involve information to dispel myths about HIV, training about universal precautions, and how to provide emotional support to children coping with trauma. Some of these can be credited to a national qualification in ECD. However there are many recorded cases of reluctance to accept children suspected of being HIV positive into centers because of fear and stigma. Practitioners could play a far more strategic role in identifying children at risk and linking them with resources if they had additional information and support. ECD centers could provide safe care, security, and stimulation for young children traumatized by sickness and death. When young children attend ECD programs parents and caregivers are released to attend to survival needs, and older children who are caring for the young ones to go to school. This would only be possible with greater subsidy support for children attending ECD centers.


Outreach programs. Young children made vulnerable by poverty or household illness are among those least likely to attend preschools centers or schools. A number of programs are attempting to reach these children, who are outside of the service loop. The family and community has traditionally been the safety net for young children but is stretched to breaking point, with elderly caregivers and child heads of households particularly in need of support.

Common principles on which these programs are based include a rights-based approach to programming, a broad focus on vulnerable children, as targeting of orphans or HIV affected children can increase stigmatisation, and building on the capacity of communities to care for affected children and link them with resources. The value of combining academic knowledge and more traditional knowledge bases in addressing the impact of the pandemic is recognized.

The Training and Resources in Early Education’s (TREE) Integrated ECD Projects in areas of KwaZulu Natal provide an example. These aim to promote the physical well-being of children as well as strengthening their resilience through psychosocial support and linking them to all support services available to them. This involves providing information and support to all adults who interact with young children and may include assistance in getting identity documents, accessing grants and nutritional support as well as initiating stimulating play activities for young children. The program aims to build community-based management to support the needs of vulnerable young children by doing the following:

• Strengthening families

• Lobbying local leadership and local government

• Linking with ECD practitioners

• Establishment of community child care committees with representation of major stakeholders and responsible for identification and monitoring of particularly vulnerable households in their community

• Use of volunteer family facilitators to build caregiving capacity at household level

• Linking with a wide range of public services for children and people in the community: for example, welfare, health, agriculture, policing.


Media programs. Media projects have great potential to influence attitudes as well as providing information. Takalani Sesame, which has radio, television, and outreach materials, has introduced an HIV positive Muppet, Kami, as a member of the cast. It aims to provide age-appropriate messages for children aged 3-7 years assisting young children, parents, and caregivers with knowledge and skills to deal with the pandemic.

Meeting the rights and needs of South Africa’s young children in the face of the enormous and devastating effects of HIV/AIDS requires the dedication of South Africa’s human resources to fighting a full-scale war against the pandemic. Sustainable initiatives to identify, support, and monitor vulnerable children in communities must include the people, leaders, and government, have a common focus to which all partners are committed, access to resources and be strongly driven over a sustained period of time.

Further Readings: Biersteker, L., and L. Rudolph (2003). Report on Phase One: South African Action Research Programme: Protecting the rights of orphans and vulnerable children aged 0-9 years. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit; Biersteker, L., and N. Rudolph (2005). Protecting The Rights of Orphans and Vulnerable Children aged 0-6 Years. A South African Case Study. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit. Available online at; Department of Health (2000). HIV/AIDS/STD strategic plan for South Africa 2000-2005. Pretoria: Department of Health; Department of Health (2002). South African Demographic and Health Survey 1998. Pretoria: Department of Health. Available online at; Department of Health (2005). National HIV and Syphilis Antenatal Survey in South Africa—2004. Pretoria: Department of Health Available online at; Department of Social Development (2001). National guidelines for Social Services to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Pretoria; Dorrington, R.E., D. Bradshaw, and D. Budlender (2002). HIV/AIDS profile of the provinces of South Africa-indicators for 2002. Center for Actuarial Research, Medical Research Council and Actuarial Society of South Africa; Labadarios, D., ed. (2000). The National Food Consumption Survey (NFCS): Children aged 1-9 years. Pretoria: Department of Health. Available online at; Picken, P. (2003). Orphans and Vulnerable Children—Challenges and Approaches in ECD Programming. Durban: TREE.

Linda Biersteker and Victoria Sikhakhana


Family Involvement in Early Childhood Development in South Africa

South African children grow up in very diverse family and household structures. South African society includes a multiplicity of religious and cultural beliefs, kinship patterns, and economic structures. Traditional family structures of black South Africans have been profoundly altered by the institutionalized state racism of the apartheid era and colonial past. Labor policies often separated black fathers and mothers from their families, leaving grandmothers, aunts, and older sisters in parenting roles. Increasing urbanization of young adults and the impact of HIV and AIDS are also creating different family structures. Many households are in a constant state of flux, with children moving between relatives most able to care for them at particular times in their lives. Female-headed households are increasingly common with less than half of African children living with both parents.

Parent education levels are strongly associated with the well-being of children, their survival rates, and capacity to support children in their schooling. The 2001 Census revealed that 18 percent of the population was categorized as functionally illiterate and this group included more women, who are most often primary caregivers, than men. Many parents lack the knowledge, confidence, and material resources to support their children’s education even in the preschool years; therefore, many children do not attend school or drop out in the early grades.

A National Indicator Project for the Department of Education showed that very large numbers of children are living in families that lack resources, including food and educational materials. Recent studies and newspaper reports have indicated that even in urban areas, literacy is a peripheral activity in the home and that most children from disadvantaged homes start school with no experience of books or word play.


Policy towards Families and Early Childhood Development (ECD)

Within a short period of time, South Africa has moved toward the incorporation of a human rights and child rights approach to early childhood development policy formation and programming, as embodied in the South African Constitution.

Early childhood development (ECD) policy from the Department of Education stresses the importance of continuity between the home, preschool, and early years of schooling. It also recognizes the importance of parental involvement as seen, for example, in the composition requirements for School Governing Bodies and is committed in the Revised National Curriculum to support learning by the use of local content and building on the child’s own experience. The Department of Social Development policies and programs for ECD also contain a commitment to education of parents as part of a range of strategies to prevent children becoming “at risk.” New ECD related programs, such as the Integrated ECD Plan, include a focus on parent education. Additionally, the Expanded Public Works Program includes a provision for training parents.


Different Types of Parent and Family Services

While training for ECD practitioners incorporates components for working with parents, only one in twenty young children in South Africa is in preschool facilities or Grade R classes. The challenge for parent and family services is to reach those children outside of provision. Therefore, family programs for ECD include those servicing parents of children in schools and preschools, a number of programs that directly target the primary caregivers of young children who are not in any ECD facility, and more general awareness and media programs for parents.


The Challenges in Forming Links between Home and School

Parents who have low levels of schooling themselves often lack understanding of ECD and are uncomfortable with the play-centered learning activities associated with ECD programs, feeling more at ease with rote-centered learning practices. Those parents who received more formal education often associate school with formal instruction where teachers set the rules. It is likely that these parents have never experienced a productive and interactive parent-teacher relationship.

Experience of a Parent Support Program in a rural township in the Free State province showed that teachers who regarded themselves as “experts” tended to alienate poor parents. A well-designed short training program, incorporating sensitivity to social realities and cultural norms for both teachers and parents, led to improved relationships between the two groups. The program increased the parents’ awareness of the role of early stimulation and the links to later schooling.

Involvement of parents as governing bodies for community-based preschools is well established, as is the teacher’s expectation that parents should be involved in fundraising events and maintenance. Involvement as a support in the classroom is less common, though it has been used very effectively to promote diversity in some programs.

In low-income urban areas, teachers often struggle to secure parent attendance at meetings. This is often a result of time pressures on parents, safety issues in attending meetings in the evenings and a lack of understanding of the importance of their role as parents, something to which teachers often contribute.

In rural areas, where preschools exist, parents are often more involved in the preschools because of the strong social networks where people know one another. However, parent interest and involvement in the education program is more common for parents in more affluent communities.


