Qualifications requirements for an ECD practitioner

Education (WCPP)

12 September 2023
Chairperson: Ms D Baartman (DA)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee convened virtually to receive a briefing from the national Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) concerning qualifications for Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners, and the challenges associated with acquiring them.

The practitioners had raised concerns regarding the qualifications required to pursue ECD programmes without disqualification. In response to these concerns, the Committee decided to invite representatives from the national DHET and the provincial Department of Basic Education (DBE) to provide insights and potential solutions.

The DHET discussed the significance of ECD in South Africa, and the regulatory framework governing it. It highlighted a significant shift in ECD regulations in 2017, which made qualifications mandatory for ECD educators, and categorised them into various levels under the Higher Education Qualification Framework (HEQF). Adherence to these regulations became essential for institutions offering ECD programmes and recognised qualifications.

The Department emphasised the practical implementation of ECD programmes, addressing the challenges encountered by practitioners pursuing higher certificates, the need for equivalency between qualifications, and universities' reservations about offering ECD programmes.

During the discussion, questions were raised regarding the 50% credit transfer rule, and the possibility of reconsidering it. The importance of collaboration between the national and provincial educational spheres was also emphasised. The Chairperson encouraged efforts to promote ECD as a fundamental educational foundation.

The Department clarified the 50% rule, and recommended that the Committee provide feedback to the Council for Higher Education (CHE) concerning relevant policies. It also underscored the significance of ECD and its alignment with the National Qualifications Framework.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the Committee had been receiving inquiries regarding the duration of pursuing an early childhood development (ECD) qualification without facing disqualification. The queries also sought information about the necessary qualifications, highlighting that these questions were frequently asked by practitioners in the early childhood sector (ECS) of the province. In response, the Committee resolved to extend invitations to representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) at the national level, to offer insights and address these concerns.

Requirements for programmes leading to ECD qualifications

Mr Neil Makhaga, Director: Teaching Qualifications and Policy, DHET, discussed the significance of early childhood development in South Africa, emphasising its role in equipping children with lifelong skills encompassing emotional, cognitive and social abilities. He highlighted key governmental regulations and strategic plans that govern ECD practices.

He explained the evolution of ECD regulations over time, commencing with foundational documents such as the 1997 White Paper on Education, and the 2005 Children's Act. Subsequently, he touched upon the National Early Learning Development Standard of 2009 and the National Development Plan (NDP) of 2012, which had played pivotal roles in shaping ECD regulations.

He described the national curriculum framework for children from birth to age four, designed to facilitate early childhood education. He also expounded upon the 2015 national integrated ECD policy, aimed at nurturing the growth of young children.

Mr Makhaga placed particular emphasis on a significant regulation introduced in 2017, which mandates that ECD educators hold appropriate qualifications. This represented a substantial shift from previous regulations. This new rule operates under the Higher Education Qualification Framework (HEQF), categorising qualifications into distinct levels, including certificates and degrees. It accommodates educators with existing qualifications within this new framework.

Within the new system, various qualifications exist, ranging from lower-level certificates to higher-level degrees. The new regulation stipulates the required number of credits for each qualification, ensuring that ECD educators possess the necessary competencies.

To offer ECD programmes and confer recognised qualifications, individuals and institutions must adhere to this regulation. Compliance ensures that educators receive comprehensive training, and that institutions secure government approval while adhering to the regulations set forth by the Higher Education Quality Committee.

Mr Makhaga also clarified government's role in monitoring compliance with these regulations. Public and private schools may employ different approaches, but both are obligated to seek government approval, including South African Council for Educators (SACE) registration. Programmes that adhere to the stipulated requirements were officially recognised.

He further discussed the core principles underpinning ECD, emphasising the importance of lifelong learning, acknowledging children as capable and intelligent individuals, and upholding human rights. It also entailed competence in various areas, such as appreciating diverse cultures and promoting fairness and equity.

