East London - Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has challenged communities to start championing the right for children to have access to quality early childhood development centres.
Speaking on the second day of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) conference in East London, Dlamini said it was high time that early childhood development was elevated on the priority list of communities around the country.
"We always see communities protest over unemployment and lack of infrastructure, but never over children's rights to early development programmes. This is something we as a country must start to prioritise," said Dlamini on Wednesday.
She said government was working hard to ensure that early childhood development was linked to other development-based programmes, particularly within the context of Comprehensive Rural Development and integrating other services that flow from different departments and relevant stakeholders.
This, she said, had to be done through a massive education campaign focused mainly on women in rural areas, and selective peri-urban and urban areas like informal settlements, which were generally regarded as focal points for government's poverty and malnutrition eradication programmes.
"In short, our education campaign mustn't be an isolated initiative. It must piggy-back on various existing rural development and urban renewal programmes. It must begin to create a platform for us to popularise and elevate it at a public engagement level."
Basic Education Deputy Minister Enver Surty said the department was doing a lot to ensure that ECD centres gained access to relevant study materials.
He said government would for the first time provide workbooks to children from Grade R next year, and that the department has this year provided 54 million workbooks to the country's schools for pupils from Grade 1 to 9 to provide quality education to as many pupils as possible.
"We've also trained more than 20 000 ECD practitioners with adequate skills for this line of work. We now are looking at our practitioners being able to obtain a basic qualification to ensure a high standard of care for children in ECD centres," said Surty.
Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said ECD centres played an integral part in providing children with tools to cope socially, thereby minimising the influx of juvenile delinquents into the country's prisons.
She said lack of direct parental supervision was one of the major contributors to this phenomenon, a void she said could be filled by ECD practitioners through nurturing, instilling discipline and care.
"We've started to teach ECD skills to offenders in an effort to make them better parents and examples of proper parenting in their communities," said Mapisa-Nqakula.
Port Elizabeth ECD practitioner Nonhlahla Makalima (33) said challenges such as the mushrooming of ECD centres all over the province, problems emanating from privately-owned ECD centres' refusal to abide by government's norms and standards, and infrastructural challenges were an indication that the country had a long way to go in confronting challenges facing early childhood development in the country.
"However glum the picture looks at the moment, I still believe we will be able to one day provide proper and adequate ECD centres for our children to learn and play in because they are the future," said Makalima.