It’s estimated that only four out of every 10 South African children go to Grade R before they start Grade 1 – and this lack of pre-primary education could put them at a disadvantage that they may never fully recover from, according to a 2019 report by UNICEF.

The report, A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education, suggests that children who get at least one year of pre-primary education are more likely to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school, and are less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school later in their school career.

Bailey Thomson Blake, chief of schools at independent private school network SPARK Schools, says Grade R teaches important social skills, problem-solving and a familiarity with routine and procedures that set the child up for the rest of their school life. 

“Every year, we see children come straight into Grade 1 without any pre-primary education, and it’s notable that many of these learners struggle far more than their peers. That’s why I strongly recommend that parents consider Grade R as a preparatory step towards formal education,” says Thomson Blake. 

She says there are four major reasons to send a child to Grade R.

  • Grade R starts teaching children fundamental skills, such as numbers and letter formation, which form the basis for their continuing education. They learn the difference between alphabetical and phonetic knowledge, reading, writing, spelling, counting, adding and subtracting.
  • Grade R ensures a smooth transition between pre-primary and primary school, as children become familiar with the school environment and the routine. They learn that there is a set time for everything and they should work towards a goal at a particular time.
  • Grade R scholars learn social emotional skills, which help them develop self-awareness, accountability for their actions and empathy for others. They also get to learn teamwork through activities that are group-centred and require them to cooperate.
  • Grade R learners are exposed to technology, which plays a major part in modern life. Technology also makes learning fun and engaging for scholars. 

The choice of where a child goes to Grade R is often an emotional decision for parents. Thomson Blake suggests that parents should look for a school that has tools and resources that support social-emotional development, fine and gross motor skills development as well as academic progress.

“If children do not get a solid foundation in early childhood, it limits their chances to succeed. On the other hand, learners who attend high-quality pre-school programmes get a significant advantage,” says Thomson Blake. 

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