The Portfolio Committee received a comprehensive progress report from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the shift of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) function to the DBE from the Department of Social Development (DSD).
The Committee heard that 1.3 million children aged between three and five were not yet attending any form of early learning. The DBE said the access gap was currently unknown for the 3.5 million children aged up to two years. Only 45% of children accessing early learning were developmentally on track. A total of 66% of the poorest children were not in early learning programmes (ELPs) compared to 36% of the wealthiest.
The DBE said that according to its new service delivery model -- after taking over this function -- all children in South Africa should have access to opportunities for learning through standardised quality ELPs, good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security and responsive caregiving. These services should be delivered through the various government departments, which would need to be held accountable for implementation and outcomes. The Committee heard that the current focus was on dealing with urgent priorities and building enduring systems. The plan was to provide universal access to quality early learning and care in safe and compliant spaces; to implement the National Curriculum Framework (NCF); be properly resourced; have trained staff; and include larger groups.
According to the DBE, the new system would focus on people, and start by understanding where children and families were, and what their needs and the gaps were. It intended to use a local lens, meaning the optimal mix of services would be defined at the local level, depending on the area and its identified needs. Service delivery would no longer be provider-led or market-led, but rather state-led. The government would also target resources where the need was greatest to achieve equity and redress. Population-based planning would ensure the government could achieve its social justice goals of equity, redress, access, inclusivity and efficiency in ECD service delivery. The DBE would need up-to-date data on current ECD services and demographic data in each education district to achieve this.
The Committee noted that the current Children’s Act was not suited to support the service delivery model of the basic education sector. It had been created according to the role and mandate of the DSD, and was undermining progress towards the DBE’s priorities for ECD access and quality. Short-term legislative reform for ECD was needed to address the defects of the Children’s Act to enable early progress towards the Department's ECD goals.
Members emphasised the importance of ECD for learners’ brain development, which impacted children’s social-cognitive skills and emotional development, and also reduced social challenges such as alcohol and substance abuse. This was the core of what South Africa wanted to achieve as a community-based country. They noted concerns about monitoring resources and the funding available to ECD programmes. They also requested clarity on what strategies would be implemented to address the high number of learners not enrolled in ECDs.
Members commended the progress made thus far since the ECD function had moved to the DBE. They would closely monitor the progress of this very important function. This was where the foundation for education was laid for learners, and a solid system was therefore needed to ensure progress for all learners, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Progress report on ECD function shift
Ms Simone Geyer, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Planning and Delivery Oversight, Department of Basic Education (DBE), presented a comprehensive progress report on the early childhood development (ECD) function shift. The DBE had embarked on three strands of research to inform the planning for increasing access and improving the quality of ECD provisioning.
In its approach to a service delivery model, the Department's non-negotiables were that all children in South Africa should have access to:
- Learning opportunities - standardised quality early learning programmes (ELPs).
- Good health.
- Adequate nutrition.
- Safety and security.
- Responsive caregiving.
These services should be delivered through the various departments needing to be held accountable for implementation and outcomes.
Ten pillars supported the ECD service delivery model. It was a publicly planned, publicly coordinated and publicly funded mixed provisioning model. The goal was universal access to quality early learning and cared in a range of safe and compliant spaces; implementation of the national curriculum framework (NCF); being properly resourced and having trained staff; and having larger groups.
Planning for ECD was population-based -- it focuses on people, and starts by understanding where children and families are, their needs, and the gaps. Using a local lens, the optimal mix of services was defined at the local level, depending on the area and its identified needs. The government leads, so delivery was no longer provider-led or market-led, but state-led. The government targets resources where the need is greatest, to achieve equity and redress. In these ways, population-based planning ensures government could achieve its social justice goals of equity, redress, access, inclusivity and efficiency in ECD service delivery.
Work was currently underway to strengthen delivery systems. A comprehensive research piece on the possible long-term solution provided very valuable insights into future options. The DBE was currently finalising this research piece and would present the findings once they have been thoroughly work-shopped with the steering committee.
