School feeding scheme benefits nine million children

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pretoria – President Jacob Zuma says about nine million children are benefitting from the school feeding scheme, ensuring that they no longer have to study on empty stomachs.

Releasing the 20 Year Review: South Africa 1994 to 2014 in Pretoria on Tuesday, President Zuma said over eight million school children were now benefitting from no-fee policies.  

South Africa has, over the last two decades, made a substantial investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD), a critical phase in the academic development of all children.

The 20 Year Review says public expenditure on ECD has increased fourfold in real terms since 2006 and the number of children aged 0-4 years attending ECD facilities is increasing.

Grade R enrolment has doubled, increasing from 300 000 to 705 000 between 2003 and 2011 and nearly reaching universal access. As at 2012, 87.8% of learners in Grade 1 in public schools had attended Grade R.

However, the Review notes that the quality of ECD needs to be improved at all levels and very small number of children aged between 0-2 years old are in formal early child care and education centres.

Improving policy

ECD is being strengthened to cover the first 1 000 days of life - from conception to two years old.

Multi-sectoral coordination is also being strengthened to ensure that a more comprehensive set of services such as nutrition and food security, antenatal and post-natal care and home-based and community-based ECD programmes is offered, with greater focus on improving access for poor children.

There are a number of laws, policies and plans that give effect to the provision of ECD services. Among these is the White Paper on Early Childhood Development (2001), the Children’s Act No. 38 of 2005.

A significant development in this area was the National Integrated Plan (NIP) (2005-2010), which set a target to provide services to one million children in the initial phase, and five million children by 2010.

The NIP expands services beyond centre-based care and includes home-based care and community childcare centres. However, the NIP did not meet its targets and is currently under review.

While the NIP has proposed different forms of care provision, the focus has been on centre-base care. This is largely due to the current service delivery model, where a non-profit organisation with a constitution must be set up, according to a set of norms and standards.

This entity must register with the Department of Social Development. Once the registration has been approved, the entity may then apply for the per-learner subsidy.  

The subsidy is paid per learner per day and is meant to cover nutritional and other basic needs, not salaries. Section 98 of the Children’s Act makes provision for conditional registration.

Another significant intervention was the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which brought additional resources with a focus on training ECD practitioners.

ECD legislation requires that ECD facilities be accessible to children with disabilities.

The Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation undertook a diagnostic review in 2011, which points to some progress since 1994. However, significant challenges remain, including that only 20 percent of poor children have access to an ECD facility.

The National Development Plan notes the importance of ECD in achieving the country’s socio-economic goals by proposing an additional year of ECD provision.

Improved access to ECD

Over the period 1994-2011, there has been a significant increase in access to centre-based care, albeit from a low base.

It is estimated that over a million children - 0-4 years - are in an ECD facility or some form of out-of-home care - of these 467 000 receive means-tested subsidies in 18 826 registered centres.

While there has been a marked increase in access over time – with the percentage of children attending an ECD service in 2011 almost double that for 1995, this is from a low base.

All provinces show a substantial improvement, with Gauteng being the top performer in both 1995 and 2011, while Mpumalanga was the poorest performer in 1995 and KwaZulu-Natal in 2011.

“What is of concern is that Gauteng and Western Cape have the lowest child share of the provincial population - 46 percent and 43 percent respectively; while KwaZulu-Natal, with one of the largest shares of the provincial child population, only has 29 percent of children accessing any form of ECD,” says the Review.

The numbers reflect increased access for the younger age group, but this is largely driven by Grade R.

There has been marked improvement in attendance for all four population groups. In both 1995 and 2011, African children were recorded as having a higher rate of attendance than coloured or Indian children. However, white children have the highest rate of attendance, which reflects historical patterns of inequity.

With regard to spatial patterns, access to ECD service has improved in both urban and rural areas.

In 1995, the rate of attendance was 29 percent in urban areas compared to 18 percent in rural areas. By 2011, the recorded rates for children under six years were 44 percent and 37 percent respectively.

The gap between urban and rural thus reduced substantially over the period, according to the Review.

The current model of ECD provision

The institutional and human resource capacity that is required to set up an ECD centre and the registration requirements and the funding model often inadvertently excludes poor children.

Furthermore, the centre-based model is targeted at 3-5 year olds, with less emphasis on appropriate service provision for younger children.

The ECD area has been dominated by non-profit organisations (NPOs). Capacity resides within this sector to expand services to all children and a suite of interventions should be developed whereby government works more closely with NPOs to provide resources that would be required.

Intervention in this area could potentially have positive poverty alleviation effects, as well as address inequality over the longer term.

The Review notes that the National Development Plan is a useful framework to plan over a longer time horizon, but also to understand that interventions take time to have an impact. – SAnews.gov.za

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