Early Childhood Development: Progress report from Department of Basic Education

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

29 October 2014
Chairperson: Ms L Zwane (KwaZulu-Natal, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) gave its progress report on Early Childhood Development (ECD) from the educational standpoint, supplementing earlier presentations given to the Committee by other departments, notably the Department of Social Development (DSD) which had responsibility for ECD in children aged 0 to 4 years, whilst DBE took responsibility for development from age 5. The importance of ECD was highlighted by findings that delays in cognitive and overall development before schooling could often have long lasting and costly consequences for children, families and society. The Council of Education Ministers had met in September, and made recommendations that the DBE should concentrate on making improvements in Grade R for the next two years, meanwhile planning for roll-out of pre-Grade R programmes from ages 5 to 7. Closer working relations with the Department of Social Development (DSD) were needed. Minimum requirements for all ECD practitioners had to be raised to Level 4, by 2016, and to Level 6 by 2019.  Several departments had developed the "South African Integrated Programme of Action – Moving Ahead". In addition to  which was improved by Cabinet. In terms of the progress of Grade R Practitioners towards Level 6 by 2016 there will be no Grade R practitioner with qualification below NQF Level 4, and by 2019 no Grade R practitioner with qualification below Level 6. Legislation had to coincide with policy implementation, and other issues included scholar transport and nutrition for Grade R learners. The Heads of Education Departments Committee had been asked to draw up plans and costings. An audit had already been conducted by DSD to address inequalities, service level disparities and highlight challenges and ideal solutions. However, 1 439 of the 19 971 listed ECD centres could not be audited; some barred access, others could not be found and 932 had closed. The audit confirmed the needs for improvements and also emphasised the need to raise qualifications of ECD practitioners. The DSD would be taking the lead on the introduction of pre-Grade R years, and by 2019 all learners should have access to formal Grade R programmes of the DBE. In order to do this, there would have to be capacitation of departmental officials and ECD practitioners, and parental support was also being emphasised. A working committee was finalising proposals to be presented to the provinces, and ultimately to Cabinet.

Members asked if all schools had sufficient infrastructure and facilities to include Grade R, pointing out that lack of these was widening the gaps between school offerings. Several Members asked if there would be enough qualified Grade R practitioners, if they were adequately screened in terms of their personal circumstances and ability to teach, and expressed concern that the various departments were still working in silos, as was apparent from earlier presentations to the Committee that had mentioned different concerns and approaches. They urged that both the coordination and the overall vision must be strengthened. They expressed concern about how infrastructure issues would be tackled, and thought the budget needed did not match the realities on the ground. They asked specifically about the position in North West, and sought clarity on the role and function of the ECD Institute in Gauteng, wondering also if it would not be a good idea to replicate this in other provinces. They asked if any specific focus was placed on disabled children, particularly in the rural areas, asked about the ideal and actual learner to practitioner ratios, the profile of the current practitioners, whether those trained would be absorbed, and whether there was standardisation of curriculums in different schools. DBE also confirmed that it was aware of the need for greater coordination and was working on this.    

Meeting report

Early Childhood Development: Progress report from Department of Basic Education
Ms Marie-Louise Samuels: Director: Early Childhood Development: Department of Basic Education, noted that her progress report on Early Childhood Development (ECD) would focus on the challenges, the comments received from the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) during discussions on 18 and 19 September, an audit that had been conducted by the Department of Social Development (DSD), the programmes of actions, what would be done in the next few years, and best practices.  

Ms Samuels noted that certain key deliverables had been set for Early Childhood Development (ECD). She noted that early childhood development was particularly important because it had been found that delays in cognitive and overall development before schooling could often have long lasting and costly consequences for children, families and society. The most effective and cost-efficient time to intervene was before birth and during the child's early years of life. Investment in Early Childhood Development should be a key priority, as recognised in the National Development Plan (NDP) vision for 2030.

The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met on 19 and 20 September 2014. Recommendations coming out of that were that, in relation to pre-Grade R, the strategy should first focus on Grade R itself, and then consider rollout of programmes for the two years for the longer term, because in the longer term, policy amendments and adequate preparations for the two years of pre-grade R were needed. There was a need for the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to have closer working relationships with the Department of Social Development (DSD), which must be sustained. With immediate effect, the minimum requirements for practitioners of ECD should be raised to L4. In relation to Grade R, the Head of Education Department Committee (HEDCOM) should include L6 qualified practitioners currently in the system. There was a need for confirmation of their status in respect of staffing. Legislation services should finalise policy to coincide with implementation. Further issues to be addressed included those relating to scholar transport and nutrition for Grade R learners, which currently posed challenges. HEDCOM was asked to consider a plan for Grade R, taking into account all the above issues, and do a costing.