The current ECD regulatory framework was the Children’s Act, which became law in 2005. The consolidated regulations (including norms and standards) were then published in 2010.
Chapter 5 of the Act deals with partial care facilities. ECD programmes were identified as one type of partial care. The chapter sets out processes and requirements for the registration and funding of partial care.
Chapter 6 of the Act deals solely with ECD programmes. The definition of ECD programmes was broad and also includes, for example, toy libraries and home visiting programmes. The chapter sets out processes and requirements for registering and funding ECD programmes.
There were separate sets of norms and standards for both chapters. This means two sets of norms and standards currently apply to centre-based ECD provision.
The 2022 Presidential Proclamation gave the Minister of Basic Education responsibility for Chapter 6 and for Chapter 5 insofar as they relate to ECD programmes. This means that these sections of the Act were now the responsibility of the DBE, and provincial education departments.
Short-term legislative reform for ECD was needed, which addresses the defects of the Children’s Act so that the DBE could make early progress towards its ECD goals.
Ms Geyer described the next steps in the process, and said the current implementation of the comprehensive package of services to all children needed to be strengthened to ensure that all role players were playing their part. The Inter-Ministerial Committee would strengthen inter-departmental collaboration and coordination, since this committee would be responsible for driving the delivery of integrated services to children.
The immediate next steps were:
- Building on the work done by the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) on developing a service delivery model.
- Receiving the Cuban specialist to expand the DBE's understanding of the Cuban service delivery model.
- Further engaging with the Finland researchers on their model of curriculum implementation and programmes.
- Agreeing on priority focus areas and plan of action for the "reducing red tape" initiative.
- Further changes to the Children’s Amendment Bill for ministerial approval and gazetting.
- Completing National Treasury bids for the incremental increase in funding to the ECD sector and a re-imagined ECD employment initiative.
- Ministerial newsletter on ECD to mark one year since the function shift.
- Conducting and concluding research on ECD/public-private partnerships (PPPs) and service commissioning.
- Developing a qualifications framework for the Human Resource Development Programme (HRDP).
- Finalising and adopting the ECD subsidy guidelines.
- Finalising the deep-dive study on the implementation of the National Curriculum Framework.
- Finalising the Children’s Amendment Bill for gazetting.
- Streamlining the regulatory framework between the DBE and local government.
- Developing a concept document on the results-based financing initiative.
- Developing the Human Resource Development Plan.
- Procuring minimum early learning resource packs for 23 500 ELPs.
- Developing a service delivery model, building on lessons from the Cuban model.
- Revising the national integrated ECD policy to reflect the DBE’s service delivery model.
- Identifying under-utilised and under-resourced infrastructure with local government for refurbishment.
- Provinces to pilot centres of excellence.
- Developing a concept model of the re-imagined employment stimulus initiative.
- A management information system scoped and developed for ECD.
- Implementing the service delivery model as per a detailed costed implementation plan.
- The Children’s Amendment Bill being passed to bring an interim solution to the regulatory framework.
- ECD-specific legislation drafted, building on recommendations from the scoping study.
- Re-imagined employment initiative implemented.
- Results-based financing initiative implemented.
- Practitioners trained and capacitated as per the human resource development plan.
- Management information system implemented for ECD.
The presentation is attached hereto for further details.
Ms M van Zyl (DA) emphasised the importance of ECD for learners’ brain development, which impacts children’s social-cognitive skills and emotional development. Further, it reduces social challenges such as alcohol and substance abuse. This was the core of what South Africa wanted to achieve as a community-based country.
She asked a series of questions about what resources and funding were available for ECD programmes. How was the funding allocated and monitored? How was the ECD integrated with social services such as primary health care and welfare?
She also requested clarity on what strategies would be implemented to address the high number of learners not enrolled in ECDs. She was particularly concerned about ensuring the accessibility of learners from marginalised backgrounds and learners with disabilities to quality ECD programmes.
