O N E  D R O P

On the 27th of September 2015, South Africa, together with the other UN Member States committed to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. As a country, we have committed to take action in areas that underpin sustainable social, economic and environmental development and realisation of the human rights of all.

Early Childhood Development is one of the essential sustainable development and human rights focus areas. It cuts across a number of the SDGs, but receives focused attention in SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote learning opportunities for all. South Africa has agreed to achieve SDG 4.2 in the next fifteen years; that is to say it has agreed:

By 2030, ensure that all boys and girls have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

The countdown to 2030 started on 27 September 2015 with the adoption of the collective SDG declaration Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To achieve this goal and ensure that the foundations of sustainable and equitable human development are built from the bottom up, our government has to build and fund a strong ECD system that:

  • Reaches tens of thousands more children than currently is the case, especially the most marginalised, from birth until they enter the formal schooling system, through a combination of home, community and centre-based ECD programmes; and
  • guarantees the delivery of quality ECD services, especially for the most marginalised.

The task is huge, but we are already tackling it on the policy and programming front through focused efforts by key departments. ECD is a multi-sectoral enterprise and requires synergised efforts by the child welfare, education and health sectors, amongst others.

Two of the relevant departments recently reported on the steps that have been taken in the past year towards achieving SG 4.2.

The Department of Social Development’s 2014/15 Annual Report is unambiguous in the priority status afforded ECD in the national programme of action and the associated commitment to drive its realisation through a strong systemic approach. The Minister of Social Development introduces the report with the recognition that “Early Childhood Development (ECD) lies at the heart of our plans to combat the inter-generational transmission of poverty. The steady growth in the number of children who benefit from ECD services underline our commitment to provide our children with an early start for a better future. Cabinet approved the Draft ECD Policy for public comments. The policy will pave the way for the provision of ECD as a public good.”

The report summarises the steps taken this year and progress made. In fulfiment of its commitment to provide universal “care and early stimulation of children in the temporary absence of their parents or adult caregivers” the DSD reports that it has:

  • Developed a draft ECD Policy through a vigorous consultative process with key stakeholders.
  • Developed a Comprehensive ECD Programme concurrently with the policy which will be finalised, along with an implementation plan, after approval of the policy.
  • Merged the National Integrated Plan for Early Childhood Development Review Plan, the ECD Diagnostic Improvement Plan and the ECD Conference Action Plan into one document – the South African Integrated Programme of Action for Early Childhood Development – Moving Ahead, 2013–2016.
  • Completed an ECD Audit which provides the basis for finalising the draft ECD Policy.
  • Established a partnership with the National Lottery to support the building of 60 ECD centres across the country, to train ECD Practitioners on NQF level 4, and to provide learning and support materials.
  • Has, in an effort to increase the registration of ECD centres, developed guidelines facilitating conditional registration. The number of registered ECD centres increased by 10%, from 21 847 in 2013/14 to 24  191 in 2014/15.
  • Increased the number of children who received the ECD subsidy by 12%, from 620 402 in 2013/14 to 704 798 in 2014/15.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) records, in its 2014/15 Annual Report that great “strides were made in relation to access to Grade R and in strengthening the entire ECD sector. However, quality remained a challenge in respect of the lack of a coherent legislative framework; unqualified and under-qualified teachers working under challenging conditions of service in some instances; varied quality of curriculum implementation; and funding for Grade R.”

In response, the DBE collaborated with others, notably the DSD to strengthen the policy and legislative framework for ECD:

  • Develop The South African Integrated Programme of Action for Early Childhood Development –Moving Ahead (2013/14– 2016/17) which allocates responsibility to the DBE for human resource and curriculum development.
  • Develop the National Curriculum Framework for Children from Birth to Four (NCF) together with an implementation plan (approved in September 2014).
  • Develop an interim Grade R policy which was submitted to Cabinet with all relevant legislation amended to ensure that all aspects of Grade R implementation have a solid legislative basis and are fully integrated into the schooling system.
  • Establish a training and curriculum subcommittee (with key stakeholders) to address broader human resource development issues.

