Wits and UKZN host new Centre Of Excellence in Human Development

DVC Research Professor Zeblon Vilakazi

EXCELLENCE FOR CHILD DEVELOPMENT: The Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development is one of five new Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation CoEs approved last month by the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom. Pictured above is deputy vice-chancellor Professor Zeblon Vilakazi at the launch of the CoE. Photo: Wits Communications

The newly launched Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development will ensure a better response to the challenges of child development in the country, according to Michael Masutha, deputy minister of science and technology.

Masutha was speaking at the launch of the centre, a joint initiative between Wits and UKZN (University of KwaZulu-Natal) , at the Origins Centre earlier today.

The CoE is one of five new Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation (NRF) CoEs approved last month by the minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom, in order to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary research among research-performing institutions, and to provide high-end skills development in priority research areas.

The joint Wits/UKZN CoE will focus on ensuring that children living below the poverty line are provided for and receive a better start to life in the country.

Research shows that  South Africa has significantly high rates of child poverty. In 2011, 58% of children lived below the lower poverty line (R604 per month). Poverty among children is a prime cause of malnutrition which affects their physical and cognitive development and the capacity to learn.

About 57% of young children in developing countries have no access to preschool – in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is 83% – and children living in the poorest households are up to 10 times less likely to attend early childhood education programmes than those living in the richest.

Masutha said that early childhood development (ECD) was a national priority and the establishment of this CoE is a step in the right direction.

“The CoE will combine the multidisciplinary expertise of established scholars with dedicated research groups working on child development. The team’s diverse strengths will enable a better understanding of the challenges in respect of child development in South Africa, improve the country’s ability to address these challenges, and advocate for the most cost-effective interventions to give all children the best possible start in life,” he said.

The research at the centre will help improve decision-makers’ understanding of the conditions, dynamics and efficacy of policies among socially and economically marginalised societies in South Africa.