Ronnie Phala: Pitching a super-ministry for child governance: A wish list for the future
The concept of The Quantified Child, borrowed from the quantified self, takes a holistic view of all the child-related metrics. The child super-ministry will track the status of each child across areas such as health, education, sports, and general well-being, using the latest digital tools.
The writer imagines a future scenario where the Presidency launches a new governance structure. - Ed
In yet another bold step since assuming office, President Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing to unveil a new governance structure – with some really interesting surprises. Key among these is the creation of a so-called Ministry for The Child – a new governance function that will cover the full gamut of child development.
This is different from the ill-fated children's ministry under former president Thabo Mbeki.
Pitched as a super-ministry, the new structure will have below it three distinct functions:
A combined function for sports, recreation, arts, and culture.
A combined function for child social services such as health, nutrition, early childhood development (ECD), child protection, and child welfare.
Why separate functions such as sports and child welfare from their national ministries?
According to the president, almost 80% of social grant recipients are children, and an even greater number of participants in government-provided sports are school children. “The real question for me is why, given our immense challenges in child development - including sporting development - children have thus far not been governed through a dedicated super-structure.”
As a result of this reorganisation, the national functions of sports and social development have become much smaller and are thus being merged into other national departments.
Has this been tried elsewhere in the world?
“Not to our knowledge,” the President admits. “A parent in Sweden has all the necessary competencies to raise a 21st Century child, and they may not see the need for this level of organisation. Solutions to our unique challenges will not come from those who do not have the lived experiences of the African.”Sitting at 34%, the one to 18 demographic is larger than the population of SA's most populous province, Gauteng. One of the original models was for the creation of a province-like structure with a premier and three ministers reporting to the President but with a level of independence similar to Chapter 9 institutions. “Consolidating child governance functions under one umbrella will allow for a bird’s eye view, for better visibility, analytics, decision making, and implementation,” the President continues. To illustrate the point, the President cites as an example the necessary trade-offs when allocating funds between ECD programmes, where a staggering 27% of children are stunted, versus education.
"It is difficult to come to an optimal allocation of resources when these functions reside within different, and sometimes competing, ministries”.
Other examples are the twin scourges of learner pregnancy and the youth drug problem, where the departments of education, health, police, and social development, scramble for solutions in an uncoordinated fashion. “The child super-ministry is the best vehicle for overseeing such cross-cutting interventions.”
According to sources, the original proposal was for the creation of a province-like structure, with the equivalent of a premier and three MECs, reporting to the President but with a level of independence similar to Chapter 9 institutions.
Moving on to the central cog driving the child super-ministry, the President says: "I want our government to have a continuous, multi-year view of the quantified child.” This concept of The Quantified Child, borrowed from the quantified self, takes a holistic view of all the child-related metrics.
"The child super-ministry will track the status of each child across areas such as health, education, sports, and general well-being - using the latest digital tools,” the President adds. “Ultimately, the parent will have all this information at their fingertips, in the form of a mobile app.”
This is a multi-year undertaking expected to yield long-term benefits for the country. Other initiatives include: Moving the school infrastructure development function from basic education into the purview of the child super-ministry. Thus giving it a broader mandate to plan and design integrated facilities, which will include other child-related services beyond just education - such as health, sporting, and recreational facilities.
Also, the establishment of a shared services function which will house finance, HR, ICT, analytics, supply chain, and logistics.
The President believes that, “By moving infrastructure, ICT, and logistics such as text book distribution to the new super-ministry, among other things, we are freeing up the education function to focus mainly on learning outcomes.” Other initiatives in this regard will be announced in due course.
The presidency further said that the new ministry will nurture a child-centric organisational culture. This will include designing distinctive practices, symbols, motifs, colours, and uniforms (where appropriate) that signify and distinguish the child ministry from the rest of government and society. One simple example given is that of a white kerchief – as a scarf, pocket square, armband, etc – to remind child workers of their delicate mission.
To shield the child from the “vagaries and vicissitudes” of democratic contestation, it’s been suggested that a committee of non-partisan experts be established to serve as a buffer between the ministry and Parliament, while also providing expert guidance. There hasn’t been any agreement yet but, “it is very much still on the table”.
Pressed on the ambitious nature of the project, the President says it will be a phased implementation, with the costs offset by savings derived from the amalgamation of other ministries – instituted as part of the new sweeping changes. DM
Ronnie Phala is writing a book on Governance and the Quantified Child. He presents the key concepts here, in the form of an article depicting a possible future scenario.