In furtherance of the DBE’s responsibility for expanding access to Early Childhood Development and improvement of the quality of Grade R, with support for pre-Grade R provision, it:

  • Sought to improve resourcing by enrolling 3 860 practitioners for different qualifications. 77% of the targeted 5 000 practitioners were enrolled in either B.Ed or the Diploma in Grade R teaching. A total of 21 542 Grade R practitioners have ECD qualifications in all provinces excluding North West which employs qualified teachers. The totals per level of ECD qualifications are as follows: 10 933 are at level 4, 4 619 at level 5, 4 191 at level 6 and 1 799 above level 6 as at the end of the 2014/15 financial year.
  • Is working towards ensuring that Grade R becomes compulsory by 2019.
  • Distributed copies of the National Curriculum Framework for Children Birth to Four (NCF) to all PEDs for distribution to registered ECD centres.
  • The NCF, which provides information on the development and implementation of publicly funded ECD programmes to ensure that all children have an opportunity to access the essential package of ECD services, is being implemented in pilot centres.
  • Grade R resource packs aligned to CAPS were developed. 3 700 980 Grade R workbooks were delivered to 16 063 schools.

As we near the end of 2015, these departments are to be congratulated on the commitment and progress made in putting in place the policy and programmatic building blocks of a strong ECD system.

It is not enough to have good policies, these will need to be adequately resourced and efficiently implemented in the next few years. This will largely depend on whether enough financial resources are allocated by government.

During the course of this past week, the Minister of Finance shared the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) which is a “government policy document that communicates to Parliament and the country … [the government’s] spending priorities over the next three year expenditure period.”

A key message in this year’s MTBPS is fiscal restraint. South Africa has witnessed slower-than-projected economic growth. Given the ensuing fiscal constraints, in moving forward there “is little room for new spending priorities over the next three years.” However, despite these constraints, the government will “allocate additional resources to core areas of need, including projects that address urgent social priorities.”

It is indeed encouraging to see that ECD is recognised as one of these core areas.  Together, health, education and social protection receive 43% of the total budget thus reflecting the government’s continued prioritisation of funding for the social sector.

In the context of early childhood care and education, the MTBPS prioritises and directs additional resources towards strengthening Grade R. Specially, the universalisation of Grade R access within the next three years and upgrading the qualifications of Grade R practitioners.

The MTBPS also places the spotlight on, and allocates additional resources for the younger cohort of children in the pre-Grade R years. The MTBPS recognises that a “well-developed early childhood development system enhances educational outcomes.” Whilst the MTBPS expressly allocates additional resources, the interventions supported by the increase appear too limited in focus and impact to guarantee the shifts in access and quality necessary to unlock the developmental and equalising potential of ECD.

The draft ECD policy emphasises the need for growth in non-centre based ECD programmes and highlights the inadequacy of the current subsidy design and amount to meet this imperative, or to meet the urgent need for improvements in the quality of services provided. It commits to rolling out an expanded home and community-based ECD system supported by adequate funds that are not limited to centre-based provisioning.

The MTBPS does not appear to support the realisation of this vision. It is limited in its allocation of additional resources, and the intervention supported, to increasing the number of ECD subsidies paid for children participating in registered ECD centres. The document makes no mention of increasing the sum of the subsidy or expanding its coverage to include non-centre based ECD programmes. The MTBPS priorities are limited to increasing the number of children receiving the ECD subsidy by 127 000, and possibly making funding available for “minor facility upgrades to about 4 000 ECD sites.”

If the MTBPS sets the policy priority framework for the next three years, this limited focus is cause for concern. There must be a shift, within the next three year funding cycle, in how we frame our ECD funding priorities and budget allocations to ensure that our new policies will be translated into meaningful change and lay the foundations for achieving the SDGs from the bottom up.

Patricia Martin


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.





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