Maverick Citizen


The silence at local government level on early childhood development must be broken

The silence at local government level on early childhood development must be broken

Early childhood development (ECD) is crucial to the wellbeing and development of millions of children under the age of six in South Africa. While this remains the responsibility of the Department of Social Development, local governments can play a significant role in ensuring that it is provided safely in communities. Yet, political party manifestos say nothing about it.

A letter supported by 354 people representing 222 organisations, and including leading education experts, has been addressed by the Real Reform for ECD campaign to all candidates and political parties in the upcoming local government elections.   

According to Tess Peacock of the Equality Collective, a non-profit organisation based in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, “the upcoming local government election is a crucial opportunity for the ECD sector to advocate the importance of childhood development planning within local government. We hope to ensure that our challenges will be addressed by elected candidates in the upcoming term in office”.

Peacock and other advocates for ECD say that while it is crucial to a child’s development and is included in the Sustainable Development Goals, it has been undersupported and underfunded for years. Surveys such as Nids-Cram show that it was particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 lockdowns, which closed many ECD services, especially in poor areas. 

The letter laments that all published party manifestos are “completely silent on ECD and services for young people”. 

However, there appears to be a growing recognition of its importance within government, partly reflected in the fact that in April 2022, responsibility for ECD will move from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education.

Nevertheless, the letter points out how ECD depends most heavily on the environment and support that is created at local government level. It identifies barriers that can be removed by proactive accountable local governments, calls for basic services to ECD centres to be provided free of charge, and for ECD to be included in planning and budgeting by local governments. 

Early childhood development practitioners from the Sisonke Orange Farm Early Childhood Development Forum. (Photo: Lerato Duma / ECD Forum Chair)

The full letter is reprinted below: 

Dear Prospective Councillors,

Real Reform for Early Childhood Development (ECD) has launched a campaign: “Make local government work for ECD.”

The local government elections are an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of young children. Real Reform for ECD has launched a campaign to urgently ensure that the needs of young children, their caregivers and ECD teachers and practitioners are taken seriously.

ECD, “early childhood development”, refers to the period of childhood where significant emotional, physical and cognitive development takes place. It is the most critical developmental stage in a person’s life; it is the foundation not only of individual development but also the human resource development of our nation. It should include supportive services that include access to adequate nutrition, maternal and child healthcare services, caregiver support, social protection and early learning opportunities. We cannot say we are investing in the future of our nation when families do not have access to affordable, quality, early learning programmes for their children. 

Yet most children in South Africa do not have access to any form of early learning opportunities through an ECD programme (including ECD centres/pre-schools/crèches, play groups and toy libraries). Of those who do access some form of ECD programme, two-thirds are in unregistered programmes (which means unregulated) and only a small proportion of children who need it (25%) obtain a subsidy supported by the Department of Social Development. 

The rules and regulations governing registration of ECD programmes at the local level are unrealistic, onerous and unaffordable.  

All the published party manifestos are completely silent on ECD and services for young children, let alone how to eradicate the barriers to registration. They are also silent on how to advance access to ECD programmes. 

This silence totally ignores the importance of ensuring our youngest, most vulnerable citizens get the start in life they deserve and need if we are to become a winning nation. That is why 354 individuals representing 222 organisations are now supporting a new campaign calling for Real Reform at the local government level for the ECD sector.    

The campaign calls on you to:

Pull down the barriers to registration for ECD programmes

  • Simplify health and safety standards to make it easier for ECD programmes to register;
  • Municipal EHPs should issue timely health inspection reports to DSD for all ECD programmes regardless of whether or not they meet Health Certificate or Bylaw standards;
  • Provide municipal fee waivers for all ECD programmes;
  • Accept simplified, attainable and affordable land use options;
  • Accept a hand-drawn site plan and floor plan instead of building plans; and
  • Implement rapid procedures to address delays.

Build new and upgrade existing ECD programmes

  • In line with the ECD policy, upgrade existing and build new facilities for ECD programmes in order for existing programmes to grow and new programmes to open; and
  • Provide basic services (electricity, water and sanitation) to ECD programmes free of charge.

Make ECD a local spending priority

  • Include ECD in local planning (IDPs) and budgets, setting clear targets and allocating funding for new builds and upgrades in poor communities. 

We need local governments to deliver on their promises to local families; we need more families benefiting from more children attending ECD programmes and we need more ECD programmes registering and accessing government subsidies.

We are calling on all prospective councillors to support the Campaign to Make Local Government Work for ECD by doing the following:

  1. Sign your name to this letter to illustrate your support;
  2. Make a public commitment to implement the Real Reforms for ECD; and
  3. Contact Real Reform once elected and we will provide assistance with how to make your local government work for ECD.

Letter issued by the Real Reform for ECD Campaign. DM/MC

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