Based on the evidence available, there is strong indication that a nation’s development is intrinsically tied to its ability to unlock the potential of its youngest citizens. Ensuring that every infant and child is able to develop to their full physical, mental, emotional, and social capabilities has an enormous bearing on the country as a whole.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) is the holistic development that occurs in young children from the moment of conception to the time they begin school. Some have extended the definition to include development until the age of nine, but most consider the age of seven as the culmination of this vital phase before the next stage of development begins.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the development taking place in children during this period has tremendous impact on how well they will be able to function as adults.
Good ECD is an essential building block that ensures children flourish in various spheres of their development. It encompasses their inherent potential when it comes to the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their persons.
The most important phase of development is believed to be the first 1000 days of a person’s existence. This is the time in utero and the first two years in the world. All later development builds on the neural circuits and mental and physical skills that are put in place during this time. If the brain’s development is stifled during this period, all later development will have inherent limitations. These limitations could never be undone or altered.
The brain is extremely responsive to environmental factors during this period of formative growth. This emphasises how crucial it is that the child’s surroundings are conducive to healthy ECD.
Promoting good brain development entails what is referred to as protective factors. Good nutrition and health of the infant and mother are critical to attaining proper ECD, and these need to continue throughout childhood. While in utero, the child must be free from exposure to drugs, alcohol, and other pollutants, and while growing up into adolescence, they must not be subjected to second-hand smoke or other harmful substances.
For proper, holistic development of the brain to take place, infants will need more than just good food and wellness. It is vital that they have loving and secure relationships with their parents from the outset that are protective, nurturing, and strong. These aspects must extend to their other primary caregivers as well.
These relationships also need to be responsive, stimulating, and particularity rich in language, with adults speaking to the babies from birth. In fact, many experts agree that the parents should start talking to the babies even before they are born.
Safe care is of course vital, as children of all ages need to feel safe and be safe to thrive. Stability during this time has many beneficial results for the child, improving all the outcomes of development throughout their life.
Having access to learning opportunities, both more and less formal, before entering school is very beneficial to healthy ECD.
ECD can be negatively affected by various environmental, biological, nutritive, and social factors.
The brain’s sensitivity is a wonderful gift, allowing positive development that leads to cognitive and social abilities that will serve a person well throughout their entire lives. It is truly amazing what humans learn during this phase.
But the same sensitivity means that adverse effects of an unhealthy environment can have devastating impacts on children not fortunate enough to receive what they need in this formative period. This will stifle potential and will have negative reverberations throughout their adulthood.
Malnutrition can lead to stunted development which, after a certain age, can never be corrected. In the first 1000 days of life, if someone is not given the nutrition they need during this critical formative period, it will lead to lower educational outcomes and subpar performance in the labour market when they leave school.
Even before birth, there can be marked structural damage to the foetus if a mother is unable to get proper nutrition.
All of this leads to children being too short for their age, which is known as stunting. Even if a child can catch up physically, the impact on brain development is very likely to leave lasting effects. Malnutrition also leads to low birthweights, putting children at a higher risk for diabetes, learning difficulties, and cardiovascular problems.
Exposure to violence, environmental toxins (such as pesticides, alcohol, drugs, or other chemicals), stress, infectious diseases, and disrupted caregiving are all factors that have detrimental effects on ECD.
It has been established that over 60% of South African children live in poverty. The negative impact of poverty on ECD has been widely studied, and many experts agree that it is a fundamental cause of poor development. More than that, it is a key predictor as to whether a child will develop well, or if a child’s development will be compromised. Unfortunately, children born into poverty are likely to have their ECD undermined.
Poverty has been linked again and again to increased levels of all the scenarios that undermine healthy ECD. This in turn leads to more and more children growing up without the capacity to perform to their full potential had they received appropriate early childhood interventions.
With the global pandemic that the world is experiencing, more than half a billion people have been pushed into, or further into, poverty over the last two years. ECD is under threat to a degree that we have not seen in a long time, especially in developing nations.
There is conclusive evidence that investing in ECD will see remarkable returns not just for the children, but for their families as well and, significantly, for society as a whole. To this end, Impophomo is passionate about seeing children given the best chance to experience positive ECD, and we have several projects running to make sure children realise their full potential.
One such initiative has seen one of our strategic partners, Centurion Systems, coming alongside us to bring multiple donations of essential teaching supplies and tools to pre-schools in the informal settlement of Zandspruit. These contributions have included much needed desks and chairs, stationery, and educational toys and tools.
Our annual Christmas drive reaches hundreds of vulnerable children who would otherwise be overlooked. The children receive gifts which include necessary stationary for their school endeavours in the year to come, setting them up for success.
We also seek to provide ongoing support to mothers of children in the poorest creches in the most vulnerable areas.
The opportunities to partner with Impophomo to help foster excellent ECD are many and ongoing. Contact us today to see how you can get involved either by volunteering your time, offering financial support, or other resources in addressing this vital need that we see in our beloved country.