The early childhood development (ECD) sector is on its last leg thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic. According to Leonard Saul, chief executive officer of the South African Congress for ECD (SAECD), the sector is so severely crippled it will take longer for it to recover. His organisation serves 300 000 centres with 180 000 practitioners. Most of these facilities are based in the most impoverished communities where unemployed is rife.
ECD education is considered the most critical component in the entire value chain of the global education systems. This is mainly because ECD centres help to develop children’s fine motor skills, cognitive, behavioural and emotional capabilities. Several research studies have shown that with the right exposure and stimulation at their formative stages, children who went through ECD education are better prepared when they start formal education.
In his state of the nation address two years ago, Presidedent Cyril Ramaphosa observed that: “If we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor.”
Experts also make the point that the first one thousand days are vital in a child’s development as this have the potential to unlock his or her future prospect. It is believed that by the age of five, almost 90% of a child’s brain will be developed.
But ECD practitioners bemoaned the fact that government has neglected the sector for a very long time and the impact of this is borne out by the consistent poor results that learners at higher grades produce annually. South African Foundation Phase learners perform badly in the internationally benchmarked numeracy and literacy tests compared to their counterparts in less developed.
Saul said about SAECD’s plight: “There are many casualties from the closure of ECD centres. Quite a number of centres have closed down and ECD practitioners have been retrenched. [Undoubtedly] the ECD sector will have a different landscape post the pandemic.”
He said most ECD centres could not operate due to lack of Personal Protective Equipment especially in townships, adding that most parents are unable to pay fees as some have been retrenched. He said those parents who can afford to pay for their children’s fees are also holding their children back due to fear of transmission.
Saul said ECD practitioners who have not received a stipend since the first lockdown regulations were imposed in March have resigned and are looking for work elsewhere and indications are that they can only come back in 2021 if the sector is able to bounce back.
He said they have started a COVID 19 support fund with the National Alliance for ECD Agencies in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. “This fund attempts to support ECD practitioners over a short period as the ECD centres re-open. The fund will issue a request for support in the second week of September 2020. ECD Practitioners can then apply for a stipend over a period of 2 to 3 months,” said Saul
He also said through another structure: the Intersectoral Forum for ECD, they are working closely with Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of the Department of Social Development, to ensure that the ECD practitioners stand to benefit from the stimulus package she recently announced.