Awareness Programs

The South African Broadcasting Corporation Educational TV and radio programs include parent education as part of the strategy for educating parents about support for very young children. An estimated 84 percent of South Africans have access to radio and daily radio programs. Some programs, such as Takalani Sesame, include an outreach component with training and print materials targeting primary caregivers as well as ECD teachers. Many local and community radio stations feature parent information or phone-in advice programs for parents of young children. The Department of Education has recently undertaken a media campaign to raise awareness of the importance of supporting early childhood development.

Donor sponsored newspaper supplements, especially for the early years of primary school, are a regular feature in the press. In addition, health and social grant related information in the form of posters and pamphlets are distributed at public places where parents are likely to gather—clinics, social work offices, NGOs, libraries.


Programs Aimed at Primary Caregivers

In an attempt to provide supportive programming for the primary caregivers and parents of young children, and to offer early childhood information that is sensitive to sociocultural differences, a range of programs are available. Unfortunately, most of these programs are only available in urban areas. Program strategies include toy libraries, library programs, mother-child groups, play in the park programs, ECD sports programs and support for informal playgroups. For-profit parenting training programs and parent support groups such as moms and tots groups are common in more affluent communities.

The greatest need addressed here is to reach the parents of children who are very poor, or in areas that are poorly resourced. In response to this need a number of good practice examples have been developed in the NGO sector. These services have a holistic focus, helping parents access resources such as social security, food, and a component that brings them information about early childhood development. However, budget constraints continually limit access for large numbers of vulnerable families and children.

The family motivator, the foot soldier in ECD strategy, is gaining momentum as a mechanism for reaching young children in areas that lack a developed physical infrastructure. This approach has been pioneered by NGOs and most often relies on facilitators and volunteers from communities who visit households to provide support and information. Primary caregivers may be brought together for ECD- related workshops. These events help build a network of social support. A related program, known as the ECD hub, involves either a preschool, community, or health center and it strives to become a one-stop shop by bringing together a range of services that include social welfare (access to grants), safety, and protection.

An example of the integration needed is a family outreach program in seven villages in the Northern Cape (an area of deep poverty, violence, and crime). To be successful, several important components needed to be incorporated. First, there needed to be a solid family support service within the community structures, as this facilitated increased access to health services, child support grants, and pensions. Secondly, dialogue and problem-solving approaches to learning and teaching strengthened ECD understandings and practice among primary caregivers, ECD, health and community development practitioners.


Communicating the Early Childhood Development Message to Parents

Linking ECD with other family development programs is one strategy for communicating the ECD messages to parents. For example a Family Literacy program in the KwaZulu Natal Province offers rural women literacy and English and key early childhood development messages, particularly around child early literacy and HIV/AIDS. In other projects, a child-care and education component has been linked to income generation projects targeting women, including a national public works program called Working for Water.

Library services, where such services exist, sometimes include toy lending and lap programs, designed to encourage parents to read to their young children. Projects that encourage a culture of reading include the development of indigenous language books for young children. These books focus on South African themes and have been distributed to parents, preschools, and libraries. However, the majority of children are growing up in an environment where print material is not available.

Child-to-child programs have worked well in certain areas. For example, primary school-aged children in an area of KwaZulu Natal were guided to take key health messages back to the homes and to check young children’s clinic cards. This initiative significantly improved the immunization rates in their villages. In Cape Town, older children have been trained to make play materials from waste and shown how to use these with younger children in their homes.



ECD parent/family programs often lack both the capacity and the resources for systematic data collection and analysis; therefore, the opportunity to influence government policy and programming is lessened. ECD seldom shows up in Integrated Development Plans and budgets at the local government level. Advocacy efforts need to be strengthened and gain wider support in order to ensure the place of a truly holistic ECD on the national agenda. Parent and family services, provided mostly by the nongovernmental sector, remain hard pressed to deliver widely without systematic and sustained government and donor support.

Further Readings: Biersteker, L. (1997). An assessment of programs and strategies for 0-4 years, the South African Case Study report. World Bank/Africa Regional Integrated Early Childhood Development Services Initiative. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit; Biersteker, L, and K. van der Merwe (2004). Final report on a Grade R pilot training program designed to strengthen home/school and Grade R/Grade 1 transition. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit. Available online at; Bozalek, V. (1999). Contextualising caring in Black South African Families. Social Politics International: Studies in Gender, State and Society (Spring Issue), 85-99; Desmond, S. (2003). Making reading a shared pleasure and a valuable skill: The Family Literacy Project in the southern Drakensberg. KwaZulu Natal Innovation (June 26, 2003). Available online at University Library, University of Natal; Mptlhaolwa, M. P. (1999 ) Searching for other mechanisms for helping families and parents to find solutions for their problems. Paper presented at the International Conference on Early Childhood Care and Development. Uganda (6-10 September 1999). Available online at; Newman M., T. Uys, and T. Noko (2003). Implementers’ Report: A Re Direng. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit.

Mary Newman


Human Rights, Inclusivity, and Social Justice

South Africa has a rich diversity of culture, language, and religious traditions. However, we come from a history of oppression where one culture was viewed as superior to others. For decades a minority white and Western culture dominated and was institutionalized as the norm. Other cultures were practiced in local segregated communities.

Since the beginning of our democracy in 1994, the South African Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been the guide for national and provincial laws and policies across government departments, civil society structures, and organizations. Both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been a means for the transformation of our society. To develop an understanding of human rights issues, there is a strong emphasis on human rights awareness and education in South Africa. As a result, government institutions, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and community-based organizations have developed visions, missions, and policies to align themselves with the South African Constitution. Over the last ten years national pride has also emerged as our society celebrates its diverse cultures, languages, and traditions. Increasing numbers of Africans from all over the continent have migrated to South Africa, bringing many different traditions. Unfortunately, these new immigrants have become the targets of xenophobia.

Human rights relate to a wide range of diversity, which includes race, gender, culture, ethnicity, class, ability, and language. Transformation also means leveling the playing fields of the past, which is why the focus of the South African government’s laws and policies is human rights, inclusivity, and social justice.

A decade is a very short period of time in any country’s history. We face and grapple with many challenges when it comes to looking at issues of diversity in the education of young children. These challenges include the following:

• More than 80 percent do not have access to child-care facilities and come from the poor section of our communities;

• Lack of qualified teachers and facilities;

• Educational stimulation by and large in the hands of families and our poor communities;

• Development and empowerment of our communities in advocacy around issues related to the education of young children.

As duty bearers, across all levels of our South African society, we are responsible for early childhood education. We need to continue to work toward ensuring all our children are included and reap the benefits of our democracy.


Winds of Change

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been involved at the forefront as agents of change even before 1994. NGOs actively challenged discriminatory policies and practices, which excluded the majority of the children in South Africa. The Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU) in Cape Town pioneered antibias work for the early childhood sector and has been involved in antibias work since 1990. At the time, formerly all white schools were starting to enroll African, colored, and Indian children. In the changing of our history, this was the right thing to do, if you could afford it. It was a very assimilationist approach and in practice it was a challenge.

Faced with this more diverse enrollment, teachers identified language as a major issue. Children from other cultures and racialized groups battled with English, the medium of instruction at these schools, and many did not speak the language at all. For some learners, English was their second, third, or fourth language. Teachers recognized that while the language issue was a reality, it was very closely connected to issues of culture, race, and class. These learners came from different backgrounds and experiences than those of the teachers and many of their classmates. In the words of one author, “the education system treated black children like foreigners in their own country, tending to reflect English or American culture.”

