The early childhood development sector was decimated by the extended lockdown period in South Africa, hurting thousands of children in underprivileged areas such as Soweto.
This according to stakeholders in the sector, who expressed their concern this week on the lasting effects of school closures, funding delays, and laid-off parents.
Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez recently raised the concerns of NGOs working across the country, who had witnessed the ECD sector suffering from delayed or completely halted funding. She said her department found itself inundated with growing concerns around school closures and growing desperation among impoverished communities.
“We are facing a humanitarian crisis of note. As you know, many of our learners are not returning to school. We are now faced with a staggering situation where learners are supposed to go back to school, but many young children have fallen through the cracks of this and might be part of a lost generation,”said Fernandez.
“When ECDs required PPEs we stepped up. We then realised that some of the R350 lock down grants were taking too long and so we made funds and 50 000 food parcels available. Mind you, that food distribution is not in our domain but it is a SASSA competency.”
Mandla Nkosi, Director of the Greater Soweto Association for Early Childhood Development (GSA), said those running private and government funded creches and pre-schools were met with great difficulty when funds dried up.
While the closure of schools affected millions of families, those who depended on the schooling environment for social assistance and to make a living, languished for months under harsh economic conditions. Children were exposed to hunger and cut-off from vital support systems.
“As you know, 75% of these centres are privately run and so they depend fully on fees from parents. But now, because times are difficult, many of those parents are not bringing back their children. Many centres, those who are funded by the Department of Social Development (DSD), say they have been waiting for those funds while others have not received all of them. That means caregivers are not getting paid and things are generally not running well in this sector.”
Fernandez cautioned against government’s ‘hasty’ plan to move ECDs from under the mandate of DSD to that of the Department of Education. She was concerned at the possible ramifications of this, given the social challenges surrounding this sector and the continued support it would still need from the DSD.