On 6 September 2016, the Departments of Social Development (DSD) and Basic Education (DBE) made another presentation to the Basic Education Parliamentary Portfolio Committee. The minutes of the briefing and Q&A can be viewed here.

The Departments noted that they, along with the Department of Health (DoH), were the primary duty-bearers, (supported by other departments as well as local government) for the implementation of ECD as per the newly adopted National Integrated Policy for ECD.

The briefing started with the DSD providing a good overview of the new policy and the policy and programming milestones to be met in the short-, medium- and longer-term. The policy gives effect to the concept of ECD as a period of development which starts at birth and continues until children enter formal schooling. It was further noted that it is integrated in nature, with multiple services having to be provided to secure the optimal development of all children across the many developmental domains, not just their cognitive development through early learning services.

Ms Conny Nxumalo, the Deputy Director General: Welfare Services, Department of Social Development, reported that R 17 billion had been approved by Cabinet as a Conditional Grant to support implementation of the policy which is to be implemented in three phases:

  1. Preparatory work will be completed by 2017. At a cost of R265.6m for one financial year, it will involve the establishment of the necessary legal frameworks, organisational structures and institutional arrangements, planning, financing mechanisms necessary to support and realise the policy commitments.
  2. The second phase, to be completed by 2024 at an estimated cost of R13.8 billion would focus on making essential ECD services available and accessible to all young children and their caregivers.
  3. The third and longer-term plan which would take up the remaining 47% of budget, of R12.5 billion, will focus on the provisioning of the comprehensive package of quality ECD development services provided for by the policy.

Ms Nxumalo reported on significant progress towards implementation of the policy. She observed specifically that:

  1. The DSD and other partners had aligned their ECD planning documents such as the South African Integrated Programme of Action with the ECD policy which from here on forward will guide all sectoral planning.
  2. National Treasury has allocated R812 million in the form of a Conditional Grant for ECD in 2017/18 (R319 828 000) and 2018/19 (R493 065 000) for increasing the number of children subsided by 100 040 and to improve infrastructure at 400 ECD sites by 2018/19.
  3. A process was under way to review and align local government by-laws with the Policy through the programme for Rapid Assessment of Local Government By-Laws. The objective of the programme is to harmonise by-laws with the policy and make it easier for registration and services of ECD and services to young children in different municipalities. A study on which the next phase of the programme will be based, which was conducted in eight metros and municipalities in 2015, found inconsistencies in by-laws and all, but 9, demonstrated some capacity to implement ECD services.
  4. Through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), about 28 000 ECD work opportunities were being created across the nine provinces in the 2016/17 financial year. These were contributed through DSD and DBE.
  5. The first draft of the report on the audit of HR capacity in the DSD, DOH and DBE at national and provincial level had been presented. This revealed some human resources difficulties and the Minister of Higher Education and Training had gazetted the Draft Policy on minimum requirements for programmes leading to qualifications in Higher Education for practitioners and educators in Early Childhood Care and Education. Additionally, the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) registered the Occupational Certificate: Early Childhood Development Practitioner at Level 4 on 17 February 2016.

Despite this impressive start, what is of some concern is the still, limited understanding by Parliamentarians, of ECD, the integrated nature of the services that must be provided, and which key departments must be held to account through the country’s parliamentary processes.

Parliament noted with some level of glibness that “They felt that the policy was good in theory but it must be taken through to full effect. The need for properly directed funding was stressed”. The reality is that it is an ambitious document that requires significant changes and budgetary allocations by leading departments. Notably, the Policy emphasizes that development must be supported from birth, and that as a country, we have neglected the first two years of development. The Policy thus prioritises the development, funding, implementation and accountability for services, notably parenting support and early learning services, in the 1st 100 days (or pregnancy and the 1st two years of the child’s life).  The DoH is the primary duty-bearer for the provision of all of these services in the 1st 100 days in terms of the ECD policy. Despite this, it was not part of the briefing, and no questions were raised by the Committee Members as to their absence.

Parliament is going to have to play a leading role in driving the translation of the policy into concrete action on the ground, and must hold the responsible role players to account. To do this effectively, it must understand the integrated and comprehensive nature of the national ECD imperative far better than the questions and comments of the Portfolio Committees suggest it does.

There were no questions posed about the absence of the DoH as the leading agency for the 1st 100 days, or questions about the progress made in filling the core programmatic gaps in parenting support and early learning services for children under the age of two years. Questions revealed a very limited understanding of ECD as an issue of centre-based learning for the pre-school years – a perception or understanding which the Policy is at great pains to undo. The Committee’s questions focused on the status of centres, how many children were accessing these, and the employment status of centre practitioners.

Parliament is a key role player and will be central to success of the Policy through its oversight role. However, this will only succeed and add value to the national ECD imperatives, if Parliament is conversant and understands the full import of the policy, what the most pressing interventions are, and who the lead role players are that should be accounting to it. Its focus must shift from ECD as centre-based learning to ECD as parental support from birth, provided under the leadership of the DOH. Civil society can play a strong supporting role and work closely with the various portfolio committees to understand and unlock the full developmental potential of the new ECD Policy.

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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