Recent political and economic developments could pose a threat to the substantial ECD gains made over the past 5 or so years.

We know it’s not only the research that matters.  It is abundant and clear that ECD is a win-win development formula for children and the country. What is perhaps more important is who supports the research. The high-level support of national ECD programmes by internationally prominent leaders, such as the former US President Barack Obama, generated momentum, the likes of which had not been seen before. It supported international awareness, legitimacy and policy movement in ECD across the globe, including on the African continent and at home in South Africa. What made the US leadership stand out was the passion and visibility President Obama brought to ECD – he believed in it and was vocal on the issue in the most public of fora. At home, we saw the adoption of the national ECD policy and movement in the budget towards greater investments in the development of young children.

However, 2017 started with the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has been entirely silent on ECD and loudly vocal on undoing Obama’s developmental legacy in the form of, for example, “Obamacare” policies. Over and above the silencing of the strong and prominent international voice of Obama which lead the ECD fray, it remains pessimistically unclear what Trump’s foreign policy will mean for funding of development programmes in Africa and South Africa, including ECD programmes.

What is of deeper concern is the conservative groundswell that is building in Europe and which identifies with the Republican rise in the US – which raises the risk of silencing of development leaders with an innate understanding and passion for ECD across the globe, and the legitimisation of political spaces in developing counties for equally conservative policy approaches.

The ECD sector has its work cut out for it to ensure that gains made are not lost, and to maintain the momentum we have seen around meaningful ECD policy programming, budgeting and the ECD developmental and rights-imperative.

It is essential that in South Africa, and globally, the most high-level, prominent and well-respected leaders pick up the cudgels and be visibly vocal on the development and rights-imperative of ECD.

We need prominent and unimpeachable ECD champions to provide strong leadership for our policy makers to guide and ensure fulfilment of their legal and development responsibilities to young children and their families.

We have many potential candidates. We must give media, policy and parliamentary space and credence to the voices and messages of our well-respected ECD thought and policy-leaders, some of whom have shared their ECD wishes for 2017 with the Policy Post.

The CEO of the WITS Centre of Excellence in Human Development,  Professor Linda Richter’s wish is that the Department of Social Development takes up the leadership cudgel and moves to “garner the enormous public, private sector and NGO support for early childhood development necessary to move the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy firmly towards implementation in collaboration with the Departments of Health and Education, and that we see the start of policy discussions to address the needs of families for affordable good quality child care.”

Marie-Louise Samuels, the Director Early Childhood Development in the Department of Basic Education’s wish is that 2017 is the year “that we build SOLID RELATIONSHIPS with PARENTS, GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS, ECD STAKEHOLDERS to deliver the commitments made in the National Integrated ECD Policy.” She stresses that children in South Africa deserve the best start in life and key to realising this is completing key policy and funding steps such as the National Curriculum Framework for children 0-4.

The role of Parliament: Creating a visible, meaningful and effective space for the voices of ECD champions?

Whilst 2016 was a year which did not do South Africa proud on the political front, there were a few very positive developments that we can learn from, and which bode well for the health of our developing constitutional democracy. Notable in this regard is the courageous and strong leadership shown by the South African Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on the SABC. Members of the committee were not afraid to exercise their substantial accountability muscles, and in the process, the issues were aired to a productive end, and in the process enjoyed massive media and public support.

In times of stress, Parliament must fill the leadership vacuum that threatens our development objectives. This is true for ECD in 2017. My wish for 2017 is that the ECD sector join hands and make a strong and clear call for the establishment of an ECD Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee to provide the leadership, voice and advocacy space needed to realise our national ECD responsibilities and wishes.

Without focussed leadership and accountability there is some doubt as to whether the policy promises will translate into meaningful programmes on the ground, such as those wished for Monica Stach, the Chief Operations Officer of the well-respected ECD organisation, Cotlands:

  1. A nation-wide ECD awareness campaign targeting parents, ECD practitioners and ECD officials profiling programmes that are available and which provide complementary and comprehensive early learning solutions for all young children in South Africa
  2. Develop norms and standards to ensure quality non-centre based programmes through an inclusive policy development process
  3. Develop and implement a funding model that can sustain quality provision of ECD services by the many NGOs that partner with government in delivering on its ECD responsibilities.

How do we ensure that the necessary advocacy and leadership is funded?

To enable and empower ECD champions and maintain and increase the momentum behind stronger ECD policies, programmes and resources, we don’t just need a national ECD advocacy initiative; we need a well-resourced and effective national ECD advocacy initiative.

Giuliana Bland, who has worked in the area of ECD funding for many years, says that the answer is clear – it lies with South Africa’s philanthropic community and development partners. Her wish is that in 2017, all development partners and every corporate in South Africa invest in ECD. Her wish is that “every corporate invest just 1 percent of their turnover in to programmes for young children.” This she says, is a game changer and challenges all to imagine the different country we would then have in 20 years.

A cartoon image of Patricia Martin, blog author


The Policy Post is written by Patricia Martin, the director of Advocacy Aid, a consultancy that provides advocacy support to the development sector. Patricia has worked as a child rights advocate and policy analyst for more than a decade and has a special interest in ECD policy and programme development and monitoring.

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