Day 1 - OSISA Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) Conference for Southern Africa

“Although the particulars of their lives might differ, millions of mothers and fathers around the world, in both industrialised and developing countries, share the same story: finding and making time, investing energies, stretching resources to provide for their sons and daughters. Their days are consumed in helping their children grow strong and healthy, protecting, teaching, guiding, encouraging their talents and channelling their curiosity, delighting in their enthusiasm and their accomplishments.

February 12th, 2014

“Although the particulars of their lives might differ, millions of mothers and fathers around the world, in both industrialised and developing countries, share the same story: finding and making time, investing energies, stretching resources to provide for their sons and daughters. Their days are consumed in helping their children grow strong and healthy, protecting, teaching, guiding, encouraging their talents and channelling their curiosity, delighting in their enthusiasm and their accomplishments. They search for advice and counsel from informal support networks and community agencies as they struggle, often against great odds, to do right by their children” Late Professor Kader Asmal, former MP and Minister of Education (2001).

As we discuss strategies and agree on plans and interventions it is with these parents and children at minds so that we can create a better world for them and a better world for all of us. 

And, as we discuss, let us be reminded that in less than two years the world will be called to account on its commitment to education for all goals (EFA). While considerable progress has been made to expand access especially at the primary school level, the world is still lagging behind in providing access to early childhood development and education (ECDE) services. For Southern Africa the situation is even bleaker with less than 40 per cent of the children entering school having access to any form of ECDE services

This is despite a wealth of empirical evidence to support the view that when children are not healthy, have compromised brain functionality due to chronic malnutrition, are not provided with appropriate developmental learning opportunities, do not receive a quality education, and do not feel safe in their home, school or community – all which are elements of quality ECDE programmes – they will not be able to fulfil their developmental potential with negative consequences that will last into their adult lives.

Evidence has also shown that investment in early childhood development is a human capital investment that leads to the acceleration of long-term economic growth and productivity. In addition there is growing evidence that:

  • The largest part of brain development happens before a child reaches three years old and that it is during this period that children develop their abilities to think and speak, learn and reason and lay the foundation for their values and social behaviour as adults.
  • Given a healthy start and a solid foundation in the first months and years of their lives, that children are less likely to suffer from illnesses, repeat grades, drop out or need remedial services.
  • Young children are capable learners and that suitable educational experience during the pre-school years can have a positive impact on school learning.
  • In the face of such evidence, it is puzzling that the ECDE sector continues to receive the least attention at the policy level with subsequent implications on budgetary allocations. It is not a surprise therefore that
  • Over 200 million children under the age of five worldwide are not attaining their development potential;
  • There are no formal programmes for young children, especially those under the age of six and where these programmes exist they tend to be run by private establishments, posing major prohibitive challenges for poor children;
  • The poorest and most vulnerable children, who are most likely to benefit from early childhood development programmes, have the least access to them;
  • Children born in the developing world are likely to be living in extreme poverty and are moderately or severely stunted - Children raised in such poor conditions are most at risk of infant death, low birth-weight, stunted growth, poor adjustment to school, increased repetition and school dropout;
  • Millions of children in developing countries under the age of five die each year, most from preventable diseases;

In addition

  • There is persist lack of or inadequate funding. Moreover, we know that early childhood programmes are often among the first to be cut by governments facing tough economic times;
  • Many countries are not taking the necessary policy measures to provide care and education to children and where such policies exist, implementation is a challenge;
  • Few countries have established national frameworks for the financing, coordination and supervision of early childhood programmes for young children;
  • Many programmes for young children are sparse and access remains not only inadequate but inequitable:

We can all agree that this is not fair, unacceptable and it is certainly not sustainable. The solution, I believe is justice and equality. This means advancing rights and opportunities for all children. We are here today because of this very issue and because we want the best for every child. All of us here are working in one way or the other for the well-being of children and it is my privilege to join you today.

