(Photo credit: The Guardian)

Well, the local government elections, and hopefully the celebratory or remorse hangovers, are now behind us. The newly elected administrations now face the hard work of making the many promises a reality and creating better communities and livelihoods for the people in their constituencies.

This fresh start represents a wonderfully unique opportunity to get ECD firmly on the agenda of the new local administrations.  However, making the most of this opportunity requires careful and strategic planning and advocacy. There are 278 municipalities in South Africa, comprising eight metropolitan, 44 district and 226 local municipalities. They are focused on growing local economies and providing infrastructure and service. If well-planned, the ECD sector can make significant shifts happen at local government level – that is if the sector uses the new space strategically and systematically to ensure that all 278 municipalities place ECD at the centre of their rights and development vision as captured in their IDPs and budgets.

Engaging with municipalities one at a time is not likely to unlock the required universal and systemic commitment and changes we need to see across all municipalities. Even if we were to engage with one municipality at a time, who will do this engagement, will such engagement happen quickly enough in the small window we have now in the post-election period, and how will we ensure consistency across the various advocacy initiatives?

The ECD policy in fact provides a strategic and systemic solution to ensure universal and effective fulfillment of local governments’ ECD responsibilities. The ECD sector must put their collective weight behind it to ensure it is actioned without delay.

The new ECD policy clarifies and expands, for the first time in South Africa’s policy history, a set of focused and clear local government ECD responsibilities. It provides that:

  • District municipalities are responsible for effective coordination of ECD in each district within their mandates.
  • Local and metro municipalities must participate in planning of ECD services. They are responsible for supporting child care facilities to meet minimum infrastructural, health and safety standards, registration of child minding services, development of new ECD service provision infrastructure, and auditing and identification of available infrastructure that may be used for the expansion of early leaning services and programmes in areas of need.
  • Where capacity exists, the Department of Social Development may assign responsibility to local governments to provide (register, regulate and deliver) ECD programmes and services.
  • Local government is responsible for the equitable provision of play and recreation facilities for young children.
  • District, local and metro municipalities are required to establish coordinating structures to support the planning, coordination and monitoring of ECD services and programmes.
  • These responsibilities must be planned for and reflected in all Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and their supporting budgets.

It is very unlikely, that without some systematic and strategic overarching local government plan of action that is supported by adequate resources, that all municipalities (all of which are at very different stages of development with huge variations in capacity, resources and understanding to engage in ECD provisioning) will be able to, and indeed fulfil these responsibilities.

Realistically, to ensure that all municipalities know, understand and effectively action their ECD responsibilities in the election honeymoon period, we need to reach all of them at the same time, with the same messages, the same tools and support for planning, budgeting and implementation, as well as same monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements.

The ECD policy provides a vehicle or mechanism to do just that.

The policy embeds a mechanism for the systemic activation, support, monitoring and oversight of local government’s ECD responsibilities. It assigns an overarching role to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).

The policy assigns responsibility to COGTA for:

  • Funding and promoting fulfillment of municipal responsibility for development of early learning facilities;
  • Synergising the Expanded Public works Programme and Community Work Programme with the community-based human resource provisioning for ECD
  • Providing guidance and capacity development to municipalities in respect of their ECD responsibilities and obligations, in particular the inclusion of ECD in their IDPs.

However, over and above the lack of local government knowledge and capacity is a much bigger overarching problem – there is a lack of ECD awareness, capacity, knowledge, and expertise within COGTA. In addition, there is not a well-developed relationship with clear pathways for communication and cooperation between COGTA and the ECD sector. This deficiency must be remedied if local government is to fulfil its ECD potential.

There is an urgent need to unlock this stream of support for local government. This will require the development, by COGTA, of a national local government ECD capacitation and support plan which identifies the challenges in capacity, resources and accountability at local level and puts in place the necessary programmes providing planning support and tools as well as monitoring and reporting mechanisms. The plan must be adequately resourced as well.

This step will not be possible unless the ECD planning, human resourcing and monitoring capacity in COGTA is improved. COGTA needs expert ECD leadership, infrastructure and support staff.

The ECD sector must mobilise behind this innovation as a matter of urgency to ensure the current post-election window of opportunity is used strategically.

Editor’s note: Ilifa, along with various partners, is pioneering a delivery model for early learning playgroups through COGTA’s community work programme. Read it here.  

A cartoon image of Patricia Martin, blog authorThe 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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