The approach ELRU adopted, which drew on the work of Louise Derman Sparks at Pacific Oaks College, California, was to provide skills and support to teachers in implementing an antibias approach. This approach challenges oppressive beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and social and institutional practices. Antibias training does not have an exclusive cultural focus—believing that all forms of bias, discrimination, and oppression need to be challenged and that these intersect in many ways. However, as a result of our history and experiences of apartheid and transformation, racial discrimination still remains a major focus. An antibias approach requires that teachers are aware of their own biases, reflect on these limitations, and find ways of moving forward by changing attitudes and behaviors.


Teacher Training

The transformation of South African society over the last decade has brought about many changes. Laws and policies have been put in place at government, corporate, organizational, and community levels. We have discussed, debated and implemented processes, systems, and policies to develop our democracy. Early childhood education is intertwined with our transformation. As a result, as South Africa grapples with issues related to our past and creates our future, we have elected to view cultural appropriateness in broad terms of a human rights approach.

In response to these challenges, one of the many initiatives taken by the Education Department is a pilot project to train teachers on Values and Human Rights in the Curriculum. This involves a group of teachers in the same district, in each province. These schools come from diverse historical experiences, backgrounds, and situations, use different languages, and include both private and state schools. All grades are included. The training is short but focuses on a process of personal reflection on attitudes on issues of diversity and how those attitudes can influence the interactions in the learning environment. The project also provides each school with a kit of grade-appropriate materials that focuses on values and human rights and can be used across the curriculum. A further departmental pilot involves an Advanced Certificate in Human Rights and Values, offered for teachers at the tertiary level.


The Role of Education Policy

Educators of young children strive to help them develop a positive self-image. Culture is central to this identity. In South Africa, the approach to diversity is developing a culture of human rights and inclusivity that promotes the affirmation of all children, their families and experiences irrespective of difference. It is about recognizing and respecting similarities and differences. From an early age, young children are influenced by societal norms and biases. Often, these children will respond to differences according to the prevailing societal norms they experience in their environment.

The South African government sees education as a key vehicle for achieving real change in our society. Human rights and inclusivity issues are firmly on the National Education Department’s agenda as part of the transformation and the infusion of human rights and values in education. In the years since democracy, the antibias approach first tested in the NGO sector, which aims at affirming all of South Africa’s children and making education truly inclusive, found expression in several education policy documents. These documents include the South African Schools Act of 1996 which allows instruction in the language of choice, the Language in Education Policy (1997) which promotes additive multilingualism, and White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2001) which sets out policies to facilitate inclusion of all children in schools. National standards for accredited training of early childhood teachers include a focus on an inclusive antibias curriculum. Another initiative of the Education Department has been the development of the Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy (2001). This initiative examined what values would reinforce and confirm the learners’ critical skills of communication and participation, in nurturing the democratic values of the constitution. Following this, human rights, inclusivity and social justice are highlighted in the Revised National Curriculum Statements (RNCS) of 2002 and integrated across all learning areas for all children. The aim is to develop a culture of democracy, human rights, and peace. Developing this involves learning about human rights within a human rights environment and critically engaging issues related to human rights, inclusivity, and social justice—basically putting human rights into practice.


A Culture of Human Rights and Inclusivity in the Classroom

Creating an inclusive human rights approach in education is integral to the program, not simply an add-on. To do this, educators must recognize that we live in a society with prejudices from our past and that we should actively encourage children to challenge their bias and discrimination, to ask questions, to notice unfairness and to challenge it. We need to create learning environments, at home and at school, that provide an alternative to the biased messages that society provides. We need to model that we value diversity and difference in the friends we choose or where we shop, to be positive about each child’s physical characteristics and cultural heritage. Educational materials should reinforce the value of different cultures and people that can make children proud of their heritage. Sensitivity to local contexts and interests of children is a key aspect of this orientation. The RNCS is not prescriptive of what should be taught, but rather aims at general outcomes that can be realized through a variety of learning content.

Teachers are urged to provide books, dolls, pictures, posters, stories, songs, and art activities that show different images that the children might not otherwise see. This helps children understand and value differences, and to challenge stereotypes. These may include the following:

• Black women in leadership roles such as chairing a meeting, and white men in laboring jobs such as digging a road.

• Men and women in nontraditional roles for example, a man cooking, a woman in charge of a shop, a man bathing a baby, girls playing with cars, boys feeding baby dolls.

• A variety of different family types that we find in our society: single parent families, large extended families, etc.

Children should have opportunities to play with other children who are different from themselves, for example, children with disabilities, with different religions, who speak different languages. Language diversity is encouraged. Given that many previously oppressed parents view the English language and Western culture as key to the road to economic success, as well as the inevitable inroads of globalization, developing a society which values difference is not without challenges.


Challenges and Opportunities

One of the challenges facing South African teachers is including and infusing human rights knowledge, skills and values into education. This requires a particular focus and understanding on the part of teachers, for they are responsible for creating a human rights environment in their classroom and in the school. This whole school approach includes the learners, parents, and the community, as active partners in the education of our children. Like many of the parents, the majority of our teachers were educated and trained in an extremely authoritarian, oppressive, and divided era. Transformation requires change or making paradigm shifts through a process of unlearning old and familiar ways of doing things, and creating new ways and democratic perspectives in our interactions with one another as members of our society.

Further Readings: Department of Education (2002). Revised National Curriculum Statement—Policy Overview. Pretoria: Department of Education. Available online at; Department of Education (forthcoming). Values and Human Rights in the Curriculum—A Guide; Derman Sparks, L. (1989). Anti-bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Children. Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children; Early Learning Resource Unit (1999). Teaching Young Children to Challenge Bias: What Parents and Teachers Can do. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit; Koopman, A. (1997). Shifting Paradigms. Cape Town: Early Learning Resource Unit; Ministry of Education (2001). Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy. Cape Town. Available online at; Robb, H. (1995). Multilingual preschooling. In K. Heugh, A Siegruhn, and P. Pluddeman, eds., Multilingual education for South Africa. Johannesburg: Heineman, pp. 15-22.

Beryl Hermanus


Early Childhood Education Curriculum in South Africa

In post apartheid South Africa, “curriculum” carries with it connotations of liberation, social change, and transformation in education. Curriculum 2005 is the new plan for school education. It specifies the “knowledge, skills and attitudes” that children are expected to attain, on a year-by-year basis, from age 5 to 15, in their journey through the formal schooling system. Importantly, as policy, it declines to prescribe either specific content or pedagogic process, deeming these to be the professional responsibility of educators. Instead, policy specifies a range of general (“cross-field”) and subject specific outcomes that can, in principle, be attained along any number of different learning pathways. In this situation, consideration of curriculum is often highly politicized. Besides the usual features that one would consider—subjects, programs, pedagogy, assessment—any analysis of curriculum in South Africa must reflect on the following: its symbolic role in transforming the contents of the racist past, the implementation problems associated with pressures for rapid change, and the question of the right of access to a new curriculum.



In 2002, the Department of Education published the Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS), specifying learning outcomes and assessment standards for learning areas in schools. The first four years of formal schooling are known as the Foundation Phase (Grade R or “reception year,” Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3). Grade R is not yet but is in principle compulsory, as it is for children aged 6-7 to 89 to be enrolled in Grades 1, 2 and 3. The RNCS specifies three learning programs to be followed over the four years, namely Literacy, Numeracy, and Life Skills. Each has a number of specific learning outcomes associated with it. For reasons of limited space, these cannot all be spelled out here, but the examples provided in the table below will portray the current South African curriculum policy.


The Revised National Curriculum Statement



Learning Program

Learning Outcomes (LOs)


LO1: Listening

LO2: Speaking

“The learner will be able to communicate confidently and effectively in a spoken language in a wide range of situations.”

LO3: Reading and viewing

“The learner will be able to read and view for information and enjoyment, and respond critically to aesthetic, cultural, and emotional values in texts.”

