ECD department migration causes concern

Pictured is Yumna Allie, chairperson of the Grassy Park ECD Forum, with some of her pupils.

The Western Cape Government paved the way forward for the migration of Early Childhood Development (ECD) from one department to another at its first ECD Forum between Monday October 4 and Tuesday October 5.

However, the move of Early Childhood Development from the Provincial Department of Social Development to the Provincial Department of Education has left Yumna Allie, chairperson of the Grassy Park ECD Forum, with “anxiety and concern”.

The shift was announced by the president in February 2019.

The Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, was joined at the ECD Forum by the Provincial MEC of Education, Debbie Schäfer, and the Provincial MEC of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, as well as key stakeholders in the sector.

“The establishment of the ECD Forum follows the commitment made during my State of Province Address to engage with key stakeholders that are already doing excellent work in this space. ECDs are not only critical for the development of our children, and their success in life, but they are also essential to enable women to have greater access to economic opportunities,” said Mr Winde.

“We know that ECDs and the support that they provide to children is critical as it sets the foundation for a life well-lived. Not only do they teach children basic motor, literacy and numeracy skills, but in many cases, they also provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment which the child may otherwise not have at home.”

Ms Allie said the function shift to the Provincial Department of Education is creating much anxiety for ECD centre owners at grassroots level.

“While the Provincial Department of Education speaks of their readiness to receive the ECD sector into their department there is still much concern about quite a number of issues. Registration of our ECD centres with the City of Cape Town is one major challenge. Why is the City of Cape Town municipality not at the summit? It’s their onerous processes, first world standards and exorbitant fees that result in thousands of ECD centres not being able to meet the criteria for registration. And because they are not registered they are not eligible for DSD funding, leaving ECD centres struggling to survive,” said Ms Allie.

She said they face a huge gap with ECD teacher qualifications. “Because this sector has always been marginalised and enough opportunities are not given to ensure ECD teachers are adequately qualified, ECD owners fear they may be shut down if they are not suitably qualified.”

Ms Allie said they are concerned about how the upgrade of skills and training will be supported for the existing ECD workforce.

“After all, it costs money to study. Will there be mentorship and coaching programmes? We are shifting to the Provincial Department of Education in April 2022 but they are only beginning talks now. How is the ECD workforce being prepared for this shift as there has been no consultation from the sector on the ground.”

Other concerns are whether the Provincial Department of Education will fund the ECD centres like they fund Grade R pupils and staff in private ECD centres.

“Will the City support the registration of ECD centres with a fast, streamlined and affordable process? The Provincial Department of Education faces overcrowding and seems to not cope with their own load, are they ready for more responsibilities?” asked Ms Allie.

Speaking at the ECD Forum, Ms Fernandez explained: “Our provincial government is required to implement a range of prescribed legal, financial and personnel processes to execute the function shift, including the issuing of a proclamation by the Premier in terms of Section 137 of the Constitution transferring responsibility for ECD to the MEC of Education with effect from April 1 2022.”

Ms Fernandez added: “This has required extensive work for the officials involved and has been challenging to keep on track. However, when it comes to the actual ECDs, we are aiming to make this transfer as seamless as possible, with minimal disruption to the important work that you are doing for the children of this province.”

“The Western Cape Government is committed to ensuring a successful function shift. As such, we have:

  • Committed to the transfer of over 56 personnel from the Department of Social Development’s ECD programme to the Provincial Department of Education; and
  • Conducted several consultations with the ECD sector on the function shift, together with officials and service providers from the National Departments of Social Development and Education.“

Speaking to the impact of the migration on education, Ms Schäfer said: “We have already seen the move to provide Grade R within the Education sector’s remit, so it is natural to consider younger children as part of the package when it comes to the delivery of education. If we locate ECDs with Education, we create an integrated pipeline of education and support from an early age all the way to matric. Our aim is to ensure that each child is supported in a continuously supportive and reinforcing journey all the way to adulthood.”

Ms Schäfer said the migration would be beneficial for the sector as the Provincial Department of Education would be well placed to improve the management of data, standardising the curriculum, aligning health and wellbeing programmes and fostering training and development of staff. “It was explained that this would further improve how well a child does in school and how prepared they are for Grade 1,” she said.