On 7 and 8 October 2020, Department of Social Development (DSD) Minister Lindiwe Zulu and eight MECs are to appear in the High Court for their role in the near collapse of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector.
In a survey of 8,500 ECD providers in April 2020, 99% of providers reported that caregivers had stopped paying school fees on which ECD providers depend due to the lockdown. Most ECD providers in South Africa are situated in vulnerable communities and are not eligible for income protection programmes such as the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme.
Over the past week, two new surveys have highlighted how close the ECD sector is to decimation. 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.
And 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 1.8 million children are at risk of not being able to access ECD services if programmes are unable to reopen.
It is against this bleak backdrop that the Department of Social Development has done something that makes little to no sense – they stopped the full 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. We call on the Hon. Minister Lindiwe Zulu to ensure that ECD centres across South Africa receive their full subsidies, including retrospectively. We also plead that the onerous Standard Operating Procedures are amended into a simple workable document that protects our children and practitioners. And finally, we eagerly await the medium term policy budget statement in the hopes that we will see some provision for an ECD continuity grant as an essential lifeline to save our ECD workforce.
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