When the hard lockdown was implemented in March, schools, early childhood development centres and companies shut their doors for 21 days – or so we thought at the time. 21 days turned into weeks of no school and no work for many South Africans.
The extended lockdown has had a devastating impact on the ECD sector. Millions of South Africans lost their jobs during the national lockdown as companies shut their doors one-by-one while those who were still lucky enough to have a job, worked mostly from home. When the ECD sector was finally allowed to reopen, many parents weren’t able to send their kids back because they just couldn’t afford it.
In an April survey of 8,500 ECD providers, 99% of providers reported that caregivers had stopped paying school fees because of the lockdown. ECD centres depend on this money to keep their doors open as most of them are situated in vulnerable communities in South Africa and are not eligible for income protection programmes such as the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme.
Two new surveys from the past week have now revealed how close the ECD sector actually is to shutting down permanently.
The NIDS CRAM Wave 2 findings show that ECD attendance dropped to just 13% from July to mid-August this year. These rates of attendance are the lowest they have been in 18 years.
A survey by Ilifa Labantwana, Bridge NECDA, SmartStart and the South African Congress for ECD suggests that over 100 000 jobs in the ECD sector may already have been lost and that 1.8 million children are at risk of not being able to access ECD services if programmes are unable to reopen.
ECD centres are not receiving any help from the government
The Department of Social Development has stopped the payment of ECD subsidies in all provinces except the Western Cape.
As if the non-payment of subsidies was not crippling enough, government officials across the country have also used the COVID Directions issued by the Minister of Social Development, to keep centres closed. These directions are complex, confusing and remarkably costly to implement, especially when centres are provided with next to no support.
After seven months without income many ECD programmes are closing down and young children across South Africa are being denied their right to early education.
The C-19 People’s Coalition are now calling on Department of Social Development (DSD) Minister Lindiwe Zulu to ensure that ECD centres across South Africa receive their full subsidies and that the Standard Operating Procedures are amended into a simple workable document that protects children and staff.
Minister Lindiwe Zulu and eight MECs will appear in the High Court for their role in the near collapse of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector today and tomorrow.
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