The Department of Social Development must be congratulated on hosting a successful national ECD conference in East London on 26-28 March 2012. The seniority and diversity of the Ministries, Departments, agencies, and stakeholders represented at the conference – along with the commonality of the messaging – marks the coming of age of ECD in South Africa.
Early childhood development in its diverse complexity – covering as it does the period of development of young children from conception until the age of nine years – was recognised as a right of the utmost importance to children and the development of the country. It was further recognised that the realisation of this right depends on the collective and coordinated interventions of multiple role players – ranging from the health, education and social development sectors to local government, traditional leaders, human settlements, environmental affairs and numerous others.
The conference resolved that ECD must be universalised. It also resolved that the realisation of this goal depends on all role players, including the state, investing more robustly in ECD to ensure adequate resourcing so that all children, especially the most vulnerable, are assured of access to the full range of ECD services. Services that must be universalised include quality ante-natal care for pregnant women (including nutritional support), quality obstetric services, quality post-natal services and nutritional support, quality parenting support, birth registration, access to adequate water, sanitation and a safe source of power, quality day care, and quality early learning and stimulation.
There was recognition that much work has to be done to realise the conference goals. The way forward will be guided by a national ECD plan of action, which the Deputy Minister of Social Development stressed would be developed within the next three months. The plan will address a number of the key issues and blockages that have stood in the way of the universalisation of quality ECD up until now. To name a few, these include insufficient meaningful integration of ECD services, lack of access to services for children with disabilities, in poverty and in rural areas, lack of clarity as to responsibilities to provide infrastructure, and the professionalisation and control of the quality of early childhood education services.
Copies of all presentations can be accessed on the Department of Social Development’s website. The Department has undertaken to publish the Conference resolutions on its site. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened. The draft resolutions made at the conference include the following: The Department and other stakeholders will –
- undertake a comprehensive review of policy and legislation within the ECD sector as a foundational step towards universalisation of ECD;
- adopt a multi-sectoral, integrated and coordinated approach to ensure the effective provisioning of ECD services by Government, NGOs, civil society and business;
- strengthen the role of parents, families and communities in the provisioning of ECD services;
- ensure the inclusion of children with disabilities and deliberately extend ECD services to children in rural areas;
- ensure adequate resourcing of ECD services, including infrastructure provisioning;
- work towards professionalization accreditation, improving training and promoting the Basic Conditions of Employment Act in the ECD sector;
- streamline the registration process and the standardisation of ECD services to improve quality; and
- develop a programme of action, in collaboration with civil society partners, with clear targets and outcomes for each of the identified focus areas by 30 June 2012.