‘Obstacles for ECDs’ is the fourth in our ‘Livelihood Struggles’ series. It is written by SLF associate Mapaseka Jack, based on her experience of interviewing ECD owners and staff. The ECD interviews formed part of an independent Masters research project, in which SLF is playing a supportive role.
“The most important phase of learning takes place in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, and if that opportunity is missed, the damage can never be undone.”
Marelise Van Der Merwe (Writer @ the Daily Maverick)
In partnership with a Masters student who is researching ECD centres, I recently spent a week in Vrygrond, talking to various ECD centre owners, to better understand how they operate. Vrygrond, situated near Muizenberg (Cape Town), is one of the oldest informal settlements in the Western Cape. Early Childhood Development centres (ECD centres) are any building used for the admission, protection and temporary care of more than six children away from their parents (UNICEF definition). Depending on registration, an ECD centre can admit babies, toddlers and pre-school children. The term ECD centre can refer to crèche, educare, a playgroup, a pre-school, after school care.
South African Law requires that all ECD centres be registered and that they should follow a programme that ensures that the children get adequate education required by the national government. Currently, government provides an operational subsidy of R15 a day per pupil, a subsidy restricted to ECD centres that comply with certain standards on infrastructure. Some of these standards are: the structure must be safe and well ventilated; it should have enough windows; and each child must have enough space to move about freely, meaning there must be 1,5 m² of indoor play space per child and 2 m² of outdoor play space per child. These rules make it hard for the ECD sites we visited to comply. Because our government does not have a subsidy that funds infrastructure additions or improvements for the ECD centres, centres that do not meet the standards defined by the department are not assisted at all.
Most of the ECD centres interviewed were not formally registered with any government department and they stated red tape and the lengthy process as the reason. Not being registered means they cannot apply for funding for their ECDs. Although their main reason for opening the ECD centre was to help the parents and give the kids an education, they are struggling to work around the bureaucratic requirements of the state. One owner said, “I’ve been applying since May this year and there’s a lot of red tape and requirements.”
The Department Social Development (DSD) can make the process quicker and simpler when they want to. One of the ECD centres we interviewed was registered in 24 hours by the department and the department donated land for centre. This is one of the prime examples that government can make this process easier. The pastor who owns the crèche said, “The Minister showed up and the registered the ECD Centre in one day and donated tables and chairs.”
One of the ECD owners extended her house in order to open an centre. Her ECD centre is well managed with an office. The classrooms are divided by age and there’s a schedule followed by each class, the kitchen is fully stocked with a helper. There’s play area outside with swings and space for kids to run. Yet, she told us that “DSD said I can’t register the ECD Centre because the extension doesn’t have enough windows.” The owner only found out about this standard when she applied and this is the only reason she cannot be registered even though her educare is one of the best educares in that neighbourhood.
After going through a long process of being registered, ECD centres are not guaranteed that they will receive funding. There’s a lot more paperwork that the ECD centre owner must complete. One of the ECD centres visited is legally registered and they are in a process of closing due to lack of funding and support. One of the owners we spoke to said ”I’ve been applying for funding since 2015 and there’s a lot of documents to fill. Other people have received funding not me. I don’t know why and now I am closing the educare because I cannot afford to run it.” The only help she has received has been from various organisations that provide food.
The formalities that the department impose on ECD centres to qualify for funding, especially in neighbourhoods such as Vrygrond, make it difficult for the ECD centres to survive or continue. The current laws cater for well-established ECDs or ECD centres that operate in the formal economy, yet make it impossible for the ECD centres that we interviewed to benefit or receive support from the government. A separate subsidy should be created to fund construction of new facilities, upgrading and maintaining existing facilities for informal ECD centres to help them get to reach a state that allows them to become formal. Without such interventions, the current subsidy will not reach the kids who need it most and education inequality will continue.
Read the previous blog in this series here.