Maverick Citizen


Early childhood development — moving beyond departmental silos

Early childhood development — moving beyond departmental silos
In anticipation of the national elections, the ECD sector introduced the People’s Manifesto for Early Childhood Development, calling for the delivery of all five essential components of ECD. (Photo: iStock)

In anticipation of the 29 May elections, the early childhood development sector has introduced the People’s Manifesto for Early Childhood Development, calling for the delivery of all five essential components of ECD: adequate nutrition, early learning opportunities, maternal and child healthcare, responsive caregiving, and safety and protection.

During the Department of Basic Education’s event – “Implementation of the ECD 2030 Strategy” – on 14 and 15 May 2024, Minister Angie Motshekga addressed early childhood development stakeholders on the state of the ECD sector and the department’s management of the function shift. Drawing from her visits to ECD centres, she emphasised the urgency of the Interministerial Committee (IMC) on ECD, highlighting the need for support from the Department of Health for children with disabilities and from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) to support the fulfilment of municipal responsibilities for childcare facilities. Additionally, she urged the Department of Higher Education to enhance expertise on ECD, and Home Affairs to ensure birth certificates for all children. Motshekga echoed collective responsibility, sharing the beautiful SeTswana idiom “ngwana sejo oa tlhakanelwa” (a child is a meal around which we all gather), emphasising that matters concerning young children require all hands on deck. 

The inaugural meeting of the IMC on ECD, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, was a significant step to actualise the transformative power of ECD. According to the press release by the Presidency on 2 May 2024, the IMC meeting “affirmed [the government’s] belief that investing in children’s early years is the foundation for a brighter and more prosperous future for our nation”. This committee will synchronise the voices of the different departments responsible for ECD, ensuring they sing from the same hymn book, harmonising a shared melody of ECD progress. Motshekga stressed the need to stabilise the IMC before the transition to the incoming administration, promising proactive measures to ensure a smooth continuation of the cohesive ECD strategy.

The IMC will be foundational to any success we achieve in ECD. If we do not get government coordination of ECD right, we will not reach the 1.3 million children aged three to five who are currently not in ECD programmes; 53% of young children at ECD centres who face barriers to thriving; 22% of children who are severely malnourished; 60% of ECD centres that are currently not registered; and 80% of Grade 4s who cannot read for meaning. Without clear and effective coordination across key departments, we will not achieve the outcomes of the 2030 Strategy for ECD.

In anticipation of the national elections, the ECD sector introduced the People’s Manifesto for Early Childhood Development, calling for the delivery of all five essential components of ECD: adequate nutrition, early learning opportunities, maternal and child healthcare, responsive caregiving, and safety and protection. To enact these objectives, effective coordination among various government departments is indispensable, including Basic Education, Health, Cogta, Social Development, Higher Education, Labour, as well as the police and Home Affairs. The complexity of delivering holistic ECD services highlights the necessity for collaborative efforts. This requires “strong leadership and technical expertise across relevant departments”, as mandated by the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy (the ECD policy) of 2015.

Early Childhood Development Motshekga

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

The ECD policy outlines a comprehensive roadmap for intergovernmental efforts in ECD, emphasising accountability, leadership, oversight, coordination, partnership, technical expertise and autonomy. These principles establish a foundation for successful coordination by clarifying roles and ensuring common goals. The policy proposed the establishment of an interministerial and an interdepartmental committee for seamless planning and implementation at all government levels. Despite being set in 2015, effective coordination has been lacking, with missed deadlines and insufficient infrastructure support due to the absence of required management structures at provincial and municipal levels.

Unclear and competing roles and responsibilities persist among government departments, further exacerbating the fragmentation in the sector, hindering effective collaboration and resource allocation. The failure to synchronise legislative and policy reform efforts adds another layer of complexity, impeding progress towards cohesive and integrated ECD governance.

As released this year, the National Planning Committee (NPC) emphasised the absolute critical role of coordination to improving outcomes in the ECD sector. Central to these recommendations is the urgent need for effective intergovernmental coordination. The committee recommends that the ECD strategy must be collaboratively developed and owned by all these departments to ensure its comprehensiveness and effectiveness.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nutrition support for ECD programmes takes a giant step backwards

Read more in Daily Maverick: Breakthrough for early learning as Education Department embraces non-formal venues

The President’s convening of the IMC takes the first step in operationalising the NPC’s recommendations. The DBE will lead this coordination. The NPC highlights specific areas where coordination is essential, such as addressing child hunger, determining the age of commencement of compulsory ECD attendance, and recognising the role of non-state providers in early learning programmes and guidelines for including ECD in the development of Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and participation IDP processes, ensuring local governments are also brought into the fold.

To ensure that this committee is not just another talk shop it must  establish interministerial coordination mechanisms, it should provide quarterly reporting on progress, and alignment with existing frameworks such as the Medium-Term Strategic Framework. And, as the NPC advises, all departments must also be given an opportunity to feed into the DBE’s ECD Strategy to ensure shared responsibility.

The stability of the coordination structure is crucial for achieving ECD outcomes. As James Clear writes, “we do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems”. Effective intergovernmental coordination is essential for holistic early childhood development. Without it, young children will remain marginalised, and South Africa’s growth will remain stunted. Now, more than ever, promises must translate into meaningful action to ensure no child is left behind. DM

Tshepo Mantje is the Right to Early Childhood development coordinator at the Equality Collective, a law advocacy NGO based in the rural Eastern Cape. He is also the campaign coordinator of the Real Reform for ECD Movement.


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