Children from rural and poor areas start their schooling careers on the back foot when compared to their urban counterparts as they do not have access to early learning programmes. And with the Eastern Cape being mostly rural, this places most children from the province among the worst affected. In fact, the Eastern Cape records the largest share of rural children, a staggering 60%.
This has been revealed by this year’s South African Early Childhood Review, an annual measure of the progress of children, which found severe inequalities across the country when it comes to the delivery of critical services to children aged six years and younger. The report, released last week, indicated that children who live in rural districts were receiving the poorest service.
The data in the review is drawn from a range of sources including Statistics South Africa, the Department of Health and the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
According to the report, in 2015, 79% of the 884000 children in the province lived below the poverty line and 11% went hungry.
And 32% of children between three and five years did not attend any learning group programme.
One of the co-authors of the review, Sonja Giese, said young children needed quality early learning programmes from the time they turned three.
“Without it, they are not prepared for school. Our poorest children aren’t accessing quality early learning. This is consistent across all provinces.
“A four-year-old from a low-income household has only a 50% chance of being enrolled in an early learning programme, compared to a wealthier child who has a 90% chance.
“As a result, South Africa’s poorest children are starting school on the back foot,” said Giese.
The review found that young children in rural areas live far from clinics and are therefore less likely to be fully immunised or screened for developmental delays and that rural children are less likely to receive micro-nutrient supplementation if they are malnourished. The report also found that when compared to other provinces, the Eastern Cape had the least number of children living with their biological parents.
The report’s co-author, Colin Almeleh, said early childhood was a very sensitive period of development, with the brain and body growing very quickly.
Almeleh said development that takes place at this time will affect all future health, behaviour, and learning.
“Children require certain essential services during this time to develop. If they don’t receive them, it is very difficult to help them catch up later.
“We know that two thirds of South Africa’s young children are living in poverty and their development may be compromised if they don’t receive quality early childhood services.
“Plans to deliver these services should differentiate between the needs of rural and urban populations,” said Almeleh. — arethal@