LO4: Writing

LO5: Thinking and reasoning

LO6: Language structure and use


LO1: Numbers, operations, and relationships

“The learner will be able to recognize, describe and represent numbers and their relationships, and to count, estimate, calculate and check with competence and confidence in solving problems.”

LO2: Patterns, functions, and algebra.

LO3: Space and shape (Geometry)

“The learner will be able to describe and represent characteristics and relationships between two dimensional shapes and three dimensional objects in a variety of orientations and positions.”

LO4: Measurement

LO5: Data handling



Life skills

In the Foundation Phase, the RNCS requires integration of outcomes from a number of different, distinct learning areas studied in later years of schooling, For example,

LO3 from History: Historical interpretation

“The learner will be able to interpret aspects of history.”

LO1 from arts and culture: Creating, interpreting, and presenting

LO1 from life orientation: Health promotion (which includes inter alia that the learner has an appropriate knowledge of HIV and AIDS).

The entire RNCS document may be viewed at Department of Education (2005).


In addition to such outcome statements, there are specified Assessment Standards associated with each Learning Outcome (LO). For example, one of three assessment standards for Grade R for Literacy LO2 reads, “We know this when the learner uses and responds appropriately to simple greetings and farewells, and thanks people.” One of seven assessment standards for Grade 2 for Literacy LO3 reads, “We know this when the learner recognizes the silent ‘e’ in common words such as ‘cake’.” And one of six assessment standards for Grade 3 for Numeracy LO1 reads, “We know this when the learner performs mental calculations involving addition and subtraction for numbers to at least 50, and multiplication or whole numbers with solutions to at least 50.”


Important Aspects of the RNCS

The overall RNCS—the official national curriculum—is clearly an extensive and complex document. There are a number of things that one needs to notice about it when considering the transformative aspects of curriculum in South Africa:

• It employs distinctive terminology. “Learning areas” rather than “subjects,” “numeracy” rather than “mathematics,” “learners” rather than “pupils,” and so on. A number of commentators have recognized how this in itself is an assertion of a new curriculum against the prevailing political order, distancing it from the language of the past.

• It does not specify any particular content. This is very much a reaction to the apartheid order, in which content tended to be narrowly specified in ways that were blatantly racist, colonial, sexist—white histories, the absence of African perspectives, patriarchal gender stereotyping, etc. For example, one apartheid era Grade 1 textbook characterizes “black homes” as being either grass or mud huts and “white homes” as brick and mortar structures. Currently, there is an important debate in South Africa about whether or not this tendency has gone too far, losing sight of what Lee Shulman terms pedagogic content knowledge, not least in relation to the particular knowledge that teachers of young children must have regarding the way their learners think about language and mathematics.

• It is driven primarily by assessment criteria. There are well-known “design down” imperatives in outcomes-based education to prioritize assessment in the curriculum process. In South Africa, the leveling of the playing field that “transparent” assessment criteria brings gave impetus to the policy decision to opt for an outcomes- based curriculum and, ultimately, the RNCS. However, there is now a concern that this emphasis on assessment may entail too much surveillance of children, too much of a “check list” mentality on the part of teachers, that detracts from the school’s ability to provide the well-rounded learning process that children require.



The RNCS, then, is the major plan for curriculum as it affects children in South Africa. But what of another important perspective on curriculum, that which would view curriculum as practice rather than as plan? Conceived as a plan, a curriculum is understood as official documents from a recognized authority that prescribes what should be taught and achieved in the classroom; conceived as practice, it is a set of guidelines used unevenly by teachers and experienced in different ways by learners. In South African policy debates, this lived experience of curriculum has been characterized as the “curriculum-in-use.” Here, one considers children’s experience as organized by teachers and caregivers, in a focus on the actual implementation of curriculum.


Challenges Associated With Implementation

As pointed out, the RNCS is an enormously complicated document. Unfortunately, South African teachers have often struggled to understand its complex terminology, or have tended to be confused about the design and implementation of the new curriculum. A 2000 commission appointed by the Minister of Education found that “all available evidence [suggests] that although Curriculum 2005 has generated a new focus on teaching and learning, teachers have a rather shallow understanding of [its] principles” (Chisholm 2000, p. 20). In the Foundation Phase, recent research has suggested that teachers tend to have insufficient time for the development of effective reading skills, foundational mathematics, and core concepts in life skills. Other studies have identified the poor conceptual knowledge base of teachers, even in relation to the basic mathematics taught in early primary school years (place value, shape, measurement). There is now widespread agreement amongst educators that curriculum implementation was initially too rushed, and was founded on inadequate teacher training, monitoring, and support for teachers. The upshot of this is that there is a renewed focus on the fundamentals of reading and writing instruction and mathematical computation in the early primary school curriculum in South Africa. This “back to basics” emphasis is perhaps not as dramatic as that in some other countries, notably the United States, but it is nonetheless a significant contemporary trend in curriculum policy.


Innovative Practice

Nonetheless, despite these discrepancies between curriculum as plan and curriculum as practice, there are numerous examples of innovative practice being developed by teachers in Foundation Phase classrooms. Curriculum 2005 has brought about a shift in the understanding of what constitutes good education for young children—an emphasis on the totality of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, without losing sight of the importance of phonemic awareness, for example, or a concern to ensure that children are given the opportunity to construct their own solutions to arithmetic problems, without losing sight of the need to instruct them in certain basic algorithms. The implementation of the new national curriculum continues to inspire various interesting initiatives on the part of many teachers of young children throughout the country.



The RNCS does not engage questions of curriculum for children under the age of 5. A recent national consultative conference on Early Childhood Development (ECD) (March 2005) has put the question of a curriculum for 0-4 year-olds-back on the national agenda. However, the government has been frank (and controversial) in declaring that, at this stage, it cannot afford to fund such educational provision. It has called for partnerships with communities, NGOs, and industries to address the curriculum and broader educational needs of these children. As is the case in most developing countries, there has been a concern to ensure universal primary schooling in South Africa over the past decade. By 2000, the country had a net enrollment ratio of 87 percent in primary schools, still short of its goal. In 2001, it made a move to formalize Grade R education for children aged 5, and declared that its target was to “universalize coverage of the Reception Year, whilst maintaining a significant coverage in earlier years” (Department of Education, 2001, sect 4). Children aged 0-4, however, remain on the outside.

One consequence of the government recognizing Grade R as a formal part of the school curriculum was a renewed sense of the integrity of a curriculum for young children. Demarcating the first four years of schooling as an integrated learning pathway in the RNCS consolidated educational thinking in this area. Ironically, however, a broader sense of curriculum integrity regarding ECD as a whole (ages 0-9) was undermined.

This situation has led to considerable criticism of government and advocacy for improved ECD provisioning on the part of government. NGOs that train caregivers and teachers and that provide various kinds of education and care for young children have been prominent in these efforts. In fact, it is such organizations that have kept alive a concern with curriculum for young children. Their role in South African ECD must be acknowledged. Three examples will make the point, although these are by no means the only significant contributors in the field:

• Since the 1970s, The Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU) in Cape Town has developed contextually appropriate curricula for children in resource poor communities, emphasizing an inclusive antibias approach. ELRU provides for babies, toddlers, and 3-6-year-olds, and offers nationally recognized training for practitioners in an extensive community of ECD centers and Grade R classes in public schools.

• The well known High/Scope program delivered by Khululeka in the Eastern Cape has been adapted to meet the unique needs of local community contexts and specific groups of children. Khululeka offers teacher training for basic and nationally recognized certificates in ECD.

• The Woz’obona organization in Johannesburg has since the 1980s developed an adapted Montessori curriculum, utilizing sensorial materials fashioned from waste materials. It too trains teachers and caregivers for nationally recognized certificates.