She asked how the involvement of parents would be promoted. In research and education, she asked how the effectiveness of ECD programmes would be measured. How was the information used to inform policy and best practices?
She said that the infrastructure challenges were the most concerning, and asked how the DBE would resolve them.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) noted with concern that only 600 000 learners had received their ECD subsidy, while over four million were eligible. She asked whether the reason was based on a lack of budgetary availability, or a lack of applications for the subsidy.
She asked how many ECDs accommodate learners with special needs, and train educators accordingly per province. What was the overall ECD budget?
She referred to the infrastructure and scholar transport challenges highlighted in the presentation, and asked what progress had been made by the Department.
She requested clarity on the transition of early learning programmes from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the DPE. She said the move had been too abrupt and the DBE was structurally incapable of managing the transition.
Mr B Nodada (DA) asked for an update on the annual reports on the progress of learners across the board. In the presentation, he noted the particular challenge of budgetary constraints to maintain the ECD shift, based on the number of learners to be catered for in the system. He said that most ECDs in the country were community-based -- it was a “bottoms-up” approach. The public education system was inundated with demands. The shift of ECD to the DBE increased the budgetary demands.
He asked if the DBE had conducted comparative research on piloting the best practices of Lithuania and Finland, where a school voucher system was used as part of the budgetary process. The voucher system created opportunities for private and public partnerships. It also assisted parents who were unable to afford to register their children for ECD education.
Secondly, he questioned the adoption of the "thrive-by-five" initiative. He asked how South Africa would develop its own ECD model and the timeframe for completion. He stressed the challenges facing some learners, such as limited reading skills. How could the curriculum and ECD development strategy contribute to alleviating the challenges? Was research in the pipeline, and would it be implemented?
On the budgets, he referenced the national school nutrition programme and subsidies provided to ECD learners, and noted the limited funding available to eligible learners. He asked what strategies were in place to improve the availability of funding to eligible learners, particularly in the context of legislative developments.
Thirdly, he asked the DBE how it would address learners’ developmental and quality teaching delays. What strategies and targets were in place? On the subsidies for parents, would the DBE partner with the DSD and social workers, such as providing information packages on social grants?
He also asked whether the Department had scoped the number of registered and unregistered ECDs. Were there sufficient ECDs to accommodate learners, and would the registration red tape be reduced? On the legal developments, how would the Department budget for the implementation?
He requested clarity on how many ECDs were available for Grade R learners in each quantile, particularly for the poor rural areas, and the quality of the infrastructure. Should the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill be passed, what would be the timeframe for mandatory Grade R, and what is the cost thereof?
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) expressed concern about the substantial budgetary gaps highlighted in the presentation, especially in the challenging national financial context. He asked whether past expenditures and improved results on the integrated and coordinated ECD system would be assessed.
He raised concerns about the increased comprehensive approach which resulted in the state taking on more functions than its capacity, thus resulting in a decreased state ability. The state made marvellous plans -- as though it had the same capacity as Finland. The state-centred model worked only in Scandinavian countries. It was not a universal success that state intervention improved community functioning.
He asked whether homeschooling required the same registration as ECDs. One of the alarming concerns was that the state wanted to nationalise children. This was not a far-fetched notion, following the content presented at the meeting. He asked for further clarification on the matter.
The Chairperson referred to the legal development of the Children’s Amendment Bill and Bela Bill. She emphasised the general sense that there had been a lack of public consultation. She asked what the feedback from the public consultations on the Children’s Amendment Bill had been.
She said the homeschool community preferred to be regulated by the Children’s Act. What made the community feel safer under the Children’s Act than the new proposed legislation, such as the Bela Bill?
The Bill covered children between 0 to nine years. However, it was not clear how the DBE catered for children between 0 to four years. Further, what specific development beyond normal child healthcare programmes was required for children between 0 to two years? How could the government provide such support?
She asked what factors informed the substantial number of 1.3 million children aged between three and five years who were not enrolled in ECD. What were the DBE’s short- and medium-term interventions and plans to close the gap? Was the early learning capacity in the country sufficient to support children requiring ECD?
