Former Deputy-President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has called on the private sector to urgently invest in high-quality Early Childhood Development and literacy.
These are the two most important investments the private sector can make in the future of South Africa, the respected leader believes.
Mlambo-Ngcuka most recently concluded her term as international head of United Nations Women. Now back in her home country, the high-profile national leader is urging South Africa to ensure a brighter future: through literacy.
First, she has announced her support for the 2030 Reading Panel. And second, she will be working closely with the Indaba Foundation, to dramatically improve the quality of education for the nation’s youngest children.
The Indaba Foundation supports the training of women to care for children at Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres across vulnerable communities. Indaba has begun its work in the Cape Winelands, where poverty and social ills such as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) remain a challenge.
Thanks to Indaba, women are trained to provide literacy, and other important education, to children under the age of six-years-old, as vital preparation for Grade 1.
The former Deputy-President serves as a patron for the Indaba Foundation, and urged:
“We are not able to fix this country with a silver bullet. We have to begin at the very start - and that means the beginning of a child’s life. The ages of 0-6 are the most important in a human being’s development. I am serving the Indaba Foundation as a patron, in order to urge the country to unite and invest in highest-quality ECD.”
She said investment in ECD was crucial to address the national literacy crisis.
“Seventy-eight percent of children in Grade Four cannot read or meaning in any language. And that is a red flag. Many of our children who start school at Foundation Level will never, ever make it to Grade 12. It should concern all of us. President Ramaphosa highlighted the goals of his administration, one of which was education.
“He called on us to make sure that our children who are 10 years of age will be able to read for meaning. It is essential we take our entire nation on this journey with us. And it is crucial we begin with the education of our very youngest children," she said.
Chairman of the Indaba Foundation, Andre Shearer, said that this is a women's empowerment initiative, designed to elevate the profile of women's role in society.
He said society has historically disrespected women and disrespected youngest children, exacerbated by the very poor overall quality of national ECD sector.
“We have pioneered a “community-rooted education” curriculum,which is able to transform an ECD practitioner’s life in just six months. The first class graduated in 2021, and I have been absolutely overwhelmed with emotion watching these women transform themselves. They, in turn, take care of so many of our children most in need. This investment into our youngest children’s education is by far the best investment we can make in our future our society,“ he said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said of the 2030 Reading Panel, she also champions.
“It is a collection of thought leaders and experts. This group of people will get together and evaluate what is happening in our schools, monitor the progress that we are making, help the teachers - which is the important thing for all of us to do - produce reports and challenge government, and all of us, to provide the facilities needed for our children to learn to read,” she said.
"At a young age I realised that if you do not learn early, at a young age, you do not get the chance to do so later. There’s hardly ever a second chance education once you've missed that foundation.So all of us can play a significant role to make sure that by 2030 we have turned the situation around. The 2030 Reading Panel will start meeting from 2022 and will meet every year until 2030. Each year, we will engage, we will produce a report and we'll hope that by 2030 we would have changed the situation,” Mlambo-Ngcuka added.
Mlambo-Ngcuka serves as a patron of the Indaba Foundation side-by-side with several leading women, including Professor Thuli Madonsela, who holds the Chair of Social Justice at the University of Stellenbosch.
“There isn't a quick fix to this, but we don't have time to wait for the 14 years of a child's development. We have to ensure every child gets the right start to education, and therefore to life. This good beginning gives children the ability to be resilient, through the education system, up to the point where they are prepared for higher education or a secondary training activity.
“If you understand the significance of children who stay in school, versus the children who dropped out, we are able to make a really strong case for quality ECD. We have to interact with policy makers, and make sure that they make the right policies, to guarantee quality ECD,” she concluded.