He provided insight into the evolving regulatory landscape, with particular emphasis on the transformative 2017 regulation that mandates proper qualifications for ECD educators. Adherence to these regulations and securing government approval were imperative to ensure the provision of quality early childhood education and a promising start in life for children.

(See attached document: please note we are still waiting the updated version of the presentation)

The Chairperson inquired if there were any other points to add before opening the floor for questions.

Dr Michelle Mathey, Director: Teacher Education, DHET, elaborated on her experiences while engaging with the South African Congress on ECD companies and practitioners at various meetings. She emphasised the need to move beyond policy discussions and focus on practical implementation, particularly concerning the development of qualifications and programme offerings.

Her remarks contained several crucial points that merited attention. She began by stressing the transition from policy discussions to practical implementation in the field of ECD. She addressed the need to clarify the evolving landscape of ECD, touching upon the duration of early childhood, which had shifted from up to seven or nine years, to the current focus on the birth to four-year age group.

One significant issue she highlighted was the confusion among ECD practitioners regarding qualifications, specifically the belief that a short six-month ECD qualification automatically granted them the status of registered educators. She strongly pointed out the pitfalls of such misperceptions, especially since many practitioners had invested their resources in sub-par programmes.

She proceeded to discuss the requirements for ECD practitioners to achieve Level 5, the highest certificate level, for professional recognition. However, a pressing concern was the financial constraints faced by practitioners, with the majority earning less than R3 500 per month. This led to the question of how these individuals could afford to undertake higher certificate programmes at universities, which was essential for professional growth.

Dr Mathey also addressed the importance of alignment between Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications, emphasising the need for equivalency and seamless progression. She acknowledged the efforts of the DBE in addressing some of these challenges.

She also raised the question of the demand for qualified ECD practitioners and the potential hesitation among universities to offer such programmes, given the uncertainty of student enrolment. She referred to data indicating the number of children in ECD centres in the Western Cape, highlighting the potential need for skilled practitioners.

She mentioned the challenges universities faced in developing ECD programmes due to the learning curve involved in aligning them with DBE guidelines. The discussion touched upon the need for collaboration and proper documentation.

Dr Mathey highlighted the complexities and challenges within the ECD sector, emphasising the importance of clarity, financial support for practitioners, and the alignment of qualifications to ensure the professional development of ECD educators.


The Chairperson noted the importance of collaboration between the national and provincial spheres, and encouraged both to address any relevant issues. She also mentioned the unique opportunity for collective efforts among all stakeholders.

In response to Mr Makhaga's presentation, she sought clarification about the maximum 50% credit transfer for qualifications, questioning whether there was a specific reason for this limit, and whether it could be reconsidered given the national policies governing implementation. She highlighted the potential significance of transferring more than 50% of credits, especially considering limited student spaces.

Regarding Dr Mathey's concerns about children not attending ECD centres in the Western Cape, she suggested that it might be necessary for the Committee to engage with the DBE at the national level. The aim would be to encourage parents to view ECD as a critical educational foundation, rather than simply as after-school care.

The Chairperson also raised the issue of universities' cautious approach to developing ECD programmes, inquiring whether there could be a first phase of subsidisation for such programmes, possibly with post-student support included.


Mr Makhaga shared insights into the policy on the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and credit accumulation and transfer. He explained that qualifications could not be solely awarded based on RPL, which was subject to the 50% rule. This rule dictated that only up to 50% of credits could be transferred, and beyond that, students should have studied at the institution where they were pursuing the qualification. In cases where individuals had partially completed qualifications, the credits they had earned could be applied to their new qualifications.

Dr Mathey responded to the question about the development of ECD programmes, saying that brainstorming solutions to overcome obstacles in universities offering programmes, and practitioners accessing them, was crucial. She suggested that subsidisation or support might be valuable, and recommended collaborating with the DBE and ECD sector in the Western Cape. She mentioned her recent discussions with the University of Western Cape (UWC) about creating a centre of excellence for ECD from birth to four years. She highlighted the importance of collaboration among stakeholders in the province. She emphasised the need for a situational analysis of the landscape in the Western Cape, strong advocacy, and communication to inform practitioners and childminders about opportunities for professionalisation. She concluded by expressing the Department’s willingness to partner with the province in this sector.