Did the Department have sufficient means to support about 4.7 million 0 to five-year-old learners that were not receiving the ECD subsidy? What approach would be implemented to close the early learning gap for the 80 percent, particularly in rural areas?
On technology, she requested information on the tools used by the Department and how media was used to promote early learning and for parents to contribute to early learning. What steps would be taken to promote human resources for early learning and to ensure enhanced capacity for practitioners?
How did the DBE engage with National Treasury to increase budgets for ECD, and what were the appropriate funds to transform the early learning landscape? Would early learning have multiple layered/pronged approaches to delivering a new service delivery model and expediting ECDs? What were the red tape areas, and what could be done to create efficiency?
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, appreciated the forward-thinking questions posed to the Department. The DBE would incorporate the questions and suggestions in structuring the ECD model. She particularly noted Dr Boshoff’s submission.
The number of learners in the schooling system from grades 1 to 12 was approximately 13 million. Further, the number of children between 0 to 5 years was 7 million, as provided by Statistics SA. This indicated that the ECD was a system on its own. Thus the DBE, with the support of the Committee, would strategise on the best model for South Africa.
Ms Geyer said that the DBE would factor in and further research the inputs in the transition processes. The DBE had not started the current research from a zero base -- it had been responsible for the curriculum when the DSD led the ECD. However, the challenge was that the curriculum focused on children aged 4 to 5 years and, to a certain extent, six years.
Further development was required for children 0 to 4 years. There was a need to define the specific needs for curriculum development and resources.
Funding was availed from National Treasury for the needs of the 0 to 4 years learners submitted by the DBE in 2022. The funding would be utilised at the ECDs in the current financial year.
On nutrition and additional needs, funding of more than R1 billion would be made available in the second year to augment the ECD. There was a structured allocation of funding, focusing on resources in the first year, nutrition in the second year, and other needs in the third year.
Discussions with Treasury were focused on the implementation and strengthening of the service delivery model. As it was a hybrid model, it was not only focused on the 42 000 ECDs, which only 1.6 million learners attended. Thus, the focus was to ensure access for the five million not attending. They were in home-based care, but it was not structured. The DBE proposed all methods of ECD attendance, including ECDs, home-based care, and play groups.
The DBE would look at service provision creatively to ensure access to learners. Toy libraries have been made available in key community areas. The Department would assess how to involve parents and train them on using the learning materials.
Referring to the Cuban model, she noted that while it had started in Cuba in the 1960s, it had been customised by several countries thereafter. The purpose of the model was a community-based model of the ECD.
Regarding funding, municipal structures were vital, as it was community-centred. Therefore, existing community structures would be utilised as opposed to establishing new centres.
The ECD model and actual ECDs would be rolled out shortly. There would be a particular focus on including those learners who did not have access.
There would be ongoing discussions with Treasury on future funding opportunities. Further funding for the ECD space would be pronounced in the next financial year.
Since the transition, there has been an integrated approach, as the DBE played an over-arching facilitative role, and all other relevant departments continued to provide for the needs of the learners.
The Department would improve its database management, to improve the identification of needs. It would commence data capturing at the point of the final trimester of mothers-to-be, to inform the DBE of babies that would be born in the next three months. This would assist the DBE in factoring in planning correctly and sensitising parents/caregivers on early learning.
Ms Janeli Kotze, Acting Director: Early Childhood Development, DBE, added that the combined budget was R3.87 billion. A large quantity was allocated to subsidies.
School vouchers provided parents with choices on where their children could attend ECDs. It was also an incentive for schools. ECD programmes were paid according to the number of children they served. Essentially, a voucher system was implemented.
Regarding the monitoring of the funding, she responded that the largest portion went to subsidies and only eligible children would receive funding. The DBE was concerned by the barriers to accessing the funding subsidies.
Prioritised funding was provided to eligible children and registered ECDs. Thus, the most vulnerable children and ECDs were essentially excluded from access, as they did not meet the norms and standards. The regulatory framework was essential to fill the gaps.
