As the responsibility for Early Childhood Development shifts from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education, concerns have been raised about the state of preparedness. However, both departments insist they are ready to start the migration process on 1 April.

Friday marks the day that Early Childhood Development (ECD) will move from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) — and some are asking whether the government is ready for the move. DSD spokesperson Lumka Oliphant told Daily Maverick that they are.

“We are ready for the migration… However, this is not a one-day event. Both the departments will continue to work together to ensure smooth transition and non-disruption.

“The current governance structures that are championing the shift process will exist for a period of nine to 12 months, depending on the need. The best interest of the child remains paramount. With certainty, function shift will happen, come 1 April 2022.”

Oliphant said “the purpose of the migration is to streamline the delivery of an integrated, aligned service delivery model that will ensure access to quality early learning and development opportunities for all children, which will build on the gains instituted by the DSD and to which DBE and DSD will jointly work towards.

“The ECD sector is very critical in the provision of ECD services. Both government and the ECD sector share a common principle, which is ‘the best interest of the child’ — which we all work towards.”

But not all are convinced.

Andile Cele, a consultant at the Public Service Accountability Monitor and coordinator of the Budget Justice Coalition, believes that the migration of ECD services to the DBE will not only further cripple the department, but also negatively affect the lives of millions of children.

“As South Africans, we know that the basic education sector has failed to fulfil its current mandate. The DBE’s history with poor education and general programme outputs should be a major concern.”

In defence of the DBE, Oliphant says: “When you look at most of the country, ECD is located within education to ensure a smooth transition from preparatory to formal schooling. The issue of capacity is neither here nor there.”

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga insists the department has the capacity and is ready for the migration.

“DBE has been working together with DSD to ensure the migration is smooth. Two processes are running concurrently to realise the ECD function shift — 1) a technical function shift that focuses on shifting the responsibility for ECD from the DSD to the DBE by 1 April 2022, and 2) a function improvement phase that entails the preparations for improving ECD service delivery as part of the transferring function. The DSD has capacitated DBE on areas that are critical for transition.

“Such areas include, and are not limited to, registration and funding — this includes implementation of conditional grants and payment of subsidies, training on national ECD policy and how to use the Vangasali registration tool.

“The existing governance structures will continue to operate to manage the transitional period.”

Mhlanga said that “services will still be provided and they will not be affected by the function shift. The department of basic education will be responsible to support, subsidise and regulate the programmes according to the Children’s Act”.

However, the transfer will have an impact on the availability of DSD social workers.

“The shift will affect DSD given the increase in social ills and the impact of Covid-19. Social workers at the district level were doing generic work and are the key resource in the delivery of social welfare services,” said Oliphant.

“Having said that, the move is necessary as it is in the best interest of the child. DSD will continue to coordinate the recruitment strategy for social workers in the country, as the appointment of social workers is the responsibility of the majority of departments and should be done in a coordinated manner.”

Other concerns have been raised by the SACECD, the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development, a union that represents non-profit ECD organisations in South Africa. The issues relate to ownership, upskilling, remuneration, infrastructure, funding of the ECD sector and what this transition means for the future of ECD education.

Matinte Christina Radebe of the SACECD said news of the migration was well received by their members as they believe children stand to benefit from increased access to high-quality early childhood education, which could reduce some of the challenges faced by the sector.

“As the SACECD, we believe that the quality of education in a country is indicative of its overall development prospects. Over the past two decades, we were building on the momentum generated in 1994 by ECD practitioners when they marched in their respective provinces for the inclusion of ECD in the department of education.

“We know that the ECD function shift is the first step of many processes to recognise ECD as an important pillar in our education system. ECD programmes help children enter primary school prepared to learn.

“We hope the DBE will start engaging with us in good faith to resolve all the challenges faced by the ECD sector.”

The DBE responded to some of the concerns:

What does the shift mean for the ownership of ECD programmes?

“Since the majority of ECD programmes are owned by non-governmental organisations, communities and private institutions rather than the Department of Social Development, they will not be affected by the function shift. Rather, the DBE will become responsible for supporting, subsidising and regulating the programmes according to the specifications in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 of the Children’s Act.”

What are the implications for training and qualifications? 

The DBE is not expecting ECD practitioners to upskill themselves before 1 April 2022. We will be developing an ECD Human Resource Strategic Workforce Plan that will build on to the existing workforce.

“This plan will outline the qualifications that are available for ECD practitioners; the expectations in terms of competencies, skills and qualifications at different levels; flexible opportunities for training and development including recognition of prior learning; clear career paths and conditions of service.

“This plan will only come into effect in 2023 and will be thoroughly workshopped with the sector before it is adopted. This means that the ECD Qualifications of NQF Level 4 and NQF Level 5 are still relevant.”

How will this affect ECD practitioners’ current employment arrangements? 

ECD practitioners are currently employed by ECD programmes and this will remain the case come 1 April 2022. The DBE will not become responsible for paying the salaries of ECD practitioners… this will still be the responsibility of the ECD programmes.

“ECD programmes will remain the employers of ECD practitioners after the ECD function shift. DBE will engage with providers to determine the options for supporting them to ensure quality outcomes for children.”

The SACECD has recommended that education stakeholders, including the national government, do the following;

  • Establish equity-based learning targets for all children, by systematically collecting data for tracking progress against these targets, and allocating sufficient resources to early childhood.
  • When the national government takes steps to prioritise early childhood development, the ECD community should take its cue and integrate early childhood development into the broader push toward access.
  • Push toward reaching all millennium development goals and focus on the quality of education, learning and skills development, beginning with the youngest citizens.
  • South African government to commit (financially) to building new ECD facilities, enhance and scale-up teacher training, provide subsidies for rural, squatter camp and unemployed families for access to early learning opportunities, and increase support (programme funding) for private early childhood education centres.

The inter-departmental handover of ECD will take place on Friday at Freedom Park, Pretoria. DM


Source: Daily Maverick

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