The education of South Africa’s youth was touted as one of the top three national priorities in former finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s 2018 budget speech. An amount of R57 billion was set aside towards this initiative, however, without a solid early childhood development strategy the government would be building on unstable ground.

This was the takeaway from a thematic report on early education titled: Early Childhood Development in South Africa for 2016, delivered by the Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke on Tuesday.

This was the takeaway from a thematic report on early education titled: Early Childhood Development in South Africa for 2016, delivered by the Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke on Tuesday. In his report, Risenga echoed the sentiments of President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in his inaugural state of the nation address, said: “If we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor.”

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The government ought to be investing more in early childhood development instead of fee-free higher education, according to the CEO of the DG Murray Trust (DMT), Dr David Harrison. Harrison says the R57 billion may be wasted on many tertiary students who drop out in their first year and says fee-free tertiary education will not address the root of many learning challenges. He believes that government should adopt a bottom up approach and invest in early childhood education to improve the throughput rate at universities.

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Speaking to Eusebius McKaiser, Pandor says the growing unemployment statistic is something to be concerned about, however, she says those with university education tend to be the ones who find employment above those who are unskilled.

We have not succeeded in convincing the South African population that the root to critical skills and to entrepreneurship and employment opportunity is the technical and vocational sector. — Naledi Pandor, Minister of Higher Education

Minister Pandor says the timing of the free higher education announcement by former president, Jacob Zuma was a surprise, though it had been deliberated on during the Heher Commission. “I don't agree that funding has been taken away from early childhood development or the provision of infrastructure within the basic education sector.”

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