A child’s experiences in the first months and years of life determine whether he or she will enter school eager to learn or not. By school age, family and caregivers have already prepared the child for success or failure. The community has already helped or hindered the family’s capacity to nurture the child’s development. (Dr T. Barry Brazelton, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Boston.)
It has been established that during the first three years of a child’s life, 50% of their intellect is developed, with a further 25% being developed by the age of six years. It is during these crucial early years that 80% of brain cells form connections in response to external stimulation, and it is these connections which contribute to the overall Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of the child. Consequently, parents and/or other caregivers have only six years in which to develop the full potential of their children in their care.
It is also well documented that integrated programs in Early Childhood Development (ECD) can do much to prevent malnutrition, stunted cognitive development, and insufficient preparation for school. Years of research have shown that these programs can improve primary and secondary school performance, increase children’s prospects for higher productivity and future income, and reduce the probability that they will become burdens on public health and social service budgets.
While there is a proven need to maximise the intellectual capacity of infants and toddlers and prepare them for the demands of pre-school and kindergarten, as few as 1% of eligible Sub-Saharan children are enrolled in early learning programs, and few developing countries have managed to achieve pre-school coverage for more than 35% of their pre-school populations. Also, while the development of children is the primary responsibility of parents, the fact that an estimated eight million South African adults are functionally illiterate, makes it even more necessary to provide as many interventions as possible in the area of early childhood learning.