Many parents did not know what to do with their children when the Covid-19 lockdown regulations were implemented and school doors were closed. Even highly educated parents battled to keep their children properly stimulated.
But poor and marginalised communities were especially hit, because most households do not have access to basic educational tools, let alone training, books, internet connections or laptops. Parents and primary caregivers of toddlers lack adequate knowledge about and resources for early childhood development (ECD) and don’t know what educational activities to provide children with at an early age.
Children were seen running on the streets for days on end in township areas, with no adult supervision and with little or no learning occurring.
ECD cuts across multiple sectors, including, social protection, education and health and nutrition — and refers to the physical, cognitive, linguistic and socioemotional development of young children. Research has shown that the emotional, social, and physical development of young children will have a direct effect on their overall development and on the adults they become. This is why investing in the development of children from an early age is so important; to improve their future wellbeing.
The reality is that many children in under-served communities do not have the benefit of these vital ingredients for a better future. In South Africa, access to quality ECD is not universal and many must pay to be able to provide this vital support for their children.
This further entrenches poverty and marginalisation.
To try and address some of these issues, the Seriti Institute, a non-profit company, developed the aRe Bapaleng (“let’s play” in Sesotho) programme to raise awareness among parents and caregivers in disadvantaged communities about the essential role that they can fulfil in their children’s development. Caregivers are also equipped with knowledge and tools by using a “learning through play” approach.
Through the programme Seriti has confirmed that parents and primary caregivers are surprised to learn that their role in their child’s development is so important.
Many believed that most of a child’s learning would happen at school and did not realise that it begins in the womb.
Even among caregivers with high levels of literacy, the amount of time spent reading to their children is limited. Access to books is, of course, one of the issues and some caregivers resort to using school texts, magazines or the Bible.
The time dedicated to creative activities such as drawing, painting and playing educational games to stimulate key learning pathways was also very limited.
Primary caregivers were hungry for the exposure to more activities that they could perform with their children that would help to develop their cognitive, emotional, sensory as well as gross and fine motor skills.
The importance of communication and spending quality time with a child were other areas that surprised caregivers. They learned how important it is to support, encourage, love, listen to and respect their children.
One mother said: “I thought my child was hyper and naughty, but since I have been implementing the aRe Bapaleng activities, I realise my child was desperate for new, stimulating activities to keep him busy.”
To date the aRe Bapaleng programme has supported more than 300 parents and primary caregivers in 16 communities throughout Gauteng.
More needs to be done to ensure that we raise children in a healthy ecosystem. Our children are our future and there is no other investment that could be more important.