Ms Trudi van Wyk, Chief Director: Social Inclusion, Equity, Access, and Quality, DHET, clarified the 50% rule. She explained that this policy was not created by the Department, but by the Quality Council for Higher Education, specifically the Council for Higher Education, as previously mentioned by Mr Makhaga. This policy applied not only to RPL, but to all qualifications, preventing the transfer of a complete qualification to another institution or a different qualification. This was where the 50% rule became relevant.

She said the Council for Higher Education (CHE) was currently reviewing its policies, particularly the RPL policy, which includes the contentious 50% clause. Many individuals, including some within the Department, had expressed concerns about this clause.

She suggested that the Committee consider examining the CHE's category-specific credit accumulation and transfer policy, and provide feedback to the CHE. This would allow the Committee to have a voice in the development of these new policies. She also commented that there was an ongoing revision of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) in higher education.

Further discussion

The Chairperson invited Western Cape Education Department (WCED) officials to share any concerns or input they might have for the national DHET, considering the observations made during the Committee’s oversight activities.

Dr Sigamoney Naicker, Chief Director: Inclusive Education and Special Programmes, WCED, delved into the topic of excellence within the ECD sector. He stressed that ECD was distinct from other postgraduate studies due to its unique evolution. He regarded ECD as the foundational solution to address South Africa's educational challenges, emphasising its alignment with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the developmental milestones of children. The ECD qualifications were specifically designed to address these developmental milestones, making them a critical intervention.

He referred to Dr Mathey's engagement with the UWC to establish a centre of excellence. He stressed the importance of collaboration between universities, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, and school services officers (SSOs) in supporting ECD centres. He emphasised the need for knowledge production rooted in the lived realities of ECD in the Western Cape. He highlighted the necessity to address children's service delivery in the Western Cape to inform their engagement with the ECD sector.

Ms Ruth Leukes, Director: Early Childhood Development, WCED, reported that in 2023, 18 415 participants had engaged in ECD learnerships at Levels 4 and 5. She expressed concern about the challenge faced by some who did not have access to a diploma or advanced certificate courses. The need for a matric certificate often acted as an obstacle for many ECD practitioners, preventing them from qualifying for a Bachelor of Education programme. She highlighted the need for a bridge to enable these practitioners to pursue further formalised education. She underscored the crucial role of the Department of Higher Education sector in creating pathways for these individuals, and the ultimate goal of facilitating seamless access to courses at the grassroots level.

The Chairperson asked if the DHET team wished to make any closing remarks for the WCED to consider.

Closing remarks

Dr Mathey responded, acknowledging that valuable insights had been shared regarding what would be beneficial for the Western Cape, and suggested the need for an educational analysis. She noted the abundance of data available, both from the DBE and other sources, which universities typically preferred working with. She stressed the importance of not only conducting research, but also involving educators on the ground. She also mentioned ECD learnerships, indicating the need to further examine their nature and how they contributed to existing qualifications. She expressed excitement about the growing interest in diploma and bachelor’s programmes, saying that achieving bachelor’s status could enhance the perception of ECD.

Mr Makhaga added his input, saying there was a need to develop a programme addressing the specific requirements of the Western Cape. He mentioned the cost implications for learners, and suggested that a clear programme, developed in collaboration with universities, could encourage DHET participation. Knowing which programme to develop was crucial, as it would ensure that the investments made were aligned with the programme's provisions.

The Chairperson expressed his appreciation, and humorously commented on the substantial workload they generated for the national DHET.