Curriculum for the Under Fives

The “curriculum for the under-fives” in South Africa is concentrated in the hands of twenty or so different NGOs, and straddles a large range of “philosophies” and methodological approaches. This leads to many innovative approaches, but it also means that the overall provisioning for young children remains small in relation to the overall need. A national sense of curriculum in this area, which can go to scale, still seems some way off. There is wide expectation of government that it will, at some point, take the initiative in driving a national agenda in this regard. If it can tap into the wide pool of established curriculum knowledge in South African NGOs, it may well be able to do this. But it requires money, trained people, and political will.

Further Readings: Chisholm, L. (May 31, 2000). A South African Curriculum for the Twenty First Century: Report of the Review Committee on Curriculum 2005. Presented to the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal. Pretoria; Department of Education (May 2001). Education White Paper 5 on Early Childhood Education. Meeting the Challenge of Early Childhood Education in South Africa. Pretoria: Department of Education; Department of Education (2002). Revised National Curriculum Statement. Pretoria. Available online at; Hoadley, U., and J. Jansen (2002). Curriculum: From plans to practices. Cape Town: South African Institute for Distance Education & Oxford University Press; Shulman, L. (February 1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 4-14. (Presidential Address at the 1985 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago); Taylor, N., and P. Vinjevold (1999). Getting learning right: Report of the president’s education initiative research project. Johannesburg: JET.

Ian Moll


Foreign Language Learning in South African Early Childhood Education

Historical Context

South Africa, like most countries on the African continent, is multilingual. Although a minority of children grow up in monolingual English homes, for the vast majority it is usual to speak one or more indigenous African language at home and to learn to understand and communicate in other languages at some point during childhood in more or less formal ways. One or more of these languages, although they may be variously termed “2nd” (L2), “3rd,” or the more generic “additional” languages, are often in effect, foreign for many children.

The following table gives the breakdown, based on the 2001 Census, of the home languages of the approximately 45 million South Africans.


Percentage of First Home Language Speakers




Percentage of First Home Language Speakers


























English is the language of high status and power in South Africa. Under colonial rule, most African countries came to “choose” a foreign language (such as English, French, or Portuguese) as the official language. The legacy of this has prevailed and has contributed significantly to a complex and often problematic linguistic situation in society, particularly in the domain of education. In South Africa during the Apartheid years, English and Afrikaans (a language which developed from seventeenth-century Dutch) were enforced as the two official languages. African languages were only used as languages of instruction for the first few years of primary schooling and were the medium through which “Bantu education” (an inferior system of education aimed at keeping black people in lowly positions in society) was initiated. For this reason, many African language speakers still associate the notion of mother tongue education with inferior education.


Post-Apartheid Language in Education Policy

Since the demise of Apartheid, South Africa has 11 official languages and since 1997 a Language in Education Policy (LiEP). The LiEP follows the constitutional obligation to recognize cultural diversity as a valuable asset and to promote multilingualism, the development of African languages and respect for all languages used in the country. On the basis that it assumed its written standard form in South Africa, Afrikaans is now considered to be an African language. In terms of a language in education approach, the LiEP supports and promotes “additive approaches to bilingualism.” Based on research evidence about the benefits of mother tongue learning and bilingualism this implies that learning is most effective when strong foundations in the mother tongue are established to which one or more languages are then added (rather than replacing). Official government policy in early childhood is thus mother tongue education up to (at least) Grade 3, with the learning of at least one additional language as a subject from Grade R.


Language Learning in Early Childhood

For most young South African children, learning English constitutes learning a foreign language. Many African language speakers live in rural areas, where they have little, if any exposure to English as part of their daily home and community activities. Because English, as the language of power, continues to be regarded widely as the “open sesame” language in South Africa, it is commonly understood that most parents want their children to learn English. Often it is assumed that this should necessarily involve their children learning through the medium of English in order to learn it. This assumption has some credibility in South Africa through research studies on the success of the L2 “immersion” (“sink or swim”) models in countries such as Canada. However, these studies are limited, and relate to middle-class situations, where families generally use the child’s mother tongue at home, both orally and for literacy. In most South African home and community settings, the situation is very different: the mother tongue is cherished and in constant use in oral form. However, owing to the low use and status level African languages have as written languages in society, mother tongue literacy is not significantly used or valued at home. Children thus have had few opportunities to explore or develop significant insights and understandings about print in any language before entering school.

Since 1994, this “sink or swim” situation is common for a small but significant number of African language speaking children who live in towns and cities and attend former “white” or “colored” preschool and primary schools. Generally speaking, these children must come to survive in an English medium environment despite the cautionary evidence that early exposure to the L2 should not be done at the expense of the L1 as this can harm cognitive development. One of the consequences of this approach is that by the end of Grade 3, many children neither learn to read and write effectively in their mother tongue, nor in English.

In African language speaking communities, the general trend in terms of language learning in preschool and the Foundation Phase (Grades R to 3) is toward the earliest possible introduction of English, despite the fact that usually those who teach English are often themselves poor speakers (and role models) of the language and few have been trained in modern methods of L2 instruction.

The emphasis is generally on an informal introduction to the language through songs, rhymes, and chanting of common functional phrases. In preschools and schools located in African language speaking communities, throughout the Foundation Phase, English instruction accelerates with an initial emphasis on oral language skills development, but with the gradual introduction of reading and writing. Grade 3 literacy test results in the Western Cape province provide an example of the lack of effectiveness of this approach: children have not learned to read and write in either their mother tongue or English, nor do they know English well enough to use as a medium for successful learning.

Unpublished research conducted for the Pan South African Language Board indicates that the majority of parents would like the home language to be maintained throughout education as long as this does not jeopardize the learning of English. However, the situation still prevails that in Grade 4, the beginning of the Intermediate Phase, a “switch” is made to English as a medium for teaching and learning. At this point, children are expected to be able to read and write using English, all teaching and learning materials are in English, and assessment is carried out in English.

In English and Afrikaans speaking communities, the desirability of introducing children to an African language is increasingly being acknowledged. Informed by the understanding that children learn languages best when very young, many private and some government assisted inner city preschools offer lessons in a predominant African language of the area. Generally, communicative approaches that are playful and focus first on rhymes, songs, and stories are preferred.

Further Readings: Bloch, C. (2004). Enabling effective literacy learning in multilingual South African early childhood classrooms. PRAESA Occasional Papers no. 16 PRAESA, UCT; Department of Education (1997). Language in Education Policy. Government Notice No 383. Pretoria: Department of Education. Available online at; Many Languages in Education. Perspectives in Education [Special Issue] 20 (1; March 2002).

Carole Bloch


Early Intervention and Education for South African Children with Special Education Needs

Although many young children with disabilities are still hidden away from society and/or neglected (also known as backroom children), there are heartwarming stories of young children with disabilities who have been successfully included in mainstream schools and early childhood education (ECD) centers. Early identification and intervention is often the crucial factor that paved the way for successful inclusion.

Educators believe that it is important to identify any impediment to growth or learning as soon as possible. Early intervention should be available to minimize the effects on the learning process and to prevent secondary problems from developing. South Africa is a country in transition; as a result, despite progressive legislation and policy, actual implementation of systems and practices regulating early intervention and education for children with special education needs is not yet adequate.



Under the pre-1994 dispensation, a small percentage of children with disabilities (from the age of 3) were admitted to preschool sections of special schools where they received early intervention services. However, the specialized education was provided on a racial basis and white children benefited the most from this program. In 1990 the National Education Policy Investigation revealed that of the 2,015 children aged 3-6 in state supported special education classes, 52 percent were white. There were virtually no facilities for African children. The special schools that existed were available by category of disability, leaving children who did not fit the categories or who had multiple disabilities without access. The majority of children with severe disabilities were simply excluded from the education system. Some of these children had access to custodial programs in daycentres. Such resources fell under the auspices of the Department of Health. Children with moderate or mild disabilities were sometimes included in mainstream schools by default, but received little specialized intervention once they actually entered school. Private therapy and early intervention programs were available for those children whose parents could afford them. Parent support groups were an important source of information and informal support. Some groups such as the Disabled Children’s Action Group, an organization for parents of children with disabilities, provided access to informal day care and playgroups for children with disabilities.

