ECDs are struggling

Karrimah Jacobs, secretary of South African Congress for Early Childhood Development (SACECD) Western Cape

Early childhood development (ECD) centres are considered small businesses, but only when it suits the government. Nationally, ECDs fall under the category of civil society organisations (CSO).

There are many implications to this, but this is not what this letter is about.

All ECDs were forced to close down on Wednesday March 18. Most of them are financially dependent on school fees, which, unfortunately, are already not being paid effectively by parents right now.

Teachers were either not paid at the end of March or had to take at least a pay cut of 50%.

This despite principals asking parents to pay in whatever they could.

Some are paying full fees. Some are paying what they can. Others have legitimate reasons for not paying because their income has also taken a knock during the nation’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Next month, I am sure that there will be crèches that will be closing down if we remain on lockdown.

The Labour Department promised unemployment insurance fund (UIF) assistance. This, in itself, is such a tedious process, it is unreal.

It takes six pages to fill in, in order to apply for one employee and there are no guarantees of payment as yet.

Employers were instructed by the Labour Department to apply for UIF on behalf of their employees.

Unfortunately, most ECDs do not have the technological facilities and know-how to do this.

Asking the local ward councillor for assistance is not even a consideration because their “limited” budgets have already been allocated.

We might be able to tap into the Municipal Disaster Fund but have little hope there as well.

Some ECDs have applied to the Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) Relief Fund and await help patiently.

ECD centres have chosen not to be considered essential services, and that is also a discussion for another day.

Those lucky ones who receive funding from the Department of Social Development, which is about a third of the crèches in the province, would like to feed their children. But, with the pandemic, how is it possible for them to share their 40% spent on nutrition to only that child appearing on their register?

Should parents bring the child to the centre to be fed, obviously more mouths will accompany that child? How does a principal turn those mouths away?

Social distancing is impractical and so many would be at risk. A tragic and classic example is the payout of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grants last week.

Another implication is that the teachers will have to travel to work.

They already have no money for taxi fare, and will probably not get paid for those days anyway. These matters were not thoroughly thought through by DSD.

We as SACECD are trying our best to guide and keep calm where we can.

ECD teachers are not people from another world, they are our mothers, sisters, neighbours and friends.

Our parents need to realise the imperative role they play in the child’s life. They spend more hours with your child than you do. They love your children unconditionally. They clean, feed and educate them without fear or favour.

They do this with unconditional love.

Principals have to accept so much abuse from unreasonable parents at the best of times.

They bite the bullet almost every day if they do not manage to dodge it.

Yes, parents are fearful and leave their children at risk, but that is a discussion for another day. We will survive this if we hold each others hands.