Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, MP, and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
Dr. Zweli Mkhize, MP and Minister of Health
Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, MP and Minister of Social Development
Dr. Makgabo Reginah Mhaule, MP, and Deputy Minister of Basic
MECs for Education from all our nine provinces
Leaders of teacher unions and school governing bodies
Representatives of learner organisations
Academics and experts in the education sector
Representatives of non-governmental organisations
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to address this matter of Early Childhood Development (ECDs) in the presence of experts and my colleagues in the cabinet.
There is no better way to start building the future we imagined than to focus on the Early Learning.
By its very nature early childhood education is the foundation for cognitive development.
For us to realise our mission of achieving a high performing and quality basic education system in our lifetime, we have to re-imagine the whole concept, definition, curriculum, and funding of ECDs.
Research concludes that access to ECDs for learners improves their learning outcomes and overall quality of education in general.
If we get early learning right, experts say, it will further results in better school enrolment rates, retention and academic performance.
Access to good quality ECDs can also be a social equaliser.
According to a 20-year study released in 2014, it showed that children from disadvantaged households who received high-quality stimulation at a young age grew into adults who earned an average of 25% more than those who did not receive these interventions.
Sadly, worldwide we continue to spend less than 2% of our education budgets on early childhood learning programmes.
Since the President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement that the responsibility of managing ECDs is to shift from the Social Development to the Basic Education, we have collectively as affected departments put the shoulders to the wheel.
It should be noted that the function shift announced by the President derives its conception in the National Development Plan (NDP) and emerging trends worldwide.
Under the chapter on basic education, the NDP says that:
“By 2030, a full comprehensive age-and developmentally stage-appropriate quality early childhood development programme is available and accessible to all infants and young children and their caregivers”.
The President’s announcement has opened a Pandora box.
Many ECD practitioners are genuinely worried about their future. Some are hopeful that after the function shift, they will earn better salaries like the rest of the teaching cohort.
Since the sector has so many civil society/community funded programmes, apprehension is spreading fast and furious.
Again, this understandable as change is always likely to ignite the proverbial policy uncertainty.
We are having this dialogue today so that we can as a collective re-imagine the ECD sector as required by the NDP.
The function shift does create new opportunities for us as a nation to re-imagine a new integrated high quality EDC sector.
At present moment, the status quo remain. There’s no need to panic.
The State has no desire to wrest the control of ECDs from community and civil society groups.
This is even true after we have completed the redesign of a much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector model under the leadership of the Basic Education.
Our role as a lead department in the function shift of ECDs is to conceptualise a fit-for purpose curriculum for a much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector.
We will do so by redefining the roles of each affected departments, but focus on our core business i.e. developing minimum norms and standards, and curriculum redesign and implementation.
Our master plan must define quality across the system. We must invest resources to develop qualified ECD practitioners.
In short, we must broaden access, increase scale and invest in quality fit-for purpose curriculum across board.
To achieve this we must develop an agile organisational structure for effective coordination between and amongst different government departments.
We are not about to offer immunisation or baby feeding in the much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector.
The whole new ECDs sector requires high level of coordination but also focussed expertise.
So, yes the Department of Health will continue take care of our children’s health needs whilst the Social Development will look after the social side of our children’s developmental needs.
Our core business as Basic Education remains to offer a modern, fit-for purpose curriculum, and monitor quality across the system.
At the apex level we must design a fit-for purpose ecosystem to ensure effective ECD service delivery.
The ecosystem shall cater for policy, planning, good governance, leadership, accountability, adequate resources, and effective/efficient localised service delivery.
In realising this much improved, integrated, and re-imagined ECD sector some of the planned activities include:
- Developing a single streamlined system of registration for centres, programmes and practitioners that will have the functionality to work alongside each other;
- Expanding the Education Management Information System (EMIS) to include the ECD sector;
- Developing a Quality Assurance and Support System that allows for constant feedback and directed support to ECD practitioners;
- Developing an Early Learning Index that will enable the tracking of children’s progress, milestones, and outcomes at national and provincial levels;
- Designing a national ECD Media and Advocacy Campaign, tied to a branded national programme.
I cannot overemphasise that the much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector and its various services almost never fall neatly within the ambit of a single government department.
