White Papers: Early Childhood Development White Paper; Education for Learners with Special Educational Needs

Basic Education

29 May 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


29 May 2001

Chairperson: Prof. S Mayatula

Documents Handed Out:
Education White Paper on Early Childhood Development (ECD)
Education White Paper on Special Needs Education
The nationwide audit of ECD provisioning in South Africa
Report on the National ECD Pilot Project
Report on National ECD Policies and Programmes

Education Department website: http://education.pwv.gov.za/

The White Paper on Early Childhood Development and the Draft White Paper on Education for Learners with Special Educational Needs were presented. The latter was not dealt with in detail as Cabinet had still to deliberate on it. [Post script: Cabinet met on 30 May 2001 and approved the draft with minor changes.]

White Paper on Early Childhood Development (ECD)
Summary of presentation by Dr Ihron Rensburg:
Approximately 40% of young children in South Africa grow up in conditions of abject poverty and neglect. Children raised in such families are most at risk of infant death, low birth-weight, stunted growth, poor adjustment to school, increased repetition and school dropout. This makes it even more imperative for the Department of Education to put in place an action plan to address the early learning opportunities of all learners but especially those living in poverty. Timely and appropriate interventions can reverse the effects of early deprivation and maximise the development of potential. The challenge for the Government is to help break the cycle of poverty by increasing access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes, particularly for poor children and to improve the quality of these programmes.

Early childhood development refers to a comprehensive approach to policies and programmes for children from birth to nine years of age with the active participation of their parents and caregivers. Its purpose is to protect the child's rights to develop his or her full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential. Consistent with Education White Paper 1 on Education and Training (1995) and the Interim Policy for Early Childhood Development (1996), early childhood development is defined as an umbrella term that applies to the policies by which children from birth to at least nine years grow and thrive, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, morally and socially.

An analysis of the current nature, context and status of ECD provision in South Africa reveals five key areas requiring attention: ·
· The extent of ECD provision·
· Inequality in existing ECD provision ·
· Inequality of access to ECD services ·
· Variable quality of ECD services ·
· An incomplete, fragmented legislative and policy framework for ECD that results in uncoordinated service delivery.

The Department of Education will address these matters through the proposals put forward in this White Paper. In particular, it will focus on expanding ECD provision, correcting the imbalances in the provision, ensuring equitable access and improving the quality and delivery of ECD programmes. The main ECD policy addressed in this White Paper is the establishment of a national system of provision of the Reception Year for children aged five years which combines a large public and smaller independent component. In this regard, the medium-term goal (2010) is for all children entering Grade 1 to have participated in an accredited Reception Year Programme. In this White Paper the Department outlines how it will achieve this through a phased, poverty-targeted approach that makes use of grants-in-aid to primary schools and subsidies to selected community-based ECD sites within conditional grants and provincial budgets.

In order to improve the quality of the Reception Year programmes, the Department will require that all Reception Year programmes be registered with provincial departments of education, that all accredited Reception Year educators be registered with South African Council of Educators and educators who do not have a specialised qualification to teach the Reception Year, undergo approved training programmes.

In response to the challenge of ECD for children younger than four years, the Department will, within the ECD priority group of the Government's National Programme of Action for Children, prioritise the development of a strategic plan for inter-sectorial collaboration. This strategic plan will focus on the delivery of appropriate, inclusive and integrated programmes, with particular emphasis on development and career pathing, health, nutrition, physical development, clean water and sanitation, and a special programme targeting four year old children from poor families with special needs and those infected with HIV/AIDS. In this manner the Department expects to increase access to ECD programmes and provide South Africa’s youngest citizens with a solid foundation for lifelong learning and development in the 21st century.

Mr Aucamp (AEB) said that he was worried that children will be taken away from their parents/homes at the age of three.

Mr Williams argued that there is growing evidence from child development research that the largest part of brain development happens before a child reaches three years old and that it is during this period that children develop their abilities to think and speak, learn and reason and lay the foundation for their values and social behaviour as adults. Mr Williams added that due to the fact that most children grow up in conditions of abject property, the risk of irreversible brain damage and stunted physical development as the direct result of poverty is inevitable. It is the responsibility of the state in terms of section 28 of the Constitution to ensure that the conditions under which poor children are raised are nurtured and addressed. Intervening in the earliest years helps to reduce the social and economic disparities and race and gender inequalities that divide our society, he added.

Mr Kgwele (ANC) asked about the implications which the White Paper has on teacher training.

Mr Williams replied that the accredited Reception Year educators will be registered with the South African Council of Educators and that those educators who do not have a specialised qualification to teach the Reception Year will undergo approved training programmes for which the Department will provide subsidies. He maintained that this will improve the quality of the Reception Year programmes.

Ms Ghandhi (ANC) wanted to know how the Department of Education will ensure that the money intended for the Reception Year Programme is not spent elsewhere by primary schools.

Mr Williams said that the money would flow directly to the school governing bodies under the coverage of section 22 of the South African Schools Act to be specified under an amendment of the National Norms and Standards for School Funding.

Draft White Paper on Learners with Special Educational Needs - Dr Ihron Rensburg
Most learners with disabilities have fallen out of the current educational system or have been mainstreamed by default. Special education provides for a small percentage of learners with disabilities in special schools. 68 000 children are currently in special schools. Poor, black children are hard hit by the present system. Gauteng and the Western Cape have most of these special schools The present model costs the state R1,3 billion annually. To address this problem the Department of Education has proposed the establishment of an inclusive educational system. This stems from various factors which the Department has taken into account. The Department acknowledges that all children and youth can learn, have different strengths and need support to participate in learning.

An inclusive education system is about enabling education structures, system and learning methodologies to meet the needs of all learners, through uncovering barriers such as attitudes, behaviours, teaching methodologies, curricula and environments. It acknowledges and respects differences in learners, whether due to age, gender, ethnicity, language, class, disability or HIV status. The vast majority of the special schools are not providing an adequate quality service. They do not have enough equipment to enable them to provide a particular kind of education. The White Paper creates an obligation on the state to acknowledge and respect education. The White Paper creates an obligation on the state to acknowledge and respect the constitutional provision of equality.

It was emphasised that this Draft White Paper still had to be deliberated on by Cabinet on
the 30 May 2001.

Mr Kgwele commended the Department for taking steps at looking at the role of special schools and how integration should take place.
Mr Ntuli (ANC) argued that the proposed integration will need special training for teachers and he wanted to know whether that had been considered.

Dr Rensburg said that there is an ongoing in-service training both for teachers in special schools and public schools. He added that the key recommendation would be a district support system which will provide assistance to teachers.

Prof. Mayatula noted that the presenters will be called again to make a more detailed presentation on this Draft White Paper.


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