The Portfolio Committees of three departments -- Basic Education, Social Development and Health --came together in a joint meeting coordinated by the Portfolio Committee for Basic Education to discuss the implementation of Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes. A joint presentation was made which reflected situational analysis of Early Childhood Development (ECD), the integration plan, health inputs by the National Department of Health and the challenges faced in the process of implementing the programme across the country.
The discussions covered the efforts made to integrate departments having concurrent responsibilities and being stakeholders in the ECD programme. The inputs of all the stakeholders were needed to complete the national integrated policy which was intended to provide an overarching multi-sectoral enabling framework of ECD services for the national, provincial and local spheres of government. The challenge faced by the integration process was mainly the lack of cooperation of some of the departments, among which were the Departments of Energy, Science and Technology, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), and the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).
The Members of the Joint Committee asked why other Departments had not come on board with the integration plan, what was being done to bring other important departments on board, the implications of departments not coming on board, whether a uniform fee was charged across the provinces in the ECD centres, how much the subsidy per child was, what plans had been made to ensure that ECD was available to the farm communities, and why outdated research information was used as the basis for ECD activities and reporting.
Ms Gina welcomed the delegates from three departments -- the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the Department of Social Development (DSD), and the National Department of Health (NDOH). She said the joint meeting was taking place in an effort to shape the future of South African learners. She had received apologies from the Ministers of Basic Education and Social Development.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked what the implications of the absence of the Department of Social Development on the meeting were.
Chairperson responded that the presentation was a joint presentation and would cover the three Departments, which included Social Development, and any question that could not be answered would subsequently be forwarded to the DSD.
“Black Monday” demonstrations: Update
Dr Mamiki Maboya, Deputy Director General: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring, DBE, gave a brief update on the disruption caused by the ‘black Monday’ demonstrations to the final Grade 12 examinations. She said the two papers which were slotted for the morning session had been affected by the demonstration, as students were not able to get to the examination centres or had arrived later than scheduled. The situation affected students in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Mechanisms to arrest the situation had been put in place and students who arrived late at the centres were allowed to write the examinations. The Department had put in a mechanism for the learners who were not able to write the examination, and had issued a statement in that regard which could be accessed on its website.
Ms Gina thanked Dr Maboya for the update.
Mr N Mabika (NFP) welcomed the update, and was happy about how the Department had handled it. He also highlighted the fear that the taxi strike might affect the Matric examination in some parts of the country.
Early Childhood Development: Situational Report
Dr Maboya gave a situational report on the state of early childhood development (ECD) in the country. She said that there were more than 8.2m children between the ages of 0 and 6 years, according to the 2015 midyear population estimates. The largest numbers were in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, with 23% and 20% respectively, and the lowest were in the Northern Cape (NC) and Free State, with 2% and 5% respectively. The burden of poverty was distributed unequally across provinces, and the majority of poor children were black, living predominantly in the rural provinces of Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KZN.
The purpose of the national integrated ECD policy was to provide an overarching multi-sectoral enabling framework of ECD services, inclusive of national, provincial and local spheres of government. The short-term goals of the Department on ECD were to establish the necessary legal framework(s), organisational structures and institutional arrangements, and to plan finance mechanisms necessary to support and realise its commitments. The medium-term goal was to provide age appropriate and essential components for quality ECD services, accessible to all infants and young children and their caregivers. The long term goal was targeted at providing a full comprehensive age and development stage appropriate package of quality ECD development services, accessible to all infants and young children and their caregivers. The short, medium and long term goals were targeted for 2014, 2024 and 2030 respectively.
The roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders were mapped out, and the responsibilities of the key departments were highlighted. She explained the need for interdepartmental collaboration, which had initiated the South African Inter-Sectoral Forum for Early Childhood Development. The ECD national integrated implementation plan had been drafted with assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Most of the departments concerned had given their inputs, except for a few departments that were yet to respond. There had been engagements with the Department of Cooperative Development and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), which was a key stakeholder at the local level.
Copies of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) had been distributed. A total of 92 750 copies had been distributed and the curriculum was also accessible via the website. Efforts had been made to ensure that blind parents and practitioners and deaf children had access to the programme.
The challenges facing the ECD programme were obtaining accurate and timely information from provinces due to the lack of reliable data collection and information systems, staff shortages, lack of cooperation from COGTA and some other departments that had not responded to the call, and the lack of sufficient human capacity at national and provincial levels.
