On Friday the 13th of May 2022, the Departments of Basic Education and Social Development in partnership with the LEGO Foundation and other stakeholders launched the results of the 2021 ECD census. The data collection exercise took place between August 2021 and February 2022. Though not the first ECD audit, this was the most expansive collation of data related to the ECD sector since the dawn of democracy. Previously, ECD service-related data was drawn from national survey data such as the 2013 DSD ECD Audit, the Stats SA General Household Survey, and the National Income Dynamics Study. Though both sources of data were reliable to some degree, they weren’t optimal nor sustainable for programme monitoring and planning.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation was invited to work in this sector due to its status as a key stakeholder in the ECD sector. The Vangasali campaign is a national program that was developed by the Department of Social development in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It was born out of the National ECD policy which aims to establish “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” by 2030.
The campaign has three main phases. Phase 1 aimed to find out about and count all ECD services that are present in South Africa. This was done with a conscious understanding that even though DSD may have data regarding the scale of ECD provisioning in the country, this data covered mostly registered and conditionally registered sites, playgroups as well as some unregistered centres. There were thousands of other unregistered ECD centres which were not accounted for as the department was not aware of where these centres operated from. Phase 1 has already been completed.
Phase 2 of the campaign seeks to standardise the process for ECD Registration across the country and to achieve registration massification through the introduction of new workflow processes and the use of Jamborees to batch ECD registration applications. The campaign also seeks to promote the use of standardised application packs that aim to ensure that all provinces use the same checklist and that registration files are identical across the country. Furthermore, the campaign proposes service assessments using the ECD Registration Framework and issuing of gold, silver and bronze registration decisions. Lastly, as means for tracking registrations nationally, the campaign promotes the use of the Online Registration Management Tool.
Phase 3 of the campaign, which is being piloted in the Winnie Madikizela Mandela Municipality in Bizana, is the intervention phase and is aimed at providing support packages to individual ECD sites to progressively register them within the confines of available
resources. This phase is also aimed at monitoring sites and providing ongoing support to them. This will ensure the delivery of quality ECD services. The Department of Basic Education ECD census captured a total of 42 420 ELPs (Early Learning Programmes) during the census fieldwork process. Gauteng was the province with the most ELPs at 10 376, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape followed with 8089 and 5426 ELPs respectively. A total of 60% of the ELPs were urban and 40% rural. The purpose of this census was to gather reliable and verified data that would enable the Department of Basic Education to move towards a centralised information management system that would enable improved resource allocation and allow for the prioritisation of the poorest of children that are most in need of public assistance as alluded to by the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga.
A large part of what came out of the ECD census was the need to redirect resources to the poorest of the poor and ensure equitable access to educational outcomes for all children, regardless of socio-economic status. The ECD census data brought to light the disparities in the quality of resources received by children in poor provinces versus those in the most affluent. To a large degree, this is tied to issues of funds that are available to these centres. For example, 69% of ELPs have school fees as their main source of funding with only 27% receiving government subsidies while the remaining 4% are reliant on donations. Within this group, there is no uniform amount charged on fees. The average monthly fee charged is R509 yet there are major disparities in monthly fees charged per province, for example, in the Western Cape and Gauteng fees are three times higher than in the Eastern Cape yet there is an expectation that all these ELP’s provide the same level of services.
One of the biggest issues to come out of the ECD census results was the limited uptake of registration by ELP’s. Out of the 42 420 ELP’s that were captured during the census, only 40% of them were either registered or at least conditionally registered with the Department of Social Development. Compound this with the amount of those that receive government funding (only 27%) and the amount of those with the relevant NQF qualifications (only 52%) and one realises that we have a brewing crisis in the ECD sector. A crisis that if not adequately addressed has the potential to have detrimental effects on the Department of Basic Education’s agenda to have children on track for their age in key areas of development by the age of five.
To put it into context, the registration status of an ELP influences several factors that in turn influence the level of service received by a child and therefore their prospects to thrive by the age of 5. The registration status of an ELP influences the level of support and funding an ELP receives from our government. It influences the salaries of educators and the general level of resource allocation that gets attributed to an ELP. Therefore, the sorting out of the registration conundrum and getting as many ELP’s registered becomes one of the most important early steps that the Department of Basic Education can apply to deal with the challenges that currently define the Early Childhood Development sector. The department is fortunate in that the Vangasali campaign exists with the sole purpose of dealing with this problem of ELP registration.
The fragile state in which the ECD sector finds itself is comprehensively depicted in the census, revealing a plethora of challenges the state together with civil society needs to grapple with in order to fulfil the mandate outlined in the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy (2015) and the Children’s Act. The Vangasali campaign particularly supports a strategy that prioritises the needs of people in impoverished areas and addresses the deficient registration rates in the country. Through the developmental pathway to registration, defined in the ECD Registration Framework and the various Vangasali toolkits, more ECD sites will be brought into the regulatory fold, and be better positioned to access resources to deliver quality ECD services.
The Vangasali campaign may not be an omniscient solution to all the challenges found in the sector, but it does, however, provide a formidable blueprint to flatten a fundamental barrier in realising quality ECD services for all and therefore radically breaking intergenerational poverty. The results of the census clearly articulate the need and the severity of the challenges experienced in the sector.
Visit our website at nelsonmandela.org for more information on the Vangasali campaign.