EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
Campaign outlines five reforms for Basic Education Department after migration of ECD function
The Real Reform for ECD campaign has put forward five areas of reform to be prioritised by the Department of Basic Education in its management of the sector. This comes after the formal handover of the coordination of the ECD function from the minister of social development to the minister of basic education on 1 April.
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has taken over the function of the early childhood development (ECD) sector from the Department of Social Development (DSD) as of 1 April. In light of this fundamental shift, the Real Reform for ECD Campaign has outlined five priorities for the DBE to take on in its first 1,000 days in charge of these services.
The campaign, founded in 2020, is a movement “advocating holistic, well-funded, inclusive and quality early childhood development services for all children”, according to its website. It is supported by more than 200 organisations, including the Legal Resources Centre, the Equality Collective and Save the Children.
The five areas of reform put forward by the campaign are:
- Ensuring a one-step registration process for ECD providers, as well as acknowledging that the different types of ECD programmes require different approaches to regulation;
- Providing access to the early learning subsidy for all those children attending any type of ECD programme who need it;
- Implementing simpler, adequate health, safety and programme standards, which can be assessed through one process;
- Clearly establishing that ECD providers can get conditional registration if they cannot meet all the registration requirements, and ensuring that MECs support providers servicing poor communities to meet these requirements; and
- Supporting the infrastructure of the sector, including for those ECD providers operating on private land. Municipalities should be required to provide for and maintain sufficient and appropriate ECD infrastructure in their areas.
“If [the DBE] focuses on these five opportunities in their first 1,000 days … we think that would go really far in ensuring an enabling framework for early childhood development, but also making sure that young children can access the subsidy and get nutrition support, infrastructure support, so that they’re participating in early learning programmes that are safe, healthy, and supportive of their own rights to development and to life,” said Tess Peacock, director of the Equality Collective.
The campaign has given the department 1,000 days to prioritise these reforms as this period after conception in a child’s life is considered one of their most critical development phases, she continued. Similarly, the campaign considers the first 1,000 days in the DBE’s management of ECD to be a critical phase in its development.
Peacock serves as part of the technical team developing the second Children’s Amendment Bill, with a focus on the ECD components. The team is jointly chaired by the DBE and DSD.
“The Department of Basic Education has really stewarded that process in a way that does bring about hope to the sector that this is a priority for the department, to ensure that there’s an enabling regulatory and legal framework in place for early childhood development. And so, we are kind of cautiously optimistic about the function shift,” she said.
The DBE will be attending to the issues raised by the campaign, said Elijah Mhlanga, the spokesperson for the department, adding that the handover of the ECD sector to the DBE was only the beginning of the “real work”.
“It is important to understand that the work is being done gradually in collaboration with the stakeholders who have already been engaged in various meetings,” he said. “The department welcomes input from all stakeholders and will continue to interact with role players in the ECD sector.”
Change always brings about uncertainty, said Leonard Saul, the CEO of the South African Congress for ECD. As such, one of the biggest challenges in the migration of ECD from the DSD to the DBE will be upgrading communication so as to avoid confusion among stakeholders in the sector.
“People [in the ECD sector] … used to go to the Department of Social Development office, they used to have a social worker that they would call; now what, who do they call? And so, it’s just generally managing that confusion at the level of an ECD site,” said Peacock. The DBE needs to ensure that there is accessible information about the practical implications of the function shift for people’s lives.
There must be a process to assist those ECD practitioners who need to be registered. Practitioners should also receive ongoing support in terms of training, to build their capacity, said Saul.
The competency of ECD practitioners and educators directly determines the quality of ECD programmes, said Janeli Kotzé, deputy director of research coordination, monitoring and evaluation at the DBE, during a joint portfolio committee meeting between the portfolio committees on basic education and social development on 9 March. The focus of the meeting was the ECD migration.
Kotzé said that over the next year, the DBE would be developing an ECD Human Resource Strategic Workforce Plan that would include articulating qualifications at different levels; continuing professional development and in-service training, including recognition of prior learning; guidelines for early learning and development of caregivers; registration with the South African Council for Educators for ECD educators and practitioners; and norms for admin and other support staff.
“The department recognises that taking over a new function always comes with challenges of one type or another,” Mhlanga told Maverick Citizen. “The department is not alone in delivering the ECD functions; the Department of Social Development will continue to work together with DBE into the future.”
It is very important that young children get access to a holistic set of early childhood development services, including learning, nutrition, health and caregiver support, said Peacock. Research suggests that investment in the early years of a child’s life is the best way to invest in the future of the nation.
“You’re always going to need strong interdepartmental coordination for early childhood development … [to] challenge, or properly tackle, multidimensional aspects of poverty; it has to be holistic,” said Peacock. “Children need proper access to nutrition, proper access to healthcare, child protection services, social protection, etc.”
The migration of ECD from the DSD to the DBE is meant to strengthen the coordination of this service in the multisectoral context, where the efforts of government, civil society, parents and communities contribute toward child development, said Linton Mchunu, the acting director-general for social development, at the handover of the coordination of the ECD function from the minister of social development to the minister of basic education on 1 April.
The government has set the goal of achieving universal access to ECD by 2030, including access to a compulsory pre-Grade R year, said Mchunu.
“This ambitious goal requires that government work closely with all stakeholders to ensure fair access to quality early learning,” he said.
“Government has a central role to play, but the business of children is everybody’s business, from the family to the communities, to the private sector, to civil society, to academia. Everybody has a significant role to play in the development and nurturing and growth of children.” DM/MC