On the question of how the ECD programmes would be interrelated with other sections of the DBE and social development, she referenced slide 20 of the presentation. It provided the interrelated services model.
On the involvement of parents, the Department was working closely with organisations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to train parents on comprehensive services.
The effectiveness of the programmes has been researched, and recently Stellenbosch University conducted a research study on the best outcomes. The Department was focused on developing a quality control system to allow for self-evaluated ECDs.
Regarding special needs learners, the DBE prioritised this as the core of the home-based model. While data was limited, it was included in the norms and standards and the Children’s Amendment Bill, to ensure better inclusivity. The DBE would develop a screening tool with inclusive education, to assist ECD practitioners in identifying learners with special needs for referral to the Department of Health. This would provide further support to the learners and parents.
The infrastructure needs were substantial. The DBE was aware of the needs, and had prioritised them in the budget allocation. As funding was limited, the public and private partnerships were critical. Localisation of infrastructure was also essential, to identify safe and suitable ECD structures. Municipalities were important role players.
The DBE was now responsible for all ECD programmes. Previously, there had been minimal support for ECDs, so the DBE would lead the funding and implementation. The national curriculum framework was the foundation for the ECD curriculum.
Developmental delays would be addressed by national quality assurance to ensure an integrated service model. The public access model was also vital in addressing access and registration gaps. Slides 15 to 18 of the presentation indicated how the DBE would use the needs to inform its ECD planning.
The Department was aware that ECDs had been underfunded and under-resourced for a lengthy period. There was room for improved coordination, and improvements were already being made without additional funding. However, the DBE would continue to advocate to Treasury for further funding.
Parent licensing was regulated only when ECDs accommodated a substantial number of children. If a caregiver looks after more than six children, it must be done in a safe environment.
She explained the differences between the Children’s Amendment Bill and the Bela Bill. The Children’s Act managed ECD and children 0 to 4 years. The Bela Bill applied to children five years and above.
Early childhood development had its legislation and curriculum. There was a need to strengthen the specific ECD processes, as proposed by the Children’s Amendment Bill.
Regarding reducing red tape, the DBE would commence the identification of red tape areas which require intervention in the current financial year. For example, the DBE approached the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and municipalities to reduce registration fees for ECDs.
A major challenge was land allocation for ECD facilities, which required concerted collaboration with COGTA. This required further guidance in the Children’s Amendment Bill, to ensure a standardised and achievable registration model.
Adv Shalili Misser, Chief Director: Legal and Legislative Services, DBE, commented on the home education aspects in the Bela Bill. The guardian of the Children’s Act was the Minister of Social Development. The Children’s Act regulated the support and care of children.
The SA Schools Act regulated the education and schooling of children. ECD management had been transferred to the DBE. The DBE would propose separate legislation for ECD. Parents who were homeschooling children had to register with the Department.
Regarding the Bela Bill consultation, home-schoolers had been consulted and a special meeting with the Minister was held in January 2023. Public comments had been consolidated. She claimed that it was not clear why there was consternation.
Deputy Minister Mhaule commented that the DBE may not have responded to all the questions, as it was a process and a journey. The DBE had only recently received the function shift, and continued to manage the process as its predecessor, the DSD, had done.
She emphasised that not all learners accessed ECDs, and not all ECDs were funded. The DBE’s focus was on education, and thus it would make the ECD process focus on this priority.
The DBE would create the South African-specific ECD and funding model in a comprehensive, aligned and collaborative manner. Most public schools built after 1996 provide ECD and Grade R facilities.
Research would be conducted to inform ECD best practices. The intake of learners would be continued, despite limited funding challenges.
The Chairperson thanked DBE for the briefing and engagement. She recommended that concerted registration advocacy for the ECD providers in the database must be implemented. Registration forms must be provided online for easy access.
The Committee considered the draft minutes of the previous meetings held on 30 and 31 May. The minutes and report were unanimously approved and adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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