She explained some of the actions to combat these challenges. The conditional grant framework had been approved in December 2016 and became operational on 1 April 2017. There had been under-spending of the fund by the provinces, as they had spent a total of R91 749 678, which was only 52% of grant transferred to them in the second quarter. She also described the effort of the DBE to ensure that ECD practitioners were trained, and that existing educators were able to achieve a minimum of National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level four. The recommendation put before the Committee was that the joint committee should discuss the joint briefing put forward by the three departments.
Ms Gina said that the information provided did not give a clear indication of the state of ECD in the country.
Mr D Mnguni (ANC, PC Basic) observed that the report stipulated that ECD catered for children between the ages of 0 to 4 years, which he believed was not the case. He was happy about the collaboration with civil society and other departments, and asked if there clear guidelines on training standards and accountability. Which Department was responsible for monitoring the ECD facilities, and how were they monitored? Also, were there norms, standards and guidelines in terms the fees charged by the ECD for per child?
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF, PC Health) asked why the situational analysis was based on information derived from research conducted in 2004. She expected that new research would have been conducted, since the Department was connected with a university that could help with the research. The possibility that the information had changed was high and this would make a difference to the plans of the departments. Since it was already the end of 2017, there was a need to have information on the establishment of the necessary legal framework, which had been listed as a short term goal aimed to be achieved in 2017 -- and it was already the end of 2017. She requested information on the establishment of the legal framework. She observed that the ECD implementation plan which had been drafted excluded the contributions of some of the departments. Getting some departments, including COGTA, on board posed a challenge -- what was the DBE planning to do to bring COGTA on board? She said the departments had problems with human resources (HR) and infrastructure, and wanted to know how the data that was presented to the Committee had been derived, despite the challenges mentioned.
Mr M Mabika (NFP, PC Basic) asked what the requirements were for people who were accepted to work as ECD practitioners, and if they were screened by checking their criminal records. Why was there no training in the provinces already identified as poor provinces -- such provinces should be prioritised since they were mentioned as poor provinces in the report.
Ms H Boshofff (DA, PC Basic) said that during the ANC’s fifth national policy conference, the Minister had said that ECD as a line item would move from the DSD to the DBE. If this was true, the information would help to identify who should be held responsible for ECD activities. She said that disability was a dire situation, and if the nation were to move forward on empowering people with disabilities, there was a need for the priorities to reflect that. She also wanted to know the number of practitioners trained in the use of Braille, and those who would train the deaf, and how they were distributed among the provinces. She asked what measures were in place to make sure that the curriculum programmes were qualitative.
Ms J Basson (ANC, PC Basic) said during the Basic Education PC’s oversight visits, it had been seen that ECD was a job creation opportunity, where most of the workers were below Matric level. She asked what efforts the Department was making to ensure that there were qualified and trained teachers. What means had the departments adopted to inform parents not to register their children with unqualified care givers? During the oversight visits, it was discovered that any kind of facility was used as a classroom, which showed the need for more ECD facilities. She asked what criteria were used to qualify as an ECD centre.
Ms Mashabela asked the departments to state which department was the main coordinator of the ECD programme. She wanted to know the statistics per province. As an example, she did not know of any ECD centre in her ward. How did the Department measure what happened in the ECD centres? She also commented that the Department of Home Affairs was not mentioned in the report, but noted that it was a stakeholder.
Dr Maboya said the learners who were not in a formal school and below the age of five were the responsibility of the DSD. The general definition of early childhood development would include ages 0 to 9 years, but the report referred to children 0 to five years who would be catered for by the DSD.
Ms Musa Ngcobo-Mbere, Chief Director: ECD, National Department of Social Development, said the DSD should do the monitoring of the activities of ECD centres. The registrations were in levels, and had to do with the number of children registered, the ratio of teachers to learners, and safety. These were all requirements considered before the registration of an ECD centre. Some of the pupils were charged, based on the income of their parents. Payments for the poor children were paid through the child support grant.
