ECD’s plea to government

Sylvia Prezens, owner of Fairways Educare.

The Early Childhood Development (ECD) community and its supporters held a week-long national protest to highlight the risk of the loss of thousands of jobs in the sector, and the million children who could be affected.

The protest, held from August 17 to 21, was sparked by an announcement by Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, that R1.3 billion out of the President’s Covid-19 economic stimulus package would be allocated to the short-term employment of 36 000 youth compliance monitors for ECD programmes.

On August 7 and August 13, the C-19 People’s Coalition’s early childhood development (ECD) workstream sent letters to Ms Zulu, asking for a meeting and calling on her to redirect the R1.3 billion to support the ECD workforce directly and to disburse these funds in the form of ECD continuity grants.

After their efforts yielded no response from the Department of Social Development (DSD), they launched a national week-long protest during which ECD workers and supporters participated in online and in-person pickets across the country to increase the pressure on Ms Zulu to respond.

ECD centres and pre-primary school principals who spoke to Southern Mail, said the R1.3 billion had the potential to sustain more than 175 000 long-term jobs, mostly pioneered by women entrepreneurs at community level.

Yumna Allie, principal of Otters’ Creek Pre-primary in Ottery, said: “We are opposed to the employment of these monitors as they could be saving the permanent jobs of those already in ECD.”

She had 12 staff, six of whom were laid off. These included three teachers.

“Pre-schools offer an essential service to our communities. We provide safe and nurturing spaces for young children while their parents work. We offer critical early learning opportunities which is vital to improve the quality of further learning and for life in general.

“They are mostly female entrepreneurs who contribute to the economy and we provide employment and empowerment to largely women.

“We want the DSD to use the R1.3 billion to support us and to prevent the closure of these centres. We want the DSD to save and protect the ECD workforce which includes administration staff, cooks and cleaners. Our centres need personal protective equipment (PPE) to reopen our pre-schools but we don’t have the money to do so.”

Aneeqah Moosa, principal and owner of Wonderland Kids Academy, in Grassy Park, said before lockdown they had 16 staff members and 140 pupils based at two branches. This has been scaled down to four staff and 25 pupils at one branch only.

“We unfortunately needed to close one until further notice. I currently employ three teachers and one cleaner,” said Ms Moosa.

“It’s been a harrowing experience losing so many pupils and absolutely heartbreaking to lose so many of my team members, some who have been with me for years.

“We are just about keeping our heads above water and maintaining our facilities in general and now in accordance with the Covid-19 safety regulations, with very little school fees filtering through and over R80 000 school fees outstanding from parents who left during lockdown.”

Gloria Wyngaard, owner and principal of Glorious Educare, in Retreat, said they had had four teachers.

“Now I can only employ one teacher plus myself,” she said.

“ECD practitioners took quite a dip because we didn’t receive any income from April till July because our centre relies fully on the fees of the kids. Being PPE-compliant is a real struggle as we don’t have the funds so we have to rely on our family members for support,” said Ms Wyngaard.

Natheefa Adams, principal of Elefante Daycare in Lakeview, said she employed three teachers, and a cleaner. “Before lockdown we had 30 learners and only 10 (have) returned. I try to fit teachers in where I can by working two days a week.

“The lockdown had a severe impact on my business with no income for months.”

Sabrina Thomas, owner of Sticky Fingers Educare, in Lotus River, said the centre empoyed seven staff members. “I have only three teachers working. It’s sad to have lost a few of my staff members, but due to this pandemic, I had no choice.”

In response to the sector’s upset, Lumka Oliphant, chief director of communications for the Department of Social Development, issued media statement on behalf of Ms Zulu.

“The Department of Social Development values engagement with the ECD sector, and as such engaged with the civil society organisations through the National ECD Intersectoral Form, which has been established in terms of the National Integrated ECD Policy (2015), on Wednesday August 18, regarding the proposal and the related requirements for inputs.

“The forum members welcomed the proposal and initiative by the department and established a working team to provide comments and suggestions towards strengthening the provisions in the proposal to meet the minimum requirements set by the National Treasury.

“The department is committed to using the economic stimulus intervention to ensure the sustainability of the sector, which was reflected in the plans presented to the Forum.”

When asked when will the next interaction with the ECD centres would take place, Ms Lumka said the sector would be notified.