As we know the needs of infants and young children span across a wide variety of areas, from health and nutrition, to early learning, responsive caregiving and birth registration.
Effective coordination of ECD services is a problem that countries across the globe are grappling with, but very few have actually managed to get right.
In our local context, we already have the National Integrated ECD Policy Framework.
It sets out a clear framework for leadership and coordination of the early childhood development system, including details of the structures required with clear mandates.
While the Policy provided us with clear direction, the realisation of the objectives and effectiveness of the structures are not yet where they should be.
If South Africa is going to make considerable progress towards the goals of realising by 2024, a much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD, we will need to put in place a highly functional leadership and coordination structures.
These must have appropriate executive authority.
From a coordination perspective, the three sets of structures include the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), Inter-Departmental Committee, and Inter-Sectoral Forum will need to be revived extensively in order for them to fulfil their mandate.
The coordinating structures will be institutionally anchored in the Department of Basic Education and will need to be adequately staffed, resourced and capacitated.
The structure will also be closely aligned to the Presidency, in order to raise the profile of ECD and strengthen the visibility of meaningful ECD indicators in the Delivery Outcome Areas.
These leadership structures will also be required to develop and oversee cross-cutting functions.
These cross-cutting functions include nutrition, communication, parental support and the inclusion of children with disabilities.
It will also include all areas that have up to this point not found adequate expression in the service delivery of any single department.
As a sector, we need to communicate a shared vision for holistic early childhood development in South Africa.
We need to work strategically and coordinate horizontally to achieve the desired outcomes of increasing access and improving quality of services.
At the core of the function shift is to revolutionise early learning.
We will build on our work as the custodian of the National Curriculum Framework for children 0-4 years and as the department responsible for training practitioners to implement the curriculum.
In the context of the function shift, we will systematically assume the responsibility for registration and funding of ECD programmes.
The function shift presents a unique opportunity to build a comprehensive management system for the ECD sector that will streamline processes and allow for data driven decision making.
In order for us to ensure that service delivery is improved as a result of the function shift, we will put in place a core operational system for the much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector.
The operational system will address core functions such as registration, payments, learner outcome tracking, and quality assurance.
For this to be achieved, we will need to build a user-centric, integrated online platform.
A core online management system would be at the centre of all data flows and will have different modules for different users.
The management system will entail a one-step registration process that eliminates all unnecessary duplication.
It will have a single set of norms and standards (including basic health and safety) and a single point of contact for providers for all registration requirements.
There will also be clear provision for different types of ECD modalities.
We will draw on our experience with SA-SAMS in the design of this system, and it is likely that ECD will become a new module in the modernised SA-SAMS in the future.
I am pleased to tell you that various activities are already underway to develop these systems that will be at the heart of effective provisioning of early learning.
Funding has been secured and preparations made for a comprehensive national census of ECD programmes to be conducted this year which will provide us with the data to populate our system.
We will also be conducting a number of qualitative case studies of ECD programmes, and will be developing a national Early Years Index that will allow us to report on SDG 4.2.1 – the percentage of children under five who are developmentally on track.
We firmly believe that through efficient systems, and up-to-date, reliable data, we can create an enabling, supportive and empowering environment for Early Learning Programmes to thrive.
We do need to emphasise that this year the status quo will remain.
The Department of Social Development will continue registering centres.
It will also continue administering the ECD subsidy while the Department of Basic Education will be setting up the required systems for delivering the new ECD function.
Beyond 2020, the Department of Basic Education will become responsible for the ECD function.
However, in the context of function shift, we want to emphasise that:
- Children will not be moving from ECD centres to schools
- Practitioners will not be employed by the Department of Basic Education.
- The Department of Basic Education will not be taking over ownership of ECD infrastructure and programmes
As a department, we want to pay tribute to the important work that has been taking place in the sector performed by the many role players.
We want to assure you that we will endeavour to partner with all stakeholders to better support the delivery of early learning services.
We recognise that the ECD ecosystem in South Africa is made up of a rich and diverse network of stakeholders, which we aim build on and consult throughout this process.
As Basic Education, we are excited about the future of a much improved, integrated and re-imagined ECD sector in the country.
Plans are at an advanced stage to successfully deliver a two-year universal and compulsory Early Childhood Education in our lifetime.
I thank you.