This week’s policy post provides a brief overview and update on the status of a number of recent policy, programme and research initiatives relevant to ECD in South Africa.
At the centre is the national ECD policy and programme of action under the leadership of the Department of Social Development (DSD). However, there are a number of additional initiatives under the leadership of other departments which impact on the development of young children, access to and the delivery of ECD services. Some of these are cognisant of, and aligned to the current ECD policy process, others are not.
The resulting policy anomalies speak to the need for a shared national understanding of ECD as a cross-cutting issue to be considered and advanced by all government departments and spheres of government.
The national ECD policy and Integrated Programme of Action for ECD
The draft National ECD policy was published for public comment earlier this year. The DSD is currently in the process of amending the policy document to address the many submissions received. The Policy Post was advised by a departmental spokesperson that the aim is for the policy to be finalised and approved by September 2015.
In the interim, work is continuing in implementing a number of activities contained in the DSD’s Integrated Programme of Action for ECD which provides the current operational framework for accelerating access to quality ECD services and programmes. Significant interventions underway targeting some of biggest obstacles to universal access to quality ECD services include the following:
- Harmonisation of ECD laws, regulations and municipal by-laws: A consultant will be appointed shortly to conduct an ECD audit and analysis of all local government policy documents.
- A feasibility study on inter-sectoral management and coordination options for ECD: A consultant has been appointed to conduct a feasibility study and costing of various structural options.
- Development of an ECD human resources development plan for each sector, of a revised National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to address gaps, and development and implementation of a new ECD occupational certificate qualification: An ECD human resources audit across all relevant departments has been commissioned; a revised HR qualifications framework has been developed. The sector has been consulted on the newly developed occupational certificate and the aim is to have it registered by the end of September.
- Development of an inter-sectoral awareness-raising and communications strategy: A draft communications strategy has been developed.
- An audit of all ECD infrastructure, the identification of models of good infrastructure provisioning, and the amendment and consolidation of spatial norms and standards for ECD infrastructure: The national ECD infrastructure audit has been completed and is published on the DSD’s website (details of the audit are documented later in this post).
A number of interventions that must still be undertaken have not yet been started or completed because they depend on what the final ECD policy contains. They are:
- Adoption of a funding policy, norms and standards
- Amendment and consolidation of the ECD infrastructure norms and standards
- Development of an integrated monitoring and evaluation framework for ECD
- Development of new norms and standards for differentiated ECD programmes.
Further details on progress may be viewed in Presentation at the DPME/DSD Roundtable on emerging evidence on impact of programmes on wellbeing of young children.
Children’s Act amendment process
The Children’s Amendment Bill and Second Children’s Amendment Bill have been approved by Cabinet and presented to the Social Development Portfolio Committee (read them here).
The first and second amendment Bills deal with urgent child protection matters such as the definition of a sexual offence, clarification of the requirements for finding and orphaned or abandoned child in need of care and protection, and various amendments related to the adoption process and other alternative placement procedures.
Many of the ECD developments that have been put on hold pending the finalisation of the ECD policy will be enacted into law through the next, or third, Children’s Amendment Bill.
The DSD’s national ECD infrastructure audit report
The DSD’s Audit of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres, conducted in 2014, provides information on the nature and extent of ECD provisioning, services, resources and infrastructure across all nine provinces in respect of registered, conditionally registered and unregistered ECD sites. The audit is particularly important from a policy perspective as it will serve as a baseline for future audits, inform the establishment of national benchmarks for the variables used, and will inform ECD infrastructure policy and planning.
The audit report confirms that the bulk of unregistered centres are located in low income urban areas and that the biggest obstacle to their registration is their failure to comply with the onerous norms and standards prescribed by the Children’s Act.
Other key findings from the audit include the following:
- ECD practitioners and principals are inadequately qualified
- ECD centres are not following accredited curricula or standardised progress assessments for their children
- Parents are not routinely provided with progress reports
- ECD infrastructure, learning and teaching support materials and programmes do not cater for children with disabilities and other special needs
- Learning and teaching support materials are inadequate in many centres to secure quality early learning and stimulation
- A substantial number of centres do not take any concrete action when they identify malnourished children
- Basic safety, water and sanitation are not available in many centres.
The report makes a number of recommendations including the overarching recommendation that the remediation of the problem requires a significant increase in public investment in ECD funding, notably through an infrastructure grant to ECD centres.
The report notes that many of the ECD sites needing funds to improve infrastructure are located in private homes. The report does not address the possible legal issues that may arise if public funds are paid to the mostly privately-run centres which are located in these homes. This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed in the finalised ECD funding policy. Ilifa Labantwana has commissioned research on the possibilities and options in this regard and will share the outcomes with the sector and the DSD and Treasury once available.
Municipalities fail to use ring-fenced funds for sport, recreation and ECD facilities
The ECD infrastructure audit report places the spotlight on the inadequacy of the current public funding levels to support adequate ECD infrastructure. It is thus particularly alarming to note that municipalities have failed to spend the full 5% of the R 14,6 billion Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) budget ring-fenced for sport and recreation facilities and ECD infrastructure.
The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs recently reported to the Portfolio Committee on Sports and Recreation that in the past financial year, at a national level, only 3% of this allocated budget was spent, rather than the full 5%.
The reasons for the under-spending, and resulting failure to improve local facilities that are key to early childhood development, are many. Critically however, the issue is that, even if funds are ring-fenced, this is no guarantee that municipalities will spend the money as required. There is still an element of discretion involved. In the future, ensuring that municipalities spend these substantial funds on pro-ECD infrastructure, recreational and sporting facilities, will require the pro-active involvement of the relevant departments, such as DSD, and the ECD sector in the early stages of the municipal IDP planning processes, as well as broader national MIG planning and review processes.
Minimum norms and standards for provincial and district teacher development institutes published for comment
A further observation made in the ECD audit report is the lack of quality teaching practices in ECD centres, including Grade R classes.
The DBE recently published for public comment, the norms and standards for its soon-to-be-established provincial and district teacher development centres. The objective of the norms and standards is to ensure that these centres, which have been established to support teacher development at a district and provincial level, have adequate resources, infrastructure and materials to make a meaningful contribution to strengthening teacher development where it is needed.
A review of the norms and standards show a marked absence of infrastructure norms and standards that will adequately support improvements in the quality of teaching practices and qualifications of Grade R and pre-Grade R teachers.
The Minister of Public Service and Administration published the Draft Public Service Regulations for public comment
The Minister of Public Service and Administration has published Draft Public Service Regulations for public comment. These require that all departments providing public services take a number of steps to, inter alia, ensure the provision of quality services, and the development of adequate and appropriately qualified personnel. Given that the draft ECD policy recognises ECD as a public service, the implication is that the obligations in the draft regulations will apply to ECD services as well.
The question that arises in the context of the current draft regulations, is how and to what extent the duties created can and should be applicable to the DSD and other departments where the services are provided through a public-private partnership. The manner in which the duties are currently framed by the regulations suggest that the drafters have not contemplated this service delivery scenario.
The Policy Post is written by Patricia Martin. Patricia is the director of Advocacy Aid, a consultancy that provides advocacy support to the development sector. She 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.