Early Childhood Development: briefing by Department of Education

Basic Education

03 June 2008
Chairperson: Professor S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education briefed the Committee about the funding, staffing, curriculum and governance of Early Childhood Development centres. The Department hoped to create universal access to Grade R by 2010 with the majority in public primary schools. Two models of funding were identified. In the first model, funds were transferred and managed by the individual school. Conversely, the second model allowed the province to manage the funds on behalf of the school. Members asked questions about the funding, condition, governance and mushrooming of Early Childhood Development facilities. In addition, the Committee debated the training and payment of practitioners as well as the discrepancy of provincial budgets.

Meeting report

Briefing by the Department of Education (DoE or Department)

Mr Duncan Hindle, Director-General: DoE, indicated that the presentation would address the two components of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) framework, namely Grade R (for 5 year- olds) and Pre-Grade R (for 0 – 4 year olds).

Ms Jenny Rault-Smith, Chief Director: Curriculum and Assessment, DoE, gave an overview of the work done in ECD, especially the pre-Reception year. For the Pre-Grade R group, the Department was responsible for the stimulation and education process, whereas the Department of Social Development (DoSD) was responsible for registration of sites. It was envisaged that the curriculum for Grade R would be linked to the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) and that appropriate learning programmes would be developed for the pre-Reception Year. The training of ECD practitioners was not at the same level as that of other teachers in the schooling systems. It was therefore decided to upgrade practitioner qualifications to help them bridge the learning gap.

The presenter highlighted that the Department was working towards the development of a governance model for incorporation of publicly subsidised community-based ECD sites within the public system of Reception Year. The Department hoped to create universal access to Grade R by 2010 with the majority in public primary schools. In light of this wish, the
Department was encouraged by the significant increases in the number of children enrolled in Grade R classes. In addition to the 487 525 children currently in public primary schools, there were approximately 200 000 children registered in private institutions. This brought the total to approximately 687 000, and made the target - of 990 530 children by 2010 - viable. Lastly, she identified the different challenges (for Grade R) and discussed how to address them. One of the solutions included an audit of all practitioners to determine their level of qualification as well as salaries received.

Ms Dorothy Masipa, Deputy Director: Financial Planning, DoE, explained the norms and standards for funding ECD facilities. Two models for funding were developed and provinces could decide what model to follow. In the first model, funds were transferred directly to the account of the school so that it could be managed independently. The second model allowed the province to manage the funds on behalf of the school. In addition, she stated that funding for both Grade R and Pre-Grade R was targeted at the poorest families. Community-based centres, which would normally not qualify for funding, had to meet specific criteria to be registered as independent schools.

Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Director: ECD, indicated that the National Integrated Plan consisted of two components, firstly a programme for integrated service delivery targeting poor and vulnerable children, and secondly, an extended public works programme, which provided job opportunities for practitioners working in registered ECD sites and who received a stipend from the Department while they were in training.

The Department of Health was the biggest provider of services for ECD due to the fact that approximately 90% of children were serviced by the public health system. Currently, 11 707 sites were registered and the DoSD hoped to register an additional 1 700 sites in 2008. The Department had been involved with a number of other countries in the development of early learning and development standards, with the aim of creating a framework for the development of training programmes and curricula for young children. For the Early Learning Development (ELD) Standards, 3 broad age groups have been identified, namely babies, toddlers and children. Within each of these categories, a number of expectations had been identified that would be able to cut across what is traditionally referred to as domains of childhood, i.e. the physical, spiritual, cognitive, social, emotional, perceptual development. These Early Learning Development Standards are currently being validated to ensure that they are appropriate for South Africa. During implementation, validation will continue to ensure age-appropriateness is correct. These ELD standards could then be used in the development of programmes for children as well as parents.

Finally, The DG stressed that it was essential to get the community-based sites registered in order to obtain a subsidy from the DoSD. Once a subsidy was granted, there would be certain quality control requirements that had to be complied with.
To start with, the Chairperson mentioned an acquaintance who had a registered Educare centre and had not received any payments for over a year, even though all the documentation was in place. He claimed that this example was indicative of the reality on the ground.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked the Department to explain the two funding models.

The DG explained that according to the first model, schools received a lump sum in cash, which they used to employ teachers directly and for other priorities. Alternatively, the second model made provision for provinces to employ teachers directly and deduct their salary off the allocation to the individual school. The balance of the funds was then utilised by the school to purchase whatever materials it required. Whilst the White Paper favoured the first model, all the provinces have gravitated towards the second one.

Mr Mosala interrogated two additional issues. Firstly, he noted the Department’s forewarning about the likelihood of schools not receiving funds on time. Consequently, he enquired who would be responsible in such a case and whether the Department had put in place measures to ensure that this did not happen. In addition, Mr Mosala questioned how it was possible that province had failed to allocate sufficient funds to schools to implement the ECD programme.

In respect of the first issue, Mr Hindle explained that this was identified as a potential risk because the Department experienced similar problems with independent schools, where the norms and standards also made provision for subsidies to be distributed at a prescribed time. He added that he Department would follow up any complaints (of late payment) lodged with the call centre or other recognised channels.

