Government's ECD Policy

Pretoria - The government's policy on early childhood development, including pre-school education and the development of children, was launched by Education Minister Kader Asmal in Pretoria on Monday.

                  He told those attending the launch of the Early Childhood Development White Paper that it provided a long-term plan, until 2008, for building an ECD system that South Africans could be proud of.

                  "... Our government through the White Paper... speaks and exhorts us all to join hands, beginning at conception of each child, through birth and beyond, to nurture our children, help them become productive citizens and through them develop our human resources throughout life."

                  Asmal said that in the White Paper the government committed itself to progressively expand access to and participation in ECD, end inequalities in existing ECD provision, and reduce the different qualities of ECD services.

                  The White Paper follows the government's interim policy for ECD of 1996 and the subsequent ECD national pilot project that formed the basis of testing the interim policy.

                  He said the policy also followed the results of a nation-wide audit and discussions held with the education department's ECD social partners.

                  Asmal said ECD was an umbrella term that applied to the processes by which children from birth to nine years of age grew and thrived, physically, mentally emotionally, spiritually, morally and socially.

                  He said the main priority addressed in the White Paper was an introduction of an accredited "reception year" (Grade R) programme for children aged five.

                  "Once fully established in our primary schools, which already accommodates about 180 000 children in Grade R, and selected community-based ECD centres, the reception year will give effect to out constitutional obligation of providing ten years of basic education for all our children," the minister said.

                  The department's target was that eventually all public primary schools and about 4500 community-based ECD centres would together provide Grade R, he said.

                  Asmal said that from the beginning of 2002 children would be eligible for Grade R.

                  "With this White Paper... we bring to a close the decadent and immoral philosophy of apartheid towards education.

                  "Through it we also bring hope to the many mothers who will, when it is fully implemented, be freed to play a more active role in family, community, national and economic development."