The Western Cape Education Department has already met its objective of universal access to Grade R by 2014.
According to White Paper 5, the requirements of national policy on early childhood development will be satisfied that we have achieved universal access when at least 80% of public primary schools offer Grade R, with independent pre-schools largely catering for the balance.
The WCED has already surpassed this target.
Currently, a total of 1 288 schools offer Grade R in the Western Cape. These include 932 public schools and 356 private pre-schools.
The figures suggest that about 88% of public primary schools now offer Grade R in the province.
While we have reached the national target of universal access to Grade R, the WCED will continue to expand access to Grade R in public schools across the province this year.
An additional 50 public schools that currently do not offer Grade R will be assisted throughout the year to ensure that they have the facilities to expand access to Grade R by 2014. This will include the building of 50 additional classrooms at 30 of the schools. The remaining 20 schools already have accommodation available, but require the assistance of the WCED to prepare for the introduction of Grade R in their schools.
The additional Grade R classrooms will therefore further increase the WCED’s percentage of access to Grade R and will accommodate over 2100 additional learners.
This will increase the estimated percentage of Grade R learners at public schools. Over 90% of our public schools will offer Grade R next year.
The WCED infrastructure section has invested heavily in Grade R over the past few years, building more than 406 classrooms in a four year period.
In the current financial year, the WCED will also invest R460 million in Grade R, mainly in subsidies for schools offering Grade R to learners. Selected schools are also provided with funding for furniture for the classrooms and learning and teaching support material for both indoor and outdoor play.
Schools currently employ 2 284 Grade R practitioners, while the department employs 192 Grade R teachers.
The department changed its model for financing Grade R about 12 years ago, from employing permanent teachers to subsidising schools per Grade R learner.
This made it much easier to improve access to Grade R in poor communities. The subsidy this year ranges from R16 to R20 per learner per day, depending on the quintile ranking of the school.
According to the South African Schools Act, parents may enrol five-year-olds who will be turning six in Grade R.
Schools may enrol four-year-olds who will be turning five before the end of June in Grade R, but should give preference to older children, namely, those turning six in Grade R.
The department encourages parents to keep their children in Grade R for a second year if they are younger than the age norm for Grade 1. The school will continue to receive the subsidy for the learner if they do so.
Our studies have found that many children struggle academically if they are younger than the age norm for their grade, especially in poor communities.
The WCED encourages schools and parents to test learners for school readiness if learners are younger than the age norm for Grade 1. They can obtain advice on these tests from our district offices.