ECD centres provide a strong foundation for future learning and play a fundamental role in the later success of kids
“When they come to us, they act like old apartheid policemen,” says Abram Kgari (46), referring to inspectors from the social development department.
Kgari is the chairperson of the Diepsloot Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum in Gauteng, which comprises 144 daycare centres, