R18bn for Grade R – will programming ensure the best outcome for children?
The growth of Grade R is changing the ECD landscape. The R18bn boost promised in the February 2012 budget speech heralds an acceleration of access to Grade R. The enrolment age for Grade R is now 4 years which has in recent times already impacted on the expansion rate, and increasing numbers of public schools are providing well-equipped buildings with fenced-off outdoor play areas where little children can play more safely.
In order for the gains at Grade R level to achieve the best outcomes for children, it is imperative that an informed child development perspective be adopted in planning and provision. Scale up programmes must be designed with the dire situation of our youngest children in mind. To provide more and more for Grade R and higher grades whilst continuing to fail to provide quality for infants would be counterproductive, and urgent attention should be given to the disparity in remuneration for teachers. Currently provision is made for Grade R teachers to earn between R5000 and R8000, whereas on average teachers of younger children, irrespective of qualifications, are dependent on fees paid by families and earn between R200 and R500.
An investment should be made in raising the status of the increasing numbers of teachers qualifying at Levels 4 and 5 who work with babies and children up to 3 years. These teachers need to be skilled and motivated in order to maximise learning at the stage of the most rapid brain development. In addition programmes for children out of centres need to have a strong cognitive development focus, and appropriately trained and supported ECD practitioners.
The emphasis placed on health and safety of young children by the Children’s Act is rightly played out in the focus of the Department of Social Development. However, whilst this drives compliance with health and safety standards for registration and subsidy purposes it could contribute to the neglect of cognitive and holistic development.
The quality audit coordinated by ELRU for the Department of Social Development in 2010 drew attention to the already very poor quality of service for babies in centres. This is a matter of grave concern given that these children are in the most critical period of their lives for brain development.
ELRU’s response is a strong emphasis on leadership development including personal development and the development of confidence in those working with the youngest children. Our aim is to reach more people through direct teacher development, teacher mentoring and training of trainers, and to influence and involve key people at local, provincial and national levels to invest in the youngest children.
However, a reality and a mark of success of our work is that where community based teachers gain qualifications and demonstrate good practice, career opportunities open for them. Primary schools take up good practitioners who have had the advantage of well supported implementation at community schools. The downside is that community schools are often left with fewer qualified staff, and as the greatest attention has been focused on teachers of older children (4-5years) it is yet again the younger children who are left with less.
The Early Learning Resource Unit 23/2/2012