Social Investment specialist unpacks migration of Early Childhood Development to the Department of Basic Education

As the responsibility for early childhood development shifts from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), concerns have been raised about the state of preparedness of both departments. With the migration kicking off on 1 April, Social Investment Specialist Shamiso Chideme, says that change is not going to happen overnight and that this is a space that needs to be carefully monitored.

“With a shift as big as this, we need to make sure that the welfare of young children and the quality of early learning is not compromised,” she says.  “This is our future generation and we have to make sure that they have an appropriate start to life”.

Chideme, from Tshikululu Social Investments, says that one of the biggest advantages of this move is that it will shine a light on the importance of early learning in young children.

Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and an expert in the economics of human development in the United States, has done extensive research  into the economic returns which come from the earliest investments in children. Known as  the Heckman Curve, this eye-opening research has re-iterated the economic benefits of investing in skills development in young children and how this leads to greater success and productivity and reduces social spending within society in later years.

Highlighting the importance of ECD and making it a priority has enormous benefits and Chideme hopes that this renewed focus will motivate more parents and communities to send children to early learning centres, and to put the welfare of young children first.

Another benefit of this migration is that it gives the DBE the opportunity to improve what might not have worked in the past. The department has partnered with the Lego Foundation to conduct extensive research into ECD in South Africa, research which started last year already, and which will provide valuable data not available previously.

Part of this data will be assessing current infrastructure with a priority being the safety of our young children. This age group also predominantly learn through play so appropriate developmental facilities are vital.

Of the estimated 400 000 ECD practitioners within the ECD sector, most of whom are women, many do not have formal qualifications but have been providing a valuable service to young children and families for many years. Chideme says her concern is that the DBE might prioritise practitioners with formal qualifications which might lead to an increase in unemployment and a loss of vital skills and experience, a loss which our country cannot afford.

“The key is to look at current ECD practitioners, the amazing work that so many of them do and how to absorb them into the Department of Basic Education,” Chideme says.

Another consideration which the current census hopes to highlight are the many different types of ECD modalities in South Africa. These include ECD centres and non centre based programmes such as day mothers, and play groups which give access to early learning to many children in the more rural areas of our country.

With the barrier to formally registering an ECD centre and the accessing of government subsidies being ongoing challenges, these are all issues the DBE will have to address going forward.

Another factor will be the monitoring of existing nutrition programmes that currently benefit millions of learners and that these are not compromised.

Currently the DBE has presented their plans and communicated openly with key stakeholders and are actively working on the challenges and systemic barriers to ECD. Chideme says that there is a real opportunity to professionalize ECD in a more coordinated manner to best benefit our young children.

Transparency and ongoing communication and consultation will be vital. Social economic disparities, infrastructure, safety, nutrition and quality of education are all factors that need to be closely monitored. The onus is on social investors and key players within the ECD space to make sure that the DBE is accountable along this journey and that their plans are implemented.