Ms Samuels said that the main purpose of the ECD audit conducted by DSD was to address inequalities, service level disparities and challenges of the sector, in collaboration with other initiatives, such as the development of the National ECD policy and programmes, and to develop a multi-pronged approach to improve the quality of ECD services. Speaking to the registration status of the 19 971 ECD centres in the country, she noted that a total of 1 439 centres could not be audited, as 354 centres had barred access, 943 had closed; and 132 could not be found. The report was therefore given on the remainder only.  The audit recommendations were to develop an ECD Improvement Strategy to address the findings by province, and specifically to prioritise the need to have a sufficient number of appropriately qualified practitioners.

Ms Samuels said that in order to improve the quality of ECD provisioning in the country, the Department of Social Development, together with the Departments of Health and Basic Education and other stakeholders had developed the South African Integrated Programme of Action – Moving Ahead. Cabinet approved the plan on 18 September 2013, with a directive that the costing be concluded with National Treasury.

Ms Samuels then gave more specifics on the progress. In regard to the recommendations about qualifications, she noted that by 2016, there would not be any Grade R practitioners with qualification below NQF Level 4, and by 2019 there would be no Grade R practitioners with qualifications below Level 6. On the additional two-year pre-planning exercise, she indicated that the Medium Term Strategic Framework: 2014-2019 made specific provision for planning for the introduction of a Pre-Grade R year, to be led by the Department of Social Development. In terms of targets, she said that  by 2019, all learners in Grade 1 would have had access to a formal Grade R programme (run by DBE); and by that year, the plan for the introduction of a Pre-Grade R year should also have been approved (the responsibility of DSD).

Ms Samuels said that the implications for the DBE, in terms of human resources, were that departmental officials must be capacitated, there should be training of ECD practitioners; and professionalisation of the ECD sector. The essential "package" included the stimulation of children’s learning and development, and parental support. To take the process forward, the working committee (with representatives from DBE, DSD, DoH and other departments) would now finalise the provincial consultations on the draft ECD Policy and Programmes. A detailed report on the process would be prepared for submission to the Social Cluster for recommendation to Cabinet. After approval a detailed, costed implementation plan with clear roles and responsibilities for the key departments would be developed.


Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) asked whether all the schools had facilities, noting that the DBE wanted to add other classes. He pointed out that although the Department wanted to add other Grade R classes, there were already many schools that could already not accommodate Grade R and the gap was growing between schools that were in towns and those in rural areas. He also asked if there were qualified teachers to teach Grade R, as in many schools at the moment, children were taught by unqualified people who did not even have Grade 12.

Ms L Dlamini (ANC, Mpumalanga) welcomed the presentation from the Department. She appreciated the work done so far although it was not yet complete. However, she noted that government was now working to ensure that every child was accommodated and given education, unlike the past, where only a few selected children were educated, which was the reason for backlogs, and the gap between those who did and did not have opportunities was increasing. She was concerned that the departments and sectors were still working in silos, and the Committee needed to know what was really happening in the ECD field. She noted that whilst the Committee had a picture of institutions that were in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, they were not quite up to best practices, since they were not talking with each other, and there was no exchange of the same information at Government on a national level. This was very important. The Committee Members would have liked to hear information that was more or less similar to what they had already heard in their meeting with the Department of Social Development. The coordination should be strengthened, so that there could be one overall vision. Members were now worried that what had been presented by one department was not mirrored in the presentation from another, and it could be that when the Department of Health came to speak to the Committee, it may tell yet another story. She stressed that the Members wanted to emphasise the importance of coordination.

Ms Dlamini said that her problem that departments were working in silos was illustrated by the presenter's bold statement that Local Government was responsible for infrastructure development. This was a heavy assumption, particularly since local government has no budget for infrastructure development. The Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) that was sent to municipalities was supposed to cover everything that had to do with infrastructure, like water, electricity, roads, sanitation, and this should not be in competition with other issues.

Ms Dlamini raised another concern - that after the investigation done by DSD, the required budget was estimated at R28 million, although now it had been stated at R17 billion, and not a single municipality got 500 million allocation for infrastructure. There was no way that municipalities could be expected to build, without a budget for infrastructure development.

Ms L Mathys (EFF, Gauteng) asked whether, for the North West, there was any information or statistics that showed that all children in the province who were eligible for Grade R were reached, because that had became an issue.

Ms Mathys asked what exactly was the role of the ECD Institute in Gauteng, or whether it was merely a coordinating body, to what extent it could ensure that it was reaching children, and how it would ensure that Grade R children and classes had access to proper equipment and proper nutrition. She also asked if it was known how many children were participating in Grade R programmes, and how many were not.

Ms Mathys said that the issue of training of Grade R practitioners was very critical because children in Grade R could be easily abused. She asked whether the practitioners were properly screened, in terms of how fit they were to teach, and how they could explain different tools for learning.

