Early childhood development (ECD) is important for children, but parents have been warned against taking their children to Grade R too early.
The Gauteng Education Department’s director of ECD, Phumelele Tloubatla, said sending children to school when they are too young might be detrimental in the long run.
The current policy is that a child be admitted to Grade R when they turn four by June of the year of admission. “Parents think their children are smart and want to send them to Grade R as young as three years old. That can have long-term implications for the child,” Tloubatla said.
“Sometimes parents think their children are smart and think it’s okay to send them to school. The problem this creates is that if children are not in class with their age cohort, they miss crucial steps in their development. At that age, brain development is critical, and if children miss certain development steps, it might have long-term implications for their development.”
Tloubatla said while the Grade R offering in the province was not perfect, steps were being put in place to ensure universal access. By 2019, it is going to be compulsory for all children to attend Grade R before Grade 1.
One of the most important things about sending children to Grade R, Tloubatla said, was that children’s learning barriers can be identified at an early age and be corrected.
“We have subject advisers in the schools for early identification of learning barriers. If they realise a barrier, they are able to intervene early and children can be treated and they can be able to cope.”
She added that one of their major problems was the training of ECD practitioners. “One of the problems we have in the ECD sector is that practitioners are not fully employed by the schools but instead by school governing bodies. So the retention rates are very slow. What we are now trying to do is pay practitioners according to their qualifications and give them annual increases. We are making inroads but there is still a lot to be done.”
Tloubatla said that because most of the practitioners don’t have qualifications, the department was taking them for training. “We have yearly targets for the number of practitioners we train. For 2015 we trained 1220 Grade R practitioners and for this year we have a cohort of 500.”