Looking back, it is clear from the recently published 2014/15 annual reports and strategic plans for the core ECD departments of Health, Social Development and Basic Education, that a number of important policy shifts have taken place. ECD is at the forefront of the national development agenda, and this is reflected in the prioritisation of programmes for the health, well-being and development of young children.
This is good news indeed. However, when viewed together with the budget limits in this year’s national allocations for ECD, it is clear that the shifts have not been robust enough to address some of the core challenges and gaps sought to be remedied by the new draft ECD policy. This is not unexpected, given that the draft policy is yet to be published in its final form. The Department of Social Development (DSD) has advised that this should be happening any day now.
When the shifts are unpacked against the policy, it is clear that there will have to be a more focused engagement by all line departments. The policy requires bigger budgets and programmes, so that:
- Not only that infants survive, but also that they thrive;
- That the youngest children under the age of two, and the most vulnerable children and their families have access to home- and community-based parenting support and early learning programmes;
- That children have access to enough nutrition to ensure they survive and thrive;
- That the quality of early learning and care programmes improve substantially so as to equalise opportunities for the development and learning of especially vulnerable children; and
- That all ECD programmes not only accommodate, but also provide quality services to children with developmental delays or disabilities.
The early learning and care shifts to date have very much taken place within the old centre-based ECD paradigm and the shifts in the health sector have not effected a decisive move towards child development – it is still primarily concerned with child survival.
The DSD will be conducting orientation workshops across all nine provinces once the policy is published in its final format. It is important that these workshops focus on laying the foundations for the necessary shifts in thinking at a line department level to ensure that the next planning cycle focusses on the ECD priorities highlighted in the policy and above.
Read what the Department of Social Development says on ECD here.
Read what the Department of Basic Education says on ECD here.
Read what the Department of Health says on ECD here.
The 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.