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A new paradigm in Early Childcare Education on the South African landscape.

Every day in a hundred small ways our children ask: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?’ Their behaviour often reflects our response.”

~ L.R. Knost (The Gentle Parent)



We have written a few times on future trends in ECD, and about what we may expect in a post-COVID world. It seems as if the situation remains so fluid though, that it remains a subject that one cannot exhaust. Also – it is an important one. Many studies have shown that a child is in essence formed by the age of four. After that, it is merely a case of putting the plaster to a foundation that by then should have been solidly laid.

It is only when one understands this properly, that one understands the enormous challenges and responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of our early childcare educators. The same people who are often looked down on by society, and who generally fall within the bottom percentile when it comes to income, in effect have the most important jobs in our society.

It is a sobering thought…

It is with this thought in mind though, that we decided to pen a few additional ideas about where early childcare seems to be heading, especially as seen in some countries around the world. We also refer you to similar writings in our past blogs for more enlightenment on the subject.

A Move Towards Free Education?

Towards the end of 2020, several countries penned a move towards providing at least some parts of ECD for free. As one example – Australia’s Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that kindergarten would be free across the state in 2021. This is generally seen as a move that will make a big difference for parents and young children whose jobs and early education have been disrupted by COVID-19.

In many countries, people are rioting for free education at university and college level. The question might well be asked – is it not more deserving, and cheaper, to do this at preschool levels? Education – not rioting…

It may be argued that a society that has ensured that ALL of its children have gone through preschool and kindergarten (by making it free) will have a much better chance of developing responsible citizens in the long run. There are numerous other spinoffs as well – job security for teachers, assurance of a basic meal every day for the poorest of the poor, application of good hygiene practices (now so important), and a safe and secure environment for at least a part of the day, in countries where this is the exception rather than the norm for many children.

In the United States, as only one country, this has found such resonance that important steps have been taken to ensure the wellbeing of preschoolers from 2021 onwards. Steps include:

  • Passing comprehensive COVID relief with substantial and targeted support for preschool programs;
  • A proposal to provide affordable high-quality child care and early learning for all in the President’s Budget, and providing mandatory and discretionary funding to achieve the vision; and
  • Establishing a new senior-level White House position focused on child care and early learning and creating a national grassroots advisory council for child care and early learning.

Some Other Trends

Rising Attendance. Despite the ravages that COVID has wrought within especially our preschool communities, one finds in general, worldwide, that there is still a rising attendance as far as preschool is concerned. This is to be lauded and leveraged to the next level.

But in many countries – South Africa is one example – it is estimated that as much as 10% of the school population did not return to school when the pandemic was lifted sufficiently to allow schools to resume. A large percentage of these, if not the largest, were pre-schoolers. This situation cannot be allowed to continue – especially not in developing countries where this could contribute to another lost generation.

Studies have shown that three-quarters of children who attend pre-school scored higher on IQ and achievement tests than those children who did not attend.  The quality of, and length of time in, preschool has had a profound impact on children’s development.  Studies also show that vocabulary differences in children appear as early as 18 months, highlighting the importance of pre-school.

Focus on Quality. For many years, the most important factor (in many cases the only factor) parents considered in choosing a child care centre was the location. Who was closest to my home or work and who was most convenient?  That is a trend that is changing and changing rapidly. Parents are now focused on quality preschool education. This means the creches and other preschool centres will have their work cut out for them to ensure that they can compete at the highest levels. It has become a business.

Focus on Curriculum and Learning Philosophy. One of the things on which even preschools are competing nowadays is the extent to which children are developed with a formal curriculum. This does not mean that children are educated like those in primary school. Far from. They should learn through play. But even this should be done according to a developmental plan.

Greater Focus on Physical FitnessThe old cliché of a “healthy body, healthy mind”, is as relevant for preschoolers, as it is for bigger children. Perhaps even more so. On specifically play, activities to develop children’s small and large motor skills are important.

Greater focus on teachers with new capabilities and skillsPrincipals and teachers will have to come to the party with new skills. Upskilling and new vocational continuous training practices will be the name of the game. Teachers will increasingly be asked to exhibit new leadership and managerial capabilities.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is responsive care. When responsive care is used consistently, promptly, and in ways that match children’s interests and needs, children learn to trust the adults in their lives. This trust supports exploration that promotes growth in physical, social/emotional, cognitive, and language development.


The early childcare sector worldwide is not out of the woods yet. The coming year will still present many challenges, many of them not directly COVID-related, but perhaps as peripheral spinoffs from the pandemic. As we have indicated in other blogs – some of these developments have impacted the sector for the better. But we will all collectively still have our work cut out for us.

Best to view this as a blessing in disguise…

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