In the Department of Social Development (DSD’) s Annual Report for the year ended 31 March 2015, the Minister of Social Development introduces the shift in the developmental importance and prioritization of ECD in her statement that “ECD lies at the heart of our plans to combat the inter-generational transmission of poverty [and that] … the new policy will pave the way for the provision of ECD as a public good.” In line with this shift, she notes that universal access to ECD services is of paramount concern to the department.

Key ECD achievements highlighted in the report include:

  • The development and approval of the draft ECD policy by Cabinet; and
  • An increase in the number of centres registered from 21 847 in 2013/14 to 24 199 in 2014/15. Of particular note is the increase in the registration of centres that have, for the most part, previously been excluded because of difficulties in meeting national norms and standards, particularly those related to infrastructure. They have been able to register as a result of the development of guidelines for conditional registration.
  • An increase in the number of children in centres receiving the ECD subsidy form 620 402 to 704 798.
  • A partnership with the National Lottery will enable the building of 60 ECD centres across the country, the training of ECD practitioners on NQF 4 level, and provide learning and support materials.

Further achievements that are pertinent to ECD, but listed under different programme headings include:

  • More than 400 000 households accessed food through the DSD’s community development feeding programmes
  • South Africa’s Child Support Grant has been recognized as one of the top five global initiatives in this category by the World Bank. The DSD has, for some time now, recognized the limitations in the development potential of the grant brought about by the low take-up rates in young children under the age of one year. It has therefore rolled out a range of community projects targeted at various wards with the objective of finding and registering children as early as possible. As a result, over 114 000 children under the age of one have been registered for the CSG.

Two issues that should be flagged and addressed by the DSD in its next planning cycle, the resolution of which are required and supported by the ECD policy are:

  1. The skewed emphasis on centre-based ECD and the near-complete neglect of home and community-based early learning and parenting support programmes for the youngest and most vulnerable young children and their families; and
  2. The need for systemic solutions for ensuring universal access to key services such as the CSG. Outreach programmes and projects are great, but do not guarantee that all eligible children will be reached and, as a matter of routine business, be registered for the grant from birth. The policy requires early birth registration through collaboration with the Department of Health and it is critical that attention turn to developing integrated universal programmatic solutions that meet this imperative.

Article by Patricia Martin, advocacyaid.com

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