Minister Angie Motshekga: Launch of Public Expenditure and Institutional Review for ECDs

Address by the Minister for Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, at the Launch of the Public Expenditure and Institutional Review for ECDs held at Pretoria Country Club

Dr Makgabo Reginah Mhaule, Basic Education Deputy Minister, ourProgramme Director for today,World Bank Country Director: Madam Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly,Basic Education Director-General: Mathanzima Hubert Mweli,Panelists: Dr Kotze (DBE), Ms Ntsie (DOH), Ms Sadan (NPC) andKerry Kassen (LEGO Foundation),Members of the Media,Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for joining us today at the Pretoria Country Club to launch the Public Expenditure and Institutional Review for Early Childhood Development in collaboration with the World Bank.

Speaking in the early days of our freedom, our founding father, former President Nelson Mandela, implored us to look after our children.

Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” (8 May 1995)

A year later, he drove the message home when he said: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.” (3 June 1995)

These two quotes highlight the importance of investing in Early Childhood Development Centres and ensuring that all children can thrive and become productive members of society.

Our responsibility as a society and education mandarins is to provide children with the foundations they need to reach their full potential and build a better future for themselves and their communities.

Let us all work together towards this goal and create a brighter future for our children, not in the future, but now.

As we work, let’s ensure that no child is left behind.

Therefore, Early Childhood Development has become a critical priority for the South African government and is considered one of the most powerful levers to unlock the future potential of South Africa.

As the Minister of Basic Education, I am excited to be here today to discuss this important issue and share our progress in this area with you.

As we know, from conception to five years of age, we can have the most significant influence on setting children up to thrive later in life.

Therefore, it is a critical opportunity to reduce the acute impact of poverty on our children and ensure better performance in formal schooling.

If we establish a solid foundation in the early years, we’ll probably decrease the probability of a child dropping out of school prematurely, enhance their academic performance, and eventually alleviate poverty.

As the Department of Basic Education, we are very excited about the opportunity to have received the ECD function a year ago today.

As we received the function, we realized that we needed three strands of research to inform our planning for the future.

The first was the ECD Census to understand the size and scope of the ECD sector.

According to data collected starting in August 2021, 42 420 Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) were counted collectively, with 1 660 316 children enrolled.

The second was the Thrive by Five Index to understand the quality of ECD provision.

The 2022 Thrive by Five Index constituted the first (baseline) in a series of nationally and provincially representative surveys that will monitor trends over time in the proportions of children aged 4-5 years who are ‘on track’ for their age’s key areas of development.

Furthermore, the Index provided us with a starting point measure against which to monitor the progress in improving the quality of early learning services for children over time and allowing us to intervene timeously to get children back on track.

According to Thrive by Five Index, the most extensive survey on preschool child development in South Africa, 65% of four to five-year- olds fail to meet their age’s expected early learning and physical growth standards.

It was found that less than half of 4-5-year-olds are on track for learning.

It was reported that 55% of children attending ELPs could not do the learning tasks expected of children their age, with 28% of children falling far behind the expected standard.

And the third strand of research was the Public Expenditure and Institutional Review to understand what funding is currently being allocated to ECD and whether this funding is leading to the expected child outcomes.

For this reason, we have partnered with the World Bank and National Treasury to conduct a Public Expenditure and Institutional Review.

We have identified five priorities to improve and strengthen the delivery of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) function.

Firstly, ensuring curriculum-based early learning for all children birth to 5 years.

Our focus with this strategy is improving quality by strengthening the implementation of the National Curriculum Framework.

Secondly, ensuring quality early childhood development programmes for all children birth to 5 years.

The objective here is to increase access to early childhood development programmes so that all children in South Africa are given a chance to thrive.

Thirdly, availing training and development for all those working in ECD.

We cannot improve quality without thinking about the ECD practitioner.

Under this strategy, we are developing a human resource development plan to articulate clear career paths, develop service conditions and ensure intensive but flexible training opportunities are available to ECD practitioners.

The fourth and fifth strategies align directly with the work that has been done through Public Expenditure and Institutional Review:

The fourth strategy is to improve the coordination and integration of all early childhood development services.

This entails strengthening the collaboration between key government departments responsible for delivering holistic services to children.

We are grateful to be joined by officials from the Department of Health and the National Planning Commission today.

The report has given us many suggestions for strengthening our partnership to ensure that all children in South Africa receive a comprehensive package of integrated services to provide them with the required foundations to thrive later in life.

The final strategy is about having a flexible funding and provisioning framework for early childhood development.

We realize that the sector has historically been underfunded.

We also agree that investment in the early years is the most effective investment a government can make to ensure better life outcomes for our citizens.

The Public Expenditure and Institutional Review has been conducted to determine how much spending across various government departments and spheres is aligned with the ECD priority outcomes.

The review identified the major constraints and opportunities for further expansion of ECD services and quality improvements in the future.

As a government, we are dedicated to fighting the case for our children.

We must ensure we collectively provide them with the correct foundations to reach their full potential.

We are delighted at the opportunity that this Review report presents – to elevate the early years as the foundation of all education and learning and to inject new momentum into the government’s commitment to delivering access and quality for every child.

Programme director, the challenges faced in the Early Childhood Development sector in South Africa are immense.

It is clear that there is a significant need for increased funding and support for young children, particularly those who are undernourished and experiencing developmental delays.

For instance, in 2016, 7% of children under five years old were stunted.

In 2021, 55% of children in early learning programs had not achieved expected learning levels by age five.

This is unacceptable, and urgent action must be taken to improve outcomes for young children in South Africa.

The Public Expenditure and Institutional Review has recommended several key actions to address these challenges.

Firstly, there must be an increase in overall funding for Early Childhood Development in South Africa.

This funding must be targeted towards ensuring that young children are well-nourished and healthy.

To achieve this, we can allow women to apply for the Child Support Grant while pregnant and link the grant to information about stimulation and improved nutrition services.

We must also provide more children with early stimulation and learning opportunities.

This can be achieved by streamlining ECD registration and subsidy application processes to allow more children to access the subsidy and measure child development outcomes regularly, including for children ages 0-4 years.

Additionally, we need to conduct a needs assessment of ECD practitioners and develop a shorter, entry-level national qualification that is subsidized and widely rolled out through accredited training providers.

This will ensure that ECD practitioners have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide high-quality care and education for young children.

In conclusion, the challenges faced in the Early Childhood Development sector in South Africa are significant but can be overcome with strategic action and investment.

As a government, we are committed to fighting for our children and ensuring they can get the best possible start in life.

We can create a brighter future for South Africa’s youngest citizens with increased funding, better nutrition, and targeted support for ECD practitioners.

Former US President Barack Obama once opined: “The single most important investment we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.”

Let’s do it together for humanity and posterity, not to feed our egos.

I thank you.

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