In her maiden budget speech last week, Gauteng Finance MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko announced that a whopping R2.5 billion would be put aside over the next three years for “ensuring that all learners entering the schooling system have gone through early childhood development, regardless of their socio-economic status”. In particular, the money is earmarked “to complete the Universalisation of Grade R and preparing and piloting the introduction of Grade RR in public schools.”
But what exactly does that entail? We caught up with Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi, who gave us the breakdown. The department plans to spend in the following four areas:
- Ensuring that all ECD teachers are correctly qualified and trained
Historically, Grade R and Grade RR teachers were not required to be formal teachers. As a result, the training and education of these educators range vastly. “The majority of those practitioners were not appropriately qualified as fully fledged educators,” said Lesufi in an interview.
The department has already undertaken a programme with the University of South Africa to provide training to all Grade R and Grade RR public school teachers across the province, who need it.
“We need to conclude that programme – we are at 85% now, we are left with about 15% of the practitioners who need to come on board.” These expenses not only go for upfront training, but also towards continuous development programmes and bursaries to would-be ECD teachers.
With Grade RR now set to become a recognised part of the formal schooling process, there are also additional training implications for the relevant teachers. “It means that all those practitioners that are planning to come on board, have to go through this process of conversion,” says Lesufi.
- Training and Curriculum Development
The second portion of the budget will go towards developing standardised curricula for both grades. This will include “not only curriculum development, but development of the material and also training those teachers on how to utilise those materials,” explains the MEC.
- Developing norms and standards for Grade R and Grade RR classrooms
The department will spend some time developing the basic classroom norms for both grades and conduct an audit to get a sense of how many schools are meeting the required standards. “Those that are below the norms, we must lift them up to be at the level of where you need,” says Lesufi. This will include ensuring that infrastructure is appropriate for structured learning. “So, the classroom must not just be a room where kids sleep and dance,” explains the MEC. “It must have proper infrastructure: a library; sanitation must be the right size for the children, and all those things.”
- Finalising the Grade RR transition into the Department of Education
The last category of spending will go towards finalising the transition of Grade RR into the umbrella of formal education. “Remember that Grade RR was with the Department of Social Development. Now it’s coming to the Department of Education,” says the MEC. “The transition means absorption of staff members – you need to carry their costs, tools of trade, their phones, their laptops.”
In addition to employing more teachers, the department needs to assess the timeframe of absorbing the learner-related costs of overseeing another grade. “As we speak now, the state only gives school nutrition and scholar transport from Grade 1 upwards,” explains Lesufi. The department will conduct a study to determine whether it can absorb the extra costs of feeding and transport at once, whether it needs to be phased in, or whether parents will still be required to pay indefinitely.
While the R2.5 billion cost outlay is significant, the MEC is confident that these steps will make long-term improvements in education outcomes in Gauteng. “This is where we need to train the best,” he says. “I’m quite convinced that with the investment that we are making now, and with the commitment that the MEC for Finance and the Premier made for Grade R and Grade RR, we’ll be in a position to turn a corner.”