ECD Has Been A Concern During Lockdown

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Early Childhood Development has been the key concern.

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In the past State of the Nation Address, it was announced that the Early Childhood Development sector would move from the Department of Social Development to the Basic Education Department, however, there may be some confusion in that regard.

ECD Financing and Systems Manager at Ilifa Labantwana, Laura Brooks, added that during last year's SONA, the president announced the intention to introduce an additional year of compulsory preschool education.

However, since then there has been no clarity on how much responsibility would be taken by the Department of Basic Education and what is meant by the intention to introduce an additional year of compulsory preschool.

ECD services include early learning centres, and non-centre-based early learning programs such as playgroups. 

Brooks pointed out that ECD is also provided by a large number of service providers that need to be supported and brought into the net, which is why they are looking forward to the opportunity to engage with the Children's Amendment Bill.

Those at Ilifa Labantwana believe that the Children's Amendment Bill is a missed opportunity to address the way that early learning programs are regulated.

Brooks noted that currently "the norms and standards that regulate what early learning programs are required to do in order to register are aspirational and exclude the majority of service providers which provide critical services to children."

The majority of services operate outside the regulatory net and are therefore not monitored or supported by the government.

Ilifa Labantwana believes that bringing the norms and standards in line with reality will ensure that more providers are regulated and funded by the government.

Next month Ilifa Labantwana will have oral hearings on the Children's Amendment Bill and they are hoping that the sector is going to come out in full force to describe their stories about how they have engaged with the norms and standards.

They hope that the particular chapters on ECD are retracted and that there are clear revisions to those that bring real reform for the ECD sector.

Due to the current pandemic, Brooks feels that not all plans were able to take place in 2020, however, she hopes that in the days to come discussions will take place around implementing these plans.

ECD providers and NGOs which focus on ECD have raised their voices to lift the story of ECD providers and the importance of ECD services. Which has forced the government to realize how many providers there are and how much support they need.

As part of the presidential employment stimulus package, ECD has been included as a recipient of some of those funds, which could be channelled to programs that have not previously been funded by the government.

At the 2021 SONA, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that: "Equally, we need to give attention to issues affecting children including improving school-readiness, Early Childhood Development planning and funding, protection against preventable diseases, policy reform around child welfare and reducing violence against children."

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