We call on government to support the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector

The President’s bold commitment of R500 billion to support social and economic interventions in the country offers us an opportunity to include sectors and individuals who have been excluded from previously relief measures. The Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector is an example of a sector that has not been adequately catered for.

A new report, The Plight of the ECD Workforce, finds that 68% of ECD operators (including ECD centres, playgroups, day mothers and other early learning programmes) are worried that they will not be able to reopen after the lockdown because 99% reported that caregivers have stopped paying fees after the nationwide closures on 18th March. This is because these programmes primarily serve poor and vulnerable communities, whose household incomes have been severely constrained by the crisis. As a result, 83% of operators have not be able to pay full staff salaries and 96% reported that their income was not enough to cover their operating costs.

The report was issued by BRIDGE, Ilifa Labantwana, National ECD Alliance (NECDA), the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Smartstart and the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development (SACECD). The report is based on a survey of 3,952 ECD operators conducted in mid-April 2020.  

30 000 ECD operators serving our most poor and vulnerable communities could close

It is estimated that as many as 30,000 ECD operators serving poor communities in South Africa run the risk of closure as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This means that up to 175,000 people will be left unemployed, 1.5 million children without early learning services or safe place of day care. In turn their caregivers will be unable to participate in the labour market, which is critical for economic recovery.

While the Department of Social Development financially supports a subset of ECD operators that are registered – and are working on continuing this support over the lockdown – this support only reaches around 30% of ECD operators.

We commend the President’s commitment to ensuring that women and the most vulnerable in our society are supported. The vast majority of at-risk ECD programmes are owned and run by black women, who are already marginalised because our society equates childcare with low status and low pay.

“The operators most at risk of closure are situated in our poorest communities and providing an essential early learning service and safe day care to the most vulnerable children in South Africa.”

“Therefore, these ECD operators must be specifically targeted for support in the Covid-19 economic and social relief plan” said Leonard Saul, the Chief Executive Officer at the South African Congress for ECD.

Most at-risk ECD operators excluded from formal avenues for support

Most ECD programmes operate in a semi-informal manner. The report found only 45% were registered with SARS, 13% as companies (CIPC), and only 35% of their workforce was registered for UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund), with most salaries below minimum wage. As a result of straddling the informal economy, ECD operators and their workforce thus find themselves unable to access many of the relief schemes currently on offer.

Two options are available to the state

The report proposes two options for how the state can support the ECD sector during this time:

1. Support to the ECD workforce

The report proposes that 118,000 – 175,000 ECD workers at risk for losing income each receive R1 000 a month in income supplementation for a 6-month period.

2. Support to ECD operators

Alternatively, the report proposes that 20,000 – 30,000 ECD operators each receive R6 000 a month for a 6-month period. As a result:

  • 20 000 – 30 000 ECD providers will continue operating
  • 118 000 – 175 00 ECD worker jobs will be sustained
  • 1 million – 1.5 million children will have an ECD programme to attend
  • 1 million – 1.5 million caregivers, primarily poor women, will have childcare available to them to look for income opportunities

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken decisive and fast action to respond to the spread of Covid-19 virus, and has been applauded both locally and internationally for his leadership,” said Sumaya Hendricks of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

“We urge him to now extend this action to the people working in the ECD sector who face extraordinary hardship in the months to come. Their role in ECD forms part of the foundation of our education system, the well-being of tomorrow’s workforce, and South Africa’s joint prosperity in the future.” 



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