One of the attractions of the Indlulamithi approach is the way it blends “soft” psycho-social issues with “hard” economic and developmental questions and traces how these factors combine to support or undermine social cohesion. The power of one soft issue in particular has caught the imagination of participants at many of our briefings: early childhood development (ECD).

The Child Gauge 2018, published last month by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, throws additional light on ECD in South Africa. Using data from the Department of Basic Education and provincial governments, the Child Gauge finds:

  • The number of five and six-year-olds in grade R or grade 1 at ordinary primary schools has doubled between 2002 (when the number was 1.1 million) and 2017, when a total of 2 million were enrolled.
  • Attendance rates for this age group were highest in Limpopo (99%) and lowest in the Western Cape (84%).
  • There were no strong differences in enrolment among different income levels or between white and African children. However, levels of attendance of coloured children were below average.

The Child Gauge cautions that the enrolment rate “tells us nothing about the quality of care and education that young children receive at educational facilities”. It stresses that the quality of ECD programmes is critical if the intervention is to fulfil its role in reducing early deficits in cognitive development.

“Provided they are of good quality, early learning programmes are an important mechanism to interrupt the cycle of inequality by reducing socio-economic differences in learning potential between children before they enter the foundation phase of schooling,” the authors state.

Another intersection between the Child Gauge and Indlulamithi’s concern with reducing inequality and exclusion is embodied in a renewed call to action for a Kinship Grant to replace the impossible-to-administer Foster Care Grant.

While an estimated 1.5 million orphans in the care of relatives qualify for a Foster Care Grant, only 500 000 are actually receiving the grant. In fact, the numbers are diminishing year-by-year because the grant is simply too cumbersome to manage. This important anti-poverty instrument has become totally unsustainable, a group of credible NPOs argues, and the time has come to replace it with a system “that ensures orphans in the care of relatives receive an adequate social grant timeously”.