In respect of the latter issue, Mr Hindle acknowledged the validity of the question and stated that the Department would monitor the issue. However, he stressed that the Department had no control over provincial budgets and how provinces re-allocated funds from one programme to another.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) cautioned that there would be a mushrooming of community-based sites, with the motive of receiving subsidies for personal use. 

Mr Hindle vowed to guard against the uncontrolled escalation of such institutions. At the same time, he committed the Department to the development of more centres, particularly those established with genuine intentions.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) asked the Department to shed some light on the state and readiness of the community-based sites.

Mr Hindle recognised that many of the sites were not ideal and did not conform to the specified requirements. He added that the Department continued to work with the relevant persons to ensure compliance as soon as possible.

Mr Boinamo tackled three further issues. Firstly, he expressed concern about the great variations in spending between the provincial education budgets. Secondly, he asked what criteria were used to determine funding. Lastly, he informed the Department about a school where the principal allowed an independent person to run a private Grade R class and a child was forced to leave due to lack of payment. As a result, he questioned whether this was allowed. 
In response to the first question, the DG shared the Member’s concern and described the situation as “regrettable” and unavoidable. In addition, he explained that the criteria for funding were contained in the norms and standards but still subject to a degree of discretion. On the last issue, he maintained that the Department generally did not favour the location of private schools on public premises. On the other hand, he did not want the Grade R facility to be discontinued if it was providing a service. The solution would be to see how the Grade R class could be brought into the ordinary running of the school and receive the normal subsidy. Finally, he requested the Member to pass on the details to him so that the matter could be investigated.

A Member asked the Department to distinguish between a “community-based site” and a “crèche”.

Mr Hindle indicated that the Department preferred to use the former terminology because the latter was merely a place of safety, whereas the former was designed towards the stimulation of young children.
Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) highlighted that many children who were supposed to have attended Grade R were already in Grade 1, due to the shortage of Grade R classes. For that reason, she wanted to know how this issue would be dealt with. Also, she sought to establish who was responsible for training ECD practitioners, and where they were being trained.

Mr Hindle answered that ideally, 5 year olds should be placed in Grade R classes, provided that there were enough such facilities in an area. In the absence of this, 5 year olds would have to attend community-based sites to ensure they get the right stimulation before moving into Grade 1.

Ms Samuels clarified that all the training was done by institutions that were accredited with the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (EDTP SETA). Those offering a level 4 qualification were registered with the Department as private FET providers. In conclusion, she offered to provide additional information regarding where the training actually took place and how to access such training at a later stage.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) stated that he was particularly interested in the progress that had been made, since 1994, to wipe out the huge disparities between formerly disadvantaged communities and former Model C education communities. Moreover, he surmised that traditionally rural and less resourced provinces had a higher target than traditionally better resourced provinces, like Gauteng and Western Cape.
Mr Hindle informed Members that the Department of Social Development (DoSD) had originally refused to register ECD sites unless they met certain strict criteria. However, the Department had managed to convince DoSD to alter their approach; by first getting the site registered in order to access subsidies and then using the subsidy to work towards meeting the criteria. Also, he mentioned that it was one of the few instances where rural provinces have done a lot more work and are achieving higher enrolment rates than the urban provinces. The only exception would be Gauteng and Western Cape, which had a high proportion of private ECD institutions.

A member enquired whether Grade R teachers were paid according to their qualifications.

Ms Rault-Smith answered in the affirmative.

Mr R Ntuli (DA) enquired about the type of support the Department provided to provinces to ensure that districts, had the capacity to monitor as well as implement the critical outcomes.

Mr Hindle remarked that the Department strived to do its best despite the challenges in obtaining uniformity across all districts, circuits and regions.

The Chairperson queried whether the two funding models applied to both Grade R and Pre-Grade R.

Mr Hindle responded that it only applied to the latter.

The Chairperson asked whether the Department paid a stipend to pre-Grade R practitioners.

Ms Rault-Smith divulged that during the course of their training, practitioners received a stipend from the Department. However, when they returned to their respective institutions, their salaries were paid from a subsidy issued by DoSD.

Ms Samuels described the stipend as an incentive to encourage practitioners to undergo training.

The Chairperson asked what the Department was doing to ensure that poor people and children below the age of 5 had access to proper schooling. 

The DG emphasised that the Department was working towards establishing Grade R facilities in all primary schools. As a result, parents were encouraged to look for Grade R classes at their local primary school. Only in the absence of these services, parents were advised to look at other options, such as a community-based sites and private institutions.

The Chairperson noted that the total enrolment for Grade R in 2007 was 487 525 and that the target for 2010 was nearly double that. Therefore, he questioned whether the target figures were not overly optimistic.

The DG clarified that in 2007, approximately 200 000 children were enrolled in community-based sites, which increased the actual enrolment figure for that year to approximately 700 000. Accordingly, he was confident that the projected 990 000 enrolment target by 2010 was reasonable.

The Chairperson praised the Department for doing an outstanding job and encouraged them to continue in this regard.

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee considered its Minutes, dated the 13 May 2008 and 20 May 2008.

Both reports were adopted without amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.


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