South Africa: Basic Education Committee Welcomes ECD Migration Progress, but Concerns Remain


During an update briefing yesterday on the migration of early childhood development (ECD) from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the Chairperson of the Basic Education portfolio committee, Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba expressed concerns about whether the project is implementable. "The intentions are honourable," she said, "however, serious questions remain about the readiness and preparedness for the move when the migration took place."

The migration of functions occurred in 2022. The shift of functions follows an announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his 2019 State of the Nation Address, in which he said: "Over the next five years, we will focus our attention on expanding access to early childhood development and improving early-grade reading, where we are already beginning to see progress."

Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba explained further, saying that moving ECD to the Basic Education department has allowed more resources to be devoted to it and ensured that through cooperative governance various other government departments are also involved in supporting it.

In yesterday's meeting, Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba said the committee has noted the DBE's progress and commends them for it. The committee heard that around 1.3 million children aged three to five years old are not yet attending any form of early learning facility and only 45% of children in early learning programmes are developmentally on track. The DBE informed the committee that key priorities for 2024 for ECD are mass registration, resource provisioning, scaling up access, parenting support and improved coordination.

As part of its plans to achieve these goals, the DBE intends to implement a new mass registration drive targeting the 20 000 unregistered ECD programmes and which will provide them with conditional registration for one year. During this year, the DBE and municipalities will support ECD programmes to become compliant through the provision of pre-registration support packs, after which they will be required to apply for full registration.

Committee Member Nombuyiselo Adoons raised concerns about the slow registration of ECDs since the migration and was assured that the planned mass registration drive for this year is intended to address just that.

The DBE further stated that short-term legislative reform for ECD is needed, to address the defects of the Children's Act and ensure that the department achieves its ECD goals and priorities. To this end, the department plans to table the Children's Amendment Bill, which will require all ECD programmes to register with the department. Independent community-based programmes, private programmes, non-profit organisations and micro-enterprises will all be required to register in terms of the amendment. Meanwhile, the DBE was clear to state that registration does not equate to funding.

The DBE also assured the committee that it has comprehensively redrafted the Bill with input from the Technical Task Team. The new Bill is called the Children's Amendment Bill 2023 and is expected to be advertised for public comment this month.

The committee also heard that the 2030 strategy for early learning includes scaling up access in order to achieve universal access to quality ECD by prioritising the most vulnerable children. The DBE intends to deliver ECD on the six social justice principles: access, quality, redress, equity, inclusivity and efficiency.

Its plans includes implementing the National Parenting Programme by training 16 000 parents in the most vulnerable communities. The DBE has partnered with Hope World Wide to support a further 2 200 parents in the most vulnerable communities to understand more about playful parenting practices.

The DBE told the committee that holistic ECD services are dependent on strong coordination and integration. The Inter-Ministerial Committee, as proposed in the National Integrated ECD Policy (2015), includes six core departments - the departments of Basic Education, Health, Social Development, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, National Treasury, and Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

Another Committee Member, Mr Baxolilie Nodada said South Africa does not have the luxury of years to fix the ECD system, nor does it have the years to help 10-year-olds to read with meaning. He said it is not acceptable to say these plans will see the light of day within five to 10 years.

The DBE conceded that the current funding for ECD is inadequate. The overall ECD budget for the 2023/24 financial year was R3.912 billion, this entailed R205 million in the national budget vote, R1.184 billion in the Conditional Grant, and R2.523 billion through the Equitable Share. This allocation is insufficient to cover all children currently in ECD programmes and eligible to benefit from the ECD subsidy. A substantial increase in the ECD allocation is required to cover all children eligible to receive the subsidy, as access is continuously expanded.

Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba concluded by saying that although the committee notes the progress made thus far, it still has concerns. "When the migration was conceived, did you consider if it would be implementable? ... We need to be honest where there are shortcomings. What are the plans for learners with special needs in ECD? These plans are clearly noteworthy with great intentions, but we are concerned about the planning phase prior to migration."

Rajaa Azzakani

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