Under the new dispensation after 1994, the following steps were taken to improve the situation:

• The Constitution (1996) founded our democratic state and common citizenship on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. Everyone has the right to basic education and discrimination against anyone, including people with disabilities, is not allowed.

• This was reinforced by the South African Schools Act (1996) stating that

° All learners should have access to learning and to equal education opportunities and support where necessary.

° State resources must be provided to ensure this.

° Parents have a right to choose where they want to place their children in school. ° Schools are not allowed to refuse access to children with special needs.

• In 1996 the National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training and the National Committee on Education Support Services were appointed to investigate and make recommendations on all aspects of “special needs and support services” in education and training. These led to the promulgation of Education White Paper 6 in 2001, presenting an eagerly awaited paradigm shift in the thinking on children with special needs. The resulting twenty year plan envisaged new strategies including:

° A new approach toward organizing support within a single, integrated education system in contrast to the previous separation of “normal” and “disabled or special needs” children.

° A move away from a learner deficit model that organizes all support on the basis of the category of disability/learning difficulties of the learner without attempting to understand the intensity and the nature of support that the learner really needs. ° A move beyond the notion of “Special Needs” Education to understanding the various barriers to learning. These barriers go beyond disability and also include, amongst others, negative attitudes toward differences, poverty, language, gender, disease, inappropriate pedagogy, and particular life experiences.

° Special schools will be transformed and recreated as resource centers, catering to children with severe needs and providing support to children experiencing barriers to learning in ordinary schools.

° Disabled and other vulnerable children not attending schools will be identified and placed in suitable school settings.

° There needs to be an acknowledgement of the importance of assessment and intervention during early childhood, even before children enter the school system. Additionally, it is necessary for there to be an understanding of the importance of collaboration between the departments of education, and health and social development. There is a promise of a legally binding National Strategy for Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support to be put in place throughout the education system with the main purpose of facilitating access to schools and to additional support as needed. Partnerships need to be established between community-based health clinics, the parents, and other social services. These relationships will help plan and implement ongoing intervention, and enable teacher support teams to prepare support programs for identified learners on entering school.

° Support should be redefined, shifting the focus away from supporting individual learners and toward addressing systemic barriers that prevent the system from responding to children’s learning and other needs. An overemphasis on “special needs” has the tendency of labeling and inadvertently marginalizing children.


The Impact of Policy Initiatives

How do these positive policy developments impact young children with special needs in South Africa in 2005? Children with special needs still encounter many of the same barriers, but their journey may be easier because of the strong human rights foundation in the New South Africa. There has been a strong move away from institutionalization and a stronger focus on empowering parents and their communities to support children with special needs. Although no official procedures are currently in place to identify these children, or to help make them eligible for coordinated state supported early intervention programs, more community-based rehabilitation workers, health visitors, community development workers, etc. are being trained and deployed in rural areas to assist parents of children with special needs. Health Clinic nurses in many areas have been trained to identify children experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, barriers to learning and development. Screening instruments developed by the Health Department are used to screen babies and children visiting the clinics for their routine immunization appointments. Parents are alerted if there is reason for concern and nurses may give advice to parents on activities to enhance the development of the children.


Early Childhood Education for Children with Disabilities

There are more preschool centers that admit children with disabilities. ECD training organizations include modules on special needs/inclusion in their curriculum and it now forms part of the South African Qualifications Authority’s accredited qualifications and standards. Barriers to fuller inclusion are a lack of resources, space, and training, as well as negative attitudes. However, ECD teachers often play a pivotal role in the identification of special needs that were previously overlooked. Teachers have an important role to play in the implementation of intervention strategies. Their knowledge of child development, strong appreciation of individual differences, and a commitment to viewing parents as partners in their children’s education, equip them to form sound judgments on the child’s potential and to have a positive impact on the development of these young children.

Admission to a mainstream school still proves difficult for students with disabilities. Due to the many changes in the education system and the inability of the new support systems to cope with the enormous barriers experienced by “normal” learners, mainstream schools are hesitant to welcome children with disabilities. However, this ineffective response may change within the next few years because of developing initiatives that focus on providing resources to mainstream schools. These initiatives also address the importance of providing intensive teacher training and district-based support teams to support inclusion. Tertiary institutions are offering teachers in-service and preservice courses about inclusion. The University of Pretoria is offering a postgraduate multidisciplinary course in Early Intervention.


Systemic Problems

Unfortunately the system is not working well in all areas, including the following:

• In rural and overcrowded peri-urban areas, social services are limited due to economic and geographical factors.

• Not all health clinic staff are trained to provide special needs screening. The workload at most clinics/hospitals is formidable, with no time available for screening and intervention activities. There is resistance to identifying relatively minor barriers to development because of the lack of follow-up intervention services.

• Health personnel are often not aware of organizations offering early intervention services and give little information or hope to the parents for the child’s development.

• Negative attitudes toward disabilities still exist and many parents would rather hide their children than bring them into public. Children with disabilities might miss the initial screening procedure or might get lost in the system even though they have been identified at an early age.

• During the nationwide audit of ECD provisioning in 2000 only 1.36 percent of all children enrolled in ECD services including specialist services were disabled. Nearly two-thirds of these children were between 5 and 7 years of age. These findings suggest that ECD centers were admitting children who should have been in the public schooling system.


The Roles of NGOs, Parents, and the Community

The government’s acknowledgement of the importance of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and the vital role that parents and community members play in the education is a move in the right direction. In South Africa, many NGOs continue to provide advocacy and intervention services for children with “special needs.” These include disabled people’s organizations such as Disabled Children’s Action Group and organizations for specific disabilities, for example, League of Friends of the Blind, Down Syndrome South Africa, DEAFSA, and Epilepsy South Africa. Other NGOs and nonprofit organizations work in the educational field to strengthen and supplement government provision and enhance the implementation of their policies, for example, language, aids, and inclusion policies. Active Learning and Leisure Libraries exemplify how nonprofit organizations providing early intervention services through the establishment of toy libraries at hospitals and in underprivileged areas can make a positive impact in South Africa. The Sunshine Center (Transvaal Memorial Institute) has developed an early intervention training program with manuals widely used by professionals, paraprofessionals, and parents in all sectors of the South African society.

Further Readings: National Department of Education (ELSEN Directorate) (2001). Education White Paper 6. Special Needs Education—Building an Inclusive Education and Training System. Pretoria. Available online at; National Department of Education (October 2005). Directorate Inclusive Education: Draft National Strategy for Screening, Identification, Assessment, and Support. Pretoria. Available online at

Web Sites: Sunshine Center Association for Early Intervention,;—Active Learning and Leisure Libraries—South Africa,; University of Pretoria Early Childhood Intervention Programme,

Laetitia Brummer

First Home Language Speakers



Financing of Early Childhood Development in South Africa

Prior to the change to a democratic dispensation, the financing of early childhood development (ECD) in South Africa was characterized by a system that was racially discriminatory and inadequate. The finance available for early childhood development was inversely proportional to need, with those in greatest need receiving the least. Children classified as “white” were eligible for some state support, children classified as “colored” received less, and children classified as “African” received minimal state support.