Dr Mathey brought up the issue of registered status and unregistered centres, suggesting this might need further consideration by the WCED. It was important to assess the status of centres and practitioners working in registered and unregistered centres. Getting the unregistered 8 300 centres registered should be made a priority by the WCED.

The Chairperson addressed the issue of unregistered centres, and highlighted the varying reasons behind centres choosing to be registered or not. She stressed the importance of considering these factors from an oversight perspective, taking into account what people had to say on the matter.

Dr Naicker was invited to provide insights on this topic.

Dr Naicker asked what steps should be taken next, once the WCED had established engagement with universities that might be interested in developing programmes for ECD practitioners. Should the WCED consult with the DHET after those engagements?

Mr Makhaga suggested that a proactive approach should be taken. He proposed informing universities about the policy aimed at professionalising ECD practitioners into educators. He acknowledged that many practitioners lacked the necessary qualifications, such as a high educational certificate. To address this, he suggested seeking funding from the province or other sources to support practitioners in enrolling in relevant programmes. He also talked about the importance of universities identifying their needs and what the WCED was willing to fund, particularly regarding ECD programmes, as the DHET did not have funding set aside for these programmes. Universities needed to hasten the accreditation process as well.

Dr Naicker said WCED planned to meet with the UWC, and one of the issues was how to advance the ECD narrative within the disadvantaged context in the Western Cape. That was the broad agenda. The WCED wanted to impact the development of children, ensuring or making it possible for development to impact on the foundation, intermediate, and senior phases of schooling and throughput, as the potential was there.

Dr Mathey recognised that Dr Naicker collaborated with her on the White Paper Six projects, and commented that both had been remiss as they should have made a point around special needs education in ECD centres. If the quintile one children were vulnerable, the special needs children were even more likely to be vulnerable. Her perception was that the WCED should prepare a conceptual document, outlining the challenges, the stakeholders, and the workable solutions. That might be a great start.

Dr Naicker asked if he could respond to Dr Mathey, as she was making an excellent point. When people discussed special needs and inclusion, the focus was often on disabilities. However, he agreed with Dr Mathey that it was a much broader concept. He suggested that it should not be called "special needs," but rather be seen as a developmental deficit caused by environmental factors that alienate and marginalise individuals socially. He stressed that ECD in education provided a mechanism to address this developmental lag.

The Chairperson thanked both the national DHET and the provincial representatives for their contributions. She acknowledged that there are questions without immediate answers, and stressed the need for collaboration between the province and the national department to assist in addressing these issues.

Committee resolutions and ad hoc matters

The Chairperson guided the Committee in suggesting and accepting the subsequent resolutions:

In Resolution 1, the Committee was advised that the WCED should employ its empirical data to initiate discussions with higher education institutions within the Western Cape, particularly concentrating on the UWC. These discussions should aim to investigate the potential for the development of ECD qualifications and the finalisation of the accreditation process for such programmes.

Resolution 2 entailed that the Committee formally request extensive updates from the relevant higher education institutions in the Western Cape, notably the UWC and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), concerning their initiatives to establish a centre for excellence in ECD. Furthermore, they should provide updates on the progress they had made in accrediting programmes tailored for ECD practitioners, taking into account that accreditation procedures had already commenced.

Regarding Resolution 3, it had emerged from the presentation that the DBE aspired to formalise ECD qualifications. Universities have raised concerns regarding the potential intake and demand for these qualifications. Acknowledging the DBE's indication that ECD might become mandatory in the future, the Committee sought clarification on whether the costs linked to this policy change had been assessed. Additionally, information pertaining to the demand for making ECD compulsory, especially in the Western Cape, would be requested from the DBE, in the hope that such information could be shared with the WCED.

The Chairperson confirmed that there were no pending documents requiring consideration during this meeting. The Procedural Officer said that this item had been scheduled for the meeting on 19 September.

Finally, the Chairperson encouraged Members to ensure they had reliable internet connectivity for the forthcoming meeting, since many would be travelling on that day.

The meeting was adjourned.


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