Ms Gina asked if the Department was moving towards the realisation of the goal of the ECD. Though the ECD programme aimed for a maximum of 30 learners per ECD centre, she observed that there were often more than 30 learners in the centres. In general, the subsidy catered for a minimal number of learners. She asked why limited numbers of learners were provided for
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere said that until an integrated data collection system was available, which would be updated in real time so that it could provide verifiable data, it would be difficult to identify the number of ECD centres, learners, locations and gaps available in the centres. An integrated data collection system should be available in a year’s time. Although some practitioners slipped through the process, they were often screened through the child protection registers before they were employed. She said until stated otherwise, the DSD was the current coordinating department, and that explained why the Minister had been made the Chairperson of the interdepartmental committee.
Ms Anita Samaad, Senior Specialist, Department of Social Development, said there were norms and standards stipulated by legislation. A centre must present an environmental health certificate subsequent to registration by the Department of Social Development.
Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Director: ECD, DBE, said three provinces had indicated that they would not provide training in the current year due to limited budget. Help was being sought from some organisations to provide assistance for those provinces. To ensure that practitioners were qualified, the Department was working on making sure that new practitioners and those working within the educational systems and the ECD centres possessed the minimum qualifications. It would also ensure that training was done by accredited providers. She identified one of the challenges as the private ownership of ECD centres, which posed a difficulty in controlling the human resource activities. She said the provision to train all the practitioners would be made available in the HR strategy.
Ms Gina asked which Department was solely responsible for the training of practitioners.
Ms Samuels responded that the DBE was responsible for ensuring that educators were qualified and at the NQF Four level. It coordinated all the training across the provinces, including the non-government organisations (NGOs) through the national training curriculum sub-committee. This was to eliminate unaccredited training providers and eliminating the chances of a practitioner receiving training from several training providers.
Dr Maboya she said the data was used because it had influenced the development of the policy that was approved in 2015. She appreciated the contribution of Dr Thembekwayo on the use of outdated data.
Mr D Khosa (ANC, PC Basic) asked which departments other than COGTA had not come on board in the collaboration process. He also asked what the solution was, to make sure that COGTA came on board. He asked what criteria were used in the selection of children that were subsidised, where not all the children in an ECD centre were catered for. Was there a standard requirement for infrastructure, especially regarding classrooms and toilets? What was the intention for the establishment of ECD centres – was it for job creation or the training of children?
Ms N Mokoto (ANC PC Basic) said the Committee had received a report on a project that targeted early childhood education, and asked how the departments were leveraging on the project. She asked why there were still challenges, because the presentation had expressed clarity on the role of individual departments in the integrated approach to ECD.
Mr I Ollis (DA, PC Basic) said there were no uniform set of rules for ECD centres across the provinces, and recommended that the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) should promote uniformity of rules for ECD across the provinces. He asked for the number of unregistered centres, and what the departments were doing to register them. He said the North West should have more ECD centres than the Northern Cape because the population of the North West was larger, but the report indicated that there were fewer activities in the North West.
Ms Mokoto observed that there were 8m children eligible, and it would nice to know what percentage of that was catered for by the ECD centres, and the areas within the provinces that were catered for by ECD.
Dr P Maesela (ANC, PC Health) said the ECD programme was for the public good and submitted that it was the foundation on which the national democratic society would be based, and which would be achieved concurrently with the fourth industrial revolution. If the basics for the industrial revolution were not created, the country would be a victim. He said health should be built into the strategies to ensure that optimal effort was put into achieving the mandate.
Mr A Mahlalela (ANC, PC Health) asked if there was a subsidy formula, and whether the subsidy formula was based on a national norm and standard, or if the provinces decided. He asked for the values of the subsidy. He said the use of outdated figures of 2004 could jeopardise the progress of the ECD. Although the integrated school programme was one of the key elements for ECD, the report did not deal with the integrated school programme, especially those that had to do with children’s performances at school.
Ms C Ndaba (ANC, PC Health) said it was not indicated whether children who were reported screened were also treated when found to be ill. She expressed her concern that the integrated school programme was excluded. What was critical for the health sector was the health of the children. She asked what the impact would be of some of the departments not cooperating. and how would it affect the plan. She needed clarification on the responsibilities of the other departments that were listed as stakeholders in the report.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC, Chairperson PC Health) asked if the Department had a plan on how to ensure that all the employees working with children were adequately screened. She said the response of DBE that some of the workers slipped through the screening process was not expected. It was expected that the Department would explain the efforts made to address the issues of people slipping through the screening process. She asked if there was a plan to involve the children in the farm communities. Was it possible for the Health Committee to get a copy of the curriculum so that the health sector could make an input into it?