Mr D Stock (ANC, Northern Cape) said that in the 2014 State of the Nation Address (SONA) the President announced that ECD outreach had doubled since 2003, reaching 700 000, which surely placed a huge burden on the departments. The recognition of the importance of ECD placed a responsibility on the parents of a new born baby, for the baby to get a solid foundation for the future but it had huge potential to help children move away from poverty, because it built the child from an early age. He asked whether there was any synergy between the DBE and DSD, covering the ages of the children for whom each department was responsible. DSD took responsibility for the 0 – 4 age group and DBE from 4 years and up, and he wanted to know how any synergy translated into positive development for the child.

Ms T Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA, Western Cape) appreciated the visionary presentation from the Department. She asked whether enough accommodation had been built in for the "invisible" sector of the disabled. That had not been specifically unpacked in the current presentation, which had rather spoken to disability across the board. If there was attention paid to it, then she specifically wanted to know how disabilities were catered for under these programmes, in the rural areas.

Ms Mpambo-Sibhukwana asked for how long the Acting Director General had been in an acting position, and when it was planned to permanently fill the post, so that there could be concerted efforts on ECD in future.

She asked the Department also to elaborate on the infrastructure on model B schools.

The Chairperson asked what ratio was of teacher : learner at the level of ECD.

The Chairperson enquired what would happen to the remainder of the 5 000 ECD practitioners who were going to be trained by the DBE, and if only a percentage of them would be absorbed.

The Chairperson asked whether were there any other entities that worked with the DBE, with regard to ECD, including non-Governmental organisations.

The Chairperson wanted to know how far the DBE had gone with the standardisation of the curriculum, so that a child coming from any centre could be absorbed into any Grade 1 institution in the country.

Ms Samuels said that with respect to people that were working with children in rural and urban schools in Grade R, there was actually an ageing population, so there was not a situation where the majority of teachers were young or inexperienced, with most in the  30 to 55 year age group. As already indicated,the quality of qualifications was a challenge and it was something that the DBE had to deal with. In all the provinces there were people who were fully qualified to teach Grade R, as was indicated in the report, and from there, the Committee could see the number of people with full qualifications.

Ms Samuels said that the 20% the DBE was trying to absorb in the system were those who were currently there, but undergoing a 3 year training programme and DBE was hoping to absorb them as they reached the end of the training.

Ms Samuels said that the DBE was trying its best to strengthen coordination between the different departments and they all needed to look very carefully at the issue of infrastructure development. This issue had been taken to the National Treasury but the DBE did not get the allocation; as Members would know, it was hard to get money at the moment. But DBE was now looking seriously at what it had at its disposal. The DBE was trying to coordinate not only what Government was doing, but also the private sector, in terms of the corporate sector investment. Together with UNICEF, it was trying to bring in different corporate funding that was currently providing for the sector, in one plan, so as to ensure there was greater impact.

Ms Samuels said that the DBE had noted, and would take forward, the suggestion of establishing institutes in provinces. She promised to provide the Committee with information on the access, especially with regard to Grade R. She stressed that one of the main criteria for all people working with children in the registered ECD centres was screening. In the school sector, all Grade R practitioners had to be registered, and the DBE was putting systems in place to address full registration. The demand was apparent.. The DBE was starting to see successes in Grade R, but ECD remained a challenge when speaking of the early years falling outside the school ages.

Ms Samuels said that when the DBE started with the Grade R programme in 1998, 20% of the provision was with the state schools, and that was for the privileged few, whilst 80% provision of Grade R tended to be offered more in a home situation or community centres. Grade R seemed to be a great challenge when DBE started with Grade , but now it did not seem to be so large a challenge. Now that DBE had also embarked on the work for the pre-Grade R, it had discovered that there were ways of dealing with that too. The main  challenge was moving from a privately driven process to a publicly driven process, and that was what the DBE and DSD were trying to embark on at the moment.

Ms Samuels said that the plan for the introduction of the National Curriculum Framework Strategy did speak strongly about the issue of disabilities. This was an opportunity for the departments, which they would take in respect of all newly-born babies, screening all, and selecting how children would come into the programmes in terms of identifying what their needs were, and then putting in place mechanisms to support them. The DBE and DSD were working closely, and so were the DBE and DoH.

Ms Samuels reiterated that there were challenges around the infrastructure, but the DBE was aware of them and trying to address them.

She outlined that for Grade R, the teacher : learner ration was one ECD practitioner to every 25 to 30 learners. In the pre-Grade R, it was suggested that this should be around one practitioner to ten to twenty children, depending on the children's ages. Currently, some schools had up to 60 children in a Grade R class with one practitioner. The ideal was one thing but when it came to implementation there was a difference. She noted that the larger numbers happened mostly in poor schools because children were able to come to the school without paying fees, and they would be given access to the National Schools Nutrition Programme in Grade R.

Ms Samuels said that the Gauteng Institute played a the role of  coordination, and it was located with the Gauteng Provincial Department of Basic Education. It was set up by the Provincial Legislature and it had to report to the Legislature on what it was that was happening with ECD in the province, for all of the departments, not just within the Department of Education. It was monitoring programmes.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation for the presentation and responses and said the Committee was looking forward to the next engagement.

The meeting was adjourned.  

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