By: Janeli Kotze, Deputy Director of Research Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation, Department of Basic Education & Vuyelwa Ntuli, Chief Education Specialist, Early Childhood Development, Department of Basic Education.

Cross-posted on 



South Africa has a moderately high net enrollment rate for early childhood education (ECE), with 69 percent of children aged three to five enrolled in some form of early learning group program. The National Integrated ECD Policy, published in 2015, strives to transform ECE delivery. The responsibility of ECE is being transferred to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) from the Department of Social Development (DSD). In preparation for taking on this new responsibility, the DBE is creating a management information system that will annually collate information on enrollment, staffing, registration, monitoring the implementation of curriculum, and other components for all ECD centers throughout the country. Out of the estimated 40,000 ECD centers, only 10,000 are officially registered, which poses a challenge in terms of ECE implementation and monitoring.

Together for Early Childhood Evidence team members

The South Africa country team was established in 2019 and is co-chaired by USAID South Africa and the Department of Basic Education. The initial team included national and provincial-level ECD leaders, USAID, and Innovation Edge, a South African innovation catalyst and social impact investor:

  • Janeli Kotze, Deputy Director: Research Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation, Department of Basic Education
  • Vuyelwa Ntuli, Department of Basic Education
  • Nicholas Dowdall (initially Department of Basic Education and now LEGO Foundation)
  • Engenas Senona (Department of Basic Education)
  • Lyndsey Petro (Innovation Edge)
  • Phumelele Tloubatla (Gauteng Department of Education)
  • Palesa Thulo (Northern Cape Department of Education)
  • Carien Vorster (USAID South Africa)

Due to the expanded interest and scope during the second phase of Together for Early Childhood Evidence, the team has expanded to include the additional Innovation Edge and USAID team members:

  • Nicole Bondi (Innovation Edge)
  • Temi Ogunyoku (Innovation Edge)
  • Patricia Viala (USAID South Africa)
  • Laura Mack (USAID South Africa)
  • Morgan Mthembu (USAID South Africa)

South Africa’s ECE data needs

The main goal of having ECE data is to inform planning, resource allocation, and support, and to address the challenges of quality and access. The South Africa team completed CPDMA Diagnostic Toolkit in 2019 and identified data needs at two levels: service delivery (for parents, teachers and school administrators) and policy level (for district-, state- and national-level governments).

The team also identified six key questions to be answered using data:

  • Which ECE programs are of acceptable quality?
  • How many (%) registered ECE centers meet the minimum infrastructure requirements?
  • How many (%) ECE practitioners have the minimum level of qualification?
  • How many (%) ECE centers receive the subsidy?
  • How many children have access and through which delivery mechanisms?
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the stakeholders involved in ECD?

Current landscape

South Africa has a number of data collection initiatives for early childhood, including:

  • The Early Learning Outcome Measure (ELOM), developed and implemented by Innovation Edge,
  • The General Household Survey, collected by Statistics South Africa,
  • Annual Survey of ECD, conducted by DBE,
  • ECD Baseline Assessment, conducted by the Department of Social Development (DSD), DBE, Innovation Edge and universities and supported by USAID, and
  • The ECD Census, to be conducted by DBE, DSD and the LEGO Foundation.

An ECD Audit (now called the ECD Baseline Assessment) was planned for 2020, but was put on hold due to the pandemic. Ilifa Labantwana, a South African ECD program, supported the DSD in collating all the existing information at a district level on registered ECD programs. The resulting database contains about 18,500 ECD programs. However, it is estimated that there are about 40,000 – 60,000 ECD programs that exist, which means more than half are unregistered.

In June 2020, the DSD in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) launched the Vangasali Campaign to crowdsource information on the number of ECD programs (both registered and unregistered) and their locations. The data collection process entailed NGOs, provinces, districts and forums sending their databases to the NMF to collate and clean the data. They also partnered with GovChat to use a WhatsApp bot to allow the programs to send their data directly to the NMF. This information will be verified through the ECD Census in 2021. The second phase of the Vangasali Campaign will support ECD services applying for registration. It will also involve the nationwide implementation of the ECD registration framework and the associated Vangasali registration toolkits and methods, which create a developmental pathway for the registration of all types of ECD services.

Three studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic provided data on its impact on ECD: Sector Hanging in the balance: ECD and lockdown in South Africa and the First and Second Surveys Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on ECD. These studies found that the pandemic has hit the sector hard: as of July and August 2020, it is operating at just a quarter of the pre-lockdown levels. Supply side constraints were cited by 56 percent of respondents as the reason why their children were not attending ECE programs. New data being collected now will give further insights on the ever-changing effect of the pandemic on the sector. The data will be available in early 2021.

Next steps

Although the pandemic has required shifting course, the South Africa country team has continued to make progress toward developing an ECD data system. The next steps include conducting an ECD Census and Management and Information System for ECD and an Early Year Index and Baseline Assessment.

ECD Census and Management and Information System (MIS) for ECD: The DBE, with funding from the LEGO Foundation, is planning a census of all ECD programs in 2021. Using the most updated database (most likely the Vangasali database), the census will have fieldworkers physically validate the existence of the ECD programs, check their registration requirements and enter the program into a database which will serve as the initial ECD MIS database. This data will eventually help with planning, human resource allocation, funding allocation, and national plans to increase ECD access.

Early Year Index and Baseline Assessment: The DBE partnered with Innovation Edge and First National Bank, and USAID’s Together for Early Childhood Evidence on developing an Early Years Index to monitor trends over time in the proportion of young children who are on track for age in key areas of development. This project will help inform the indicators for the DBE’s annual performance plans and ensure that more children receive the care and services they need to help keep them on track. Given the lack of a master list of ECD programs, DBE sampled 540 programs that are relatively nationally representative. The intention is to conduct a baseline assessment of program aspects such as infrastructure, practitioner training and remuneration, expenditure, income, and registration requirements. The baseline assessment will also include a lesson observation in each program and attempt to construct a ‘quality’ measure based on the instructional practices in the ECD program. Finally, the project will assess six learners per program using the ELOM assessment. DBE began the baseline assessment component in March 2020 and managed to collect information on 127 programs before lockdown. Data collection is planned to resume once lockdown ends.

Though we are in unprecedented times that require constant flexibility and innovation, we still seek to improve our measurement and data systems, as we know they are critical to reaching the most marginalized young children with high-quality ECE programs.