Ms Gina said the importance of the ECD programme was to lay a background for children. She asked if the Department could proudly say that the nation was moving towards achieving the stated objective. Some of the teaching aids mentioned in the presentations were not often seen during oversight visits by the Committee, and the issue of working relations was still a challenge. She emphasised the need for more joint committee meetings.
Dr Maboya said the report listed only the departments whose inputs were outstanding, of which COGTA was one. However, COGTA had been singled out because of its vital role in the process, and the Department would also take the input from Mr Ollis. She said for an educator to be identified as a practitioner; a minimum of NQF 7 must be attained. The struggle in respect of the departments working together was a fundamental challenge, and she promised that the departments would overcome the challenge with the structure that had been put in place, which included a monthly interdepartmental meeting.
She said it was acknowledged that the data was outdated, but it was put forward to measure performance from the time of the research. Children not being at school in some places could be due to a number of challenges, and it would be difficult to say exactly why the children were not at school. The ECD programme was intended for the children, and job creation was a by-product. The integrated policy required inputs from all stakeholders, and COGTA was an important role player in the process.
Ms Ngcobo-Nbere said the time frames stipulated for the implementation plan had been exceeded because of the challenge of working with other departments. She said 24 departments were on board, and the departments highlighted were those that were outstanding. Letters had been written to the Ministers of these departments to ensure that they were brought on board. A financing strategy by the Department revealed that 60% of the children were from poor homes. Only 70% of the children could be covered with the existing financial and human resource capacity.
There were norms and standards for registering the ECD centres, although some centres admitted more than they were registered for. The sector was particularly challenging, because it used to be informal and was currently in the process of being formalised and standardised. This posed an initial challenge which the departments were working hard to overcome.
The subsidy to children was R15 per child per day, with the exception of KZN, that gave R17. The number of days to be paid for was currently under consideration.
Before provinces registered the ECD centres, they checked if the workers had been vetted, although there were issues of human resource capacity in the provinces. There were donors assisting for the peri-farming communities, working in containers and in mobile ECD centres. Donors were being sought to assist in the rural areas and working towards formalising the non-centre based ECD for children aged from 0 to two years, because parents preferred this to center-based ECDs for this age category.
Ms Dunjwa said the rural areas and farming communities were quite different.
Ms Ndaba suggested that the DG should do an oversight visit to the farm comunities to have a better understanding of the question asked by the Chairperson of the Health Committee.
Ms Gina said the meeting was a background to other meetings that would feature in times to come.
Ms Ntombi Mazibuko, Director: Child, Youth and School Health, National Department of Health, said the integrated school health programme kicked in when the child entered a formal school programme in grade R. She had noted the concerns around learners that were screened and did not know if screened learners were treated when found to be ill. She said the nutrition was important for pregnant women. She believes that they were making strides on the ECD. Early antenatal care was increasing, and mothers were delivering in health facilities more than before.
Ms Gina thanked the delegates from the Department, and asked if there was anyone whose question had not been answered.
Ms Dunjwa said she had not received a response on whether she would be provided with the curriculum.
Mr Mahlalela said there had been no response on the list of the locations of the ECD centres. There had also been no mention of engagement with traditional leaders. He said they should not be contacted through COGTA. He asked what measures were in place to ensure that learners from ages 0 to four were in school.
Ms Boshoff said there should be more than just one meeting with the DBE per annum. She asked what measures were in place to ensure that learners younger than school going age were in pre-school because of the significance in children’s cognitive development. She also asked what the provisions of ECD were in respect to transportation and the safety of disabled learners.
Dr Maboya responded that the Department would make the curriculum and the list of locations available. What she had learnt from the meeting was the need for better data management. She pointed out that the Department had earlier identified data management as a challenge. She said it had been an enriching engagement, and she would be able to provide segregated and aggregated data when the data integration system was in place. Through the meeting, the Department had also been made aware that advocacy programmes should be improved, and all the questions that were asked would sharpen the focus of the departments towards improving performance and preparing a presentation in the future.
Ms Dunjwa said she was agreement with Mashelela that such meetings should take a whole day so that issues could be better dealt with. She said that there was a difference between a crèche and an ECD centre. ECD was a concept that could improve the lives of the people. She encouraged the delegates to learn from the questions raised by the Members during the discussion.
The meeting was adjourned.