In the face of the challenges I have just mentioned, we all know that education remains an instrument of hope through which we can address these challenges and chart a prosperous future for our children. It (education) is also the most effective vehicle for creating an equal and poverty free society. No other strategy is more effective than starting early in life with ECDE which is fundamental for children’s development.  It is in this context that OSISA supports programmes aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of children, particularly the right to education beginning at an early stage.

For this reason OSISA developed the ‘Getting it Right’ strategy for ECDE to set out priorities and guide its investment in this sector. Over the last three years, we have worked with both state and non-state actors, research and academic institutions, investing over US$5million to shift policy, to model best practices, to build capacity of ECDE services providers, develop curriculum and train practitioners, raise awareness of communities and relevant stakeholders on the importance of ECDE, conduct research among other interventions.

As OSISA, we are committed to the agenda of social transformation that is embodied in the principles and ideals of open society. Such transformation must begin early with quality ECDE services.  The ‘Getting it Right’ strategy seeks advocate for the expansion of ECDE services within the Southern Africa region. We have therefore ensured that our interventions respond to the context of the countries in which we work. From programmes that target children from ethnic minority groups, children with disabilities, to children in the most rural communities, we have ensured that our programmes target the most excluded, vulnerable and marginalised groups. We have at the same time engaged policy makers to ensure a holistic response and quality services for all and to make sure that policies work for young children. Our approach has also been multi-sectoral including the private sector as is evidenced by the representation in this room in order to generate a wholesome response that is characteristic of the nature of ECDE. Together we have collaboratively to put in place a range of services that support young children to access better quality ECDE services.

Our work would not be rewarding if not for the support we have received from our partners across the region. Our partnership with governments through the various Ministries represented here, UN agencies especially UNICEF and UNESCO, civil society, international NGOs, research and academic institutions remain a valuable tool for us to achieve the ambitious objectives we have set for ourselves in the strategy. We continue to remain resolute on our vision for the universalisation of ECDE services.  

This conference, the theme of which is ‘quality matters’, provides us a space to deliberate on how we can achieve this.  As we deliberate in this conference, we must also remember the commitments we made towards the realisation of the EFA goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and in our own constitutions about the welfare of our children. Our countries are also signatories to several international conventions that ensure the well-being of young children. These commitments reemphasise the need to develop young children to their fullest potential.

Today, we have an opportunity, and a responsibility to make quality ECDE a reality for our region’s children specially the poorest and most vulnerable. For this, we need a sustained alliance of partners across all sectors to promote and advance this agenda and i call upon us all to mobilize stronger commitment to ECDE that is guided by the principles of equity, inclusion and quality. Only then can we say we have succeeded in making the world a better place for our young ones.

In conclusion, I am hopeful that this conference will provide a platform for all stakeholders to discuss and find solutions to the many challenges facing children in our time. I look forward to the outcomes of this conference and its recommendations. As OSISA, we remain committed to this agenda as it remains a fundamental and critical tool for strengthening the foundations of democracy.

Let me also take this opportunity to express, on behalf of OSISA, our sincerest appreciation to the many interventions of community initiative across the length and breadth of our region, which, despite being run by mainly professionally unqualified personnel and on very limited resources, are taking care of hundreds of thousands of our children in so many kinds of informal and at times formal ECDE centres. To you our partners, both state and none state, academia, research institutions, through your efforts, and in spite of the shortcomings that you struggle with, you are all doing your best to provide four our young ones.

Our sincerest appreciation also goes to our sister foundation the Early Childhood Programme (ECP) for their unwavering commitment to this programme. through their financial and technical support, we have made possible what we believe is critical programme in the region to respond to the needs of our children.

My call is for us to continue to work together to nurture our children, to let them experience the excitement and the joy of learning, and to provide them with a solid foundation for lifelong learning and development.

I wish to end with a quote by David Vitter (US Senator) who said "I believe that if children are given the necessary tools to succeed, they will succeed beyond their wildest dreams!" I hope this will inspire you as you make your contributions in this very important meeting. Let me therefore on behalf of OSISA welcome you to this conference and wish you fruitful deliberations. 

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