With the advent of a democratic government, the discriminatory nature of early childhood development financing disappeared. However, the inadequacy of financial support to early childhood development centers and programs continues. The issue of who provides the financing and bears the costs of early childhood development is extremely important as the sustainability of the majority of South Africa’s early childhood development centers and programs is dependent on funding. In early childhood development centers and programs the most common sources of financial support are the following:

• Parents, families, and communities;

• Teachers and early childhood development practitioners;

• Government through provincial and local government;

• Private sector (philanthropists, foundations, the National Lottery and business social investment programs);

• Civil society (NGOs, churches, and others); and

• International donor organizations.


Parents, Families, and Communities

Parents, families and communities finance ECD in a number of ways. Most often, this occurs through the payment of fees, however modest, toward the operating costs of a center or program. Fees account for between 75 percent and 85 percent of the operating income of many community-based center and home-based programs. Parents in many cases support programs through the contribution of their labor to build and maintain a facility, through making toys and equipment and through caring for children. Parents may also contribute food that children bring to the program each day.

Although parents and families provide the bulk of the income for programs, it is unrealistic to expect that low-income families and communities will be able to bear all the program costs or sustain programs over time. As a result, many ECD programs in poor communities are of poor quality with poor infrastructure, untrained staff, and a lack of equipment. These often do not meet children’s nutritional requirements.

For the more wealthy sections of the population where children are placed in privately owned, early childhood development centers and programs, fees will make up 100 percent of the operating income of such centers.


Teachers and Early Childhood Development Practitioners

Teachers and early childhood development practitioners indirectly finance early childhood development centers and programs through the acceptance of low salaries and, in many cases especially in rural communities, through not receiving payment at all. In instances where parents and families are not able to contribute toward the cost of the education and care of their children, practitioners are unpaid. In other cases, practitioners earn a fraction of a “reasonable salary.” In a sector where at least ZAR 3,000 per month would be considered reasonable, 44 percent of practitioners earn less than ZAR 500 per month, these by making a “contribution” that has not been quantified but is clearly substantial.


Government Financing

In South Africa, government funds early childhood development through the provincial departments of Education and of Social Services. Each takes responsibility for a different age grouping. Education is responsible for financing the Grade R program. These are children turning five and Grade R is the first of ten years of basic education. The Social Services departments are responsible for the financing of children aged birth to 4 years.

Government’s financial support is based on the premise that the social and education benefits of participation in an early childhood development program contribute significant benefits to society. Government also realizes that because the inability of parents to pay the full costs of ECD services, government has the responsibility to provide additional funding to support young children and their families.


Grade R. funding. Two principal mechanisms exist for funding Grade R in South Africa. Firstly, provincial governments fund grants to community-based ECD centers on a per-learner basis. These grants are expected to provide ECD in areas where other funding opportunities are not available. Provision financed by this mechanism was planned to reach a peak of approximately 135,000 children by 2004, and then grow no further.

Secondly, provision of Grade R in public primary schools is financed via a direct grant-in-aid from provincial departments of education to school governing bodies. These grants flow on a per-learner basis and are only for children in Grade R. The grant-in-aid is poverty targeted. The grants flow directly to the school governing bodies in terms of the South African Schools Act.

The grant-in-aid amount varies between provinces from R 2 per learner per school day to R 6 per learner per school day, based on 200 school days each year for up to 30 learners. Therefore, a class of 30 learners would receive R 12,000 per annum. This money is spent on part of the educator costs, learner support materials, training, furniture, nutrition, and educational equipment. For 2005/06 the nine provincial education departments have allocated R 489 million to Grade R grants-in-aid.

Government is of the view that this combination of poverty-targeted subsidies to children in Grade R in public schools, managed by school governing bodies, and the subsidization of some community-based sites will contribute to creating a vibrant and varied ECD sector. Grade R funding however lags substantially behind funding for other grades in the same school. For example, about R 4,243 is spent on each Grade 1 learner compared to only R 390 on each Grade R learner— -11 times less.

In 2005/06 ECD will receive only 0.7 percent of the total education budget. Clearly more funding is needed for improving ECD infrastructure, education programs, training, and personnel. If the current funding allocations are not increased substantially then parents in poor communities will continue to have to bear the costs of early childhood development, resulting in reduced quality in some centers and the closure of others.

The Minister of Education announced in May 2005 that a Norms and Standards policy for Grade R would be introduced in 2006. This would bring early childhood development for children up to 5 years into the formal funding program of government.


Funding for children aged birth to 4 years. Funding for children aged birth to 4 years takes the form of a provincial ECD subsidy. This subsidy varies according to province and ranges from R 2 per child per attendance day to R 6 per child per attendance day. A means test applies that disqualifies families who earn above a certain level and varies province to province. In total R 234 million was disbursed to 4,612 early childhood development centers (20% of the total number of ECD sites) in 2004/05. How the subsidy is used is not regulated but it is expected that it be used for staff salaries, children’s food, educational equipment, and general expenses.

Before an early childhood development center or program can qualify for a subsidy it must be registered with the Social Services department in the province in which it is situated. To qualify for registration a center must meet the following criteria:

• Be legally constituted;

• Be a non-profit organization;

• Be able to show that it owns or leases the premises that it occupies;

• Meet health regulations of the local authority;

• Provide an educational program for the children.

Once a subsidy is approved the center or program has certain financial and program reporting responsibilities.

Local authorities generally do not fund early childhood development programs on a per capita and/or regular basis. In recent years some local authorities have taken to funding programs from their social development budgets. This funding usually supports the training of teachers and practitioners and equipping of early childhood development centers.


Private sector. Under the term “private sector” are included philanthropists, foundations, the National Lottery, and business social investment programs. Although private sector investment in education in South Africa is substantial at R 864 million in 2004, early childhood development only receives about 13 percent of these contributions. Of this most goes to training and service providers and not to community-based early childhood centers and program that work directly with young children.


Civil society. Civil society, including NGOs and churches, supports early childhood development centers and programs financially through contributions in cash and kind. All the main church denominations have social responsibility programs that include early childhood development.


International Donor Organizations

As with the South African private sector, international donor investment in education in South Africa has been substantial although it is decreasing rapidly. A portion of this support is through technical assistance and/or products. Again, early childhood development receives only a small percentage of this funding. Most of the international donor funds go directly to the South African government or to training and service providers. Community-based early childhood centers and programs that care directly for young children receive a miniscule portion of such funds.



South Africa has come a long way in early childhood development policy and practice. The new democratic government has done more for early childhood development than any previous government. However, young children still hover on the margins of the education system. The early childhood sector is under resourced and it does not appear that this will change significantly in the decade ahead. It appears that the responsibility for financing the sector will continue to be borne by the nonprofit sector, parents, families, and communities.

Further Readings: Atmore E. (2005). Putting Young Children First—A briefing on Early Childhood Development in South Africa. Cape Town: Center for Early Childhood Development. Available online at; Department of Education (2001). Education White paper No 5—Early Childhood Development. Pretoria. Available online at; Wildeman R. (2004). Reviewing Provincial Education Budgets 2004. Budget Brief No. 143, Budget Information Service, Idasa 23 June 2004. Available online at; Wildeman R., and Nomdo, C. (2004). Implementation of Universal Access to the Reception Year (Grade R): How Far Are We? Budget Information Services, Idasa. Available online at

Eric Atmore


Early Childhood Development Professional Development in South Africa

One of the most important indicators of quality early childhood development (ECD) programs is the quality of training received by the practitioners working with young children. A National ECD Audit conducted in May/June 2000 showed that the vast majority of ECD practitioners were underqualified (58%) or untrained (23%). The numbers of centers and children in provision were considerably greater than anticipated, but while provision for children has increased, training opportunities for practitioners have decreased considerably.

The opportunities provided through the development of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), accreditation procedures and some new initiatives for funding training need to be fully explored to generate creative solutions for meeting training needs as cost effectively as possible.


Early Childhood Development Qualifications

After 1994, the South African Qualifications Act was passed. The Act aimed to design a national learning system, and established the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as a statutory body responsible for the development and implementation of the NQF. The Act embodied the government’s integrated approach to education and training. The principle of lifelong learning also underlines the progressive education policies of South Africa.

The NQF framework comprises eight levels, grouped in three bands. Level 1 (and below) comprises the General Education and Training band, levels 2 to 4 comprise the Further Education and Training band, and levels 5 to 8 the Higher Education and Training band (tertiary). The levels are defined by level descriptors that allow for equivalencies between different courses. For example, Level 1 on the NQF comes at the end of ordinary, compulsory schooling up to Grade 9, but can also be reached through ECD training for adults who had limited educational opportunities in the Apartheid era.

ECD standards and qualifications have been registered by SAQA at Level 1 (basic certificate equivalent to Grade 9), Level 4 (national certificate equivalent to a high school leaving certificate or Grade 12) and at Level 5, where there is a post-school higher certificate (one year) and a diploma (two years). Each of these qualifications prepares teachers to work in infant and toddler care (0-3 years) or the preschool phase (2-6 years), with various specializations such as the reception year (Grade R). A 4-year bachelor of education degree is required in order to teach at the foundation phase (Grades R-3, or 5-9 years). This is recognized as a Level 6 qualification.

Some tertiary institutions offer a specialization in preschool education. Postgraduate opportunities include an honors degree and higher diplomas (Level 7), masters and doctoral programs (Level 8), but very few tertiary institutions offer higher degrees in ECD.


Current Situation

In the year 2000, there were around 1.1 million children in some form of care. Provision has continued to expand with the Department of Education’s policy to provide a reception year program (Grade R) in primary schools and financial support in some community-based classes. However, the quality of ECD care and education provided remains a major challenge.

Based on the National ECD Audit commissioned by the national Department of Education and conducted in May/June 2000, it was estimated that 53 percent of practitioners had completed schooling (Grade 12) while 16 percent had less than Grade 9. With reference to teaching qualifications, only 23 percent had a degree or diploma, while 54 percent would have been considered underqualified by the education department, mostly practitioners with in-service NGO training; 23 percent had no training at all. Of those with a degree or diploma, only 12 percent had professional ECD qualifications (at least 3 years tertiary study). In terms of training opportunities, it has been estimated that less than 10 percent is provided by formal tertiary institutions and the bulk (80%) of training is provided by the NGO in-service training providers.


Challenges in Early Childhood Development Training Provision

There are major training needs among ECD practitioners already working with young children in different forms of provision. Of particular concern are those who had no training in 2000 and the largest group who have had in-service training and need to get recognized qualifications—now possible for the first time through the establishment of the NQF. Furthermore, the statistics on training needs do not include the need to train new ECD practitioners to replace those leaving the system, to improve adult-child ratios, and the needs of growth in provision.

The challenges in meeting these needs are enormous in view of the existing training places available. There are a number of issues that complicate the provision of high-quality training services. These can be grouped into issues related to the delivery of quality training and issues related to providing training.


Challenges in training delivery (quality issues). There are various challenges to the provision of quality training.

Training of trainers. Perhaps the most urgent need to ensure quality training is upgrading the qualifications of the trainers, assessors, and moderators. Many experienced ECD trainers working in NGOs providing training have received only in-service training. Their knowledge and skills need to be verified through the recognition of prior learning and top-up training provided where necessary so that they can be assessed for valid current qualifications. This also applies to trainers working in the formal sector, especially in Further Education and Training institutions (which offer Grades 10-12).

For training providers to be accredited, the quality assurance body requires that trainers are qualified at a level higher in the field of practice (i.e., ECD) than that they are training. They also need to have adult education skills that are incorporated in the level 5 ECD qualifications. At this stage, however, there are very few ECD training providers that have the capacity to provide this training.

Career paths and leadership capacity. Opportunities for career advancement in the ECD sector in South Africa are extremely limited. This is because of the lack of funding available and limited promotion posts, either in higher education or in government departments. There is a major need to develop leadership capacity, especially in course design, materials and curriculum development, and research. More ECD practitioners with higher education qualifications (at Levels 7 and 8) are essential to create a more vibrant academic/ research-orientated climate.

Key issues in course design. The recognition of prior learning (RPL) is a key principle in the new outcomes-based education and training system, and it is a requirement for accreditation of training providers. In the ECD sector RPL is essential for the thousands of practitioners who have received NGO training over the last twenty years or more. RPL, however, is a new concept and training providers, in general, are struggling with it.

All ECD qualifications are made up of three components: fundamental learning (communication and mathematical literacy) required to improve the capacity for learning, core learning (compulsory subjects), and elective learning for specialization. There are three core areas: healthy development, provision for active learning (including activities and teaching methods), and a management component. Electives include specializations on curriculum areas such as literacy, numeracy, art, music, inclusion for children with barriers to learning, antibias curriculum, HIV and AIDS, and managing an ECD facility.

Most of the NGO training providers have focused on the core areas at Levels 1 and 4. Providing fundamentals training, as well as a range of electives in specialization areas, is a challenge for most NGOs, primarily because the training institutions are too small to offer specialist tuition.

Training delivery. State training providers are often in a better position to offer fundamental learning, while the NGO providers are very experienced and skilled in providing the in-service training that is most needed in the field now. One means of meeting this challenge would involve organizing consortiums among NGO providers. This would allow for a chance to “share the load” and also give students access to a wider variety of electives. Partnerships between state and nongovernment training providers should also be established.


Challenges in training provision. There are approximately 60-70 NGO training providers offering a variety of training to practitioners. Sixty-eight percent of the practitioners are African women, the majority of whom have received training from the NGO sector and are regarded as unqualified by the national Education Department. Half of the practitioners earn less than a living wage. Most training providers charge training fees but the NGOs rely heavily on donors and fundraising efforts to subsidize the training they offer.

Costs of training. Practitioners tend to choose training providers based on proximity and according to the training fees charged. Given the changes in terms of providing accredited training, NGOs face further costs related to training staff as well as reviewing training and assessment manuals and practice to meet the standards required by the quality assurer.

Funding. Government funding for ECD remains very limited (less than 1% of the education budget is spent on ECD). The Education Department subsidizes tertiary training institutions at a high level, but only for students who will work in the formal school system (from Grade 1 upward) following their training. There is also some subsidization for secondary colleges that provide full-time training for ECD practitioners on a small but increasing scale. As indicated above, most of the ECD training is provided in the shrinking NGO sector.

Due to the downscaling of foreign funding and the reality that available funding often goes directly to the government, a number of NGO providers have closed in the past five years. Others have downsized, often losing skilled staff to better paid jobs in other sectors. Many donors have specific funding policies that exclude training because this is seen as a government responsibility. A fee-based training service is not viable due to poverty and low wages in the ECD sector.

Government departments occasionally subsidize NGO training through special projects on a tender basis. A national skills levy also provides limited funds for ECD training, but the subsidies (per trainee) do not cover a substantial part of the costs.



Clearly the South African government needs to prioritize ECD, and budget for this area accordingly. Inter-sectoral collaboration will need clear objectives and dedicated staffing to be effective. Current government planning has a strong focus on improving ECD quality. As civil society, both NGOs and other ECD stakeholders will need to develop a strategy, part of which should be to engage the government on the promises it made to the children of South Africa.

Further Readings: Department of Education (2001). The Nationwide Audit of ECD Provisioning in South Africa. Pretoria: Department of Education.; National Education Policy Investigation (NEPI) (1992). Early Childhood Educare. Final Report of the Educare Research Group (written by A. Short and L. Biersteker). Cape Town: Oxford/NECC; Short, A., and P. P. Pillay (2002). Meeting the Challenges of ECD Training in South Africa. Paper presented at the Omep World Council and Conference, Durban.

Ann Short and Patsy Pillay