Early Childhood Education is widely acknowledged as one of the most critical areas of intervention in education. Official policy defines Early Childhood Development (ECD) as catering for children from 0-9 years. In practice, however the field is more fragmented. The phase from 0-4 years is referred to by many as ECD, and falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health. Children are expected to enter Grade R in the year that they turn five years old. The intention is for Grade R to be brought into the Foundation Phase of formal schooling, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. Many also refer to Grade R as ECD. By referring to Early Childhood Development we want to cover the full spectrum of ECD.
Early Childhood Provision
Early Childhood services for children range from provision of day care in private houses and back yards, through non-formal centre-based provision to formal community and public provision of Grade R and the Foundation Phase (Grades 1-3). As such their regulation spans at least two (previously three) government departments.
Early Childhood Teacher Education
Teacher education for ECD has historically been dominated by non-government organisations (NGOs), and before their closure, the Teacher Training Colleges. More recently some Further Education and Training (FET) colleges offer vocational ECD practitioner training. To a lesser extent Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) offer post-matric qualifications with an emphasis on the Foundation Phase, sometimes with Grade R or ECD components within the BEd. The regulation of quality provision of teacher education spans at least three quality assurance sectors, namely the Education, Training and Development Practice Sectoral Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA), Umalusi (quality assurance for FET) and Council for Higher Education (CHE).
Quality in ECD
Our view of the indicators of quality in ECD is in line with the conception of ECD as a continuum of growth and development, which requires intervention at a number of levels.
- Children's Rights
- Health & Nutrition
- Stimulation & Development
- Education of Practitioners
- Resources & Equipment
- Parent and Community Involvement
Saide has incorporated ECD into our understanding of and work in the teacher education sector. The same overall question applies: Are teachers adequately qualified to help children to learn? In ECD the three big issues which will help us to answer that question are:
- The provision of sufficient appropriately trained pre-Grade R / Grade R / FP teachers (EC practitioners?);
- Developing ECD practitioners’ own literacy and numeracy – fundamentals, EKN;
- Career pathing for ECD practitioners
In this context Saide has identified four important themes for ECD:
- Quality of teaching
- Quality of training
- Teacher qualifications, and
- Materials development.
As such there are three main services for ECD work that Saide provides:
Research & Evaluation
Very little ECD data has been generated since the national ECD audit in 2001, and yet we know that quality is informed by up-to-date and reliable data. There is much scope for research and evaluation in relation to programmes, materials, provision, access, policy, funding and training.
Programme and Course design and development is about programmes that are accessible, flexible and appropriate to the national needs and needs of students. For Saide in ECD this means working with NGOs, FET colleges and HEIs towards quality training of practitioners, and engaging with issues around developing relevant, cognate qualifications that give ECD practitioners and teachers professional or some other official status linked to remuneration models, and mobility through the system.
Materials & Curriculum Development and Review
Saide can play an invaluable role in providing support for and collaborative development of teacher education materials and teacher support materials that promote quality stimulation & development of young children.
In order to achieve this work effectively there are two other important considerations for the Saide ECD strategy:
Building ECD Networks and Communities of Practice
Particularly given the shift to a more comprehensive notion of ECD Saide can offer expertise and experience to build networks and communities of practice across the 0-9 continuum and across NGOs, FET Colleges and HEIs. These networks and communities serve capacity building and support functions in all our areas of work.
Use of ICTs in ECD
The OER Africa project within Saide provides an opportunity for expanding ECD networks into Africa. ICTs present interesting options in relation to providing online support for distance ECD learners and their teachers / tutors, the use of ICTs to facilitate networks and communities of practice and the use of ICTs to assist in project management and coordination and the development of OER in ECD.
Saide ECD Projects
Saide has engaged with ECD for the past four or five years in various ways. The main projects have included:
- Takalani Sesame – materials development for multi-media teacher training.
- Fundamentals – materials development at NQF Level 1 and training trainers from NGOs.
- Grade R policy research
- SABC Content Strategy for ECD – recommendations for a content strategy for ECD.
- Zenex Grade R Research – a project extending the policy research on Grade R, career pathways for Grade R teachers and recommendations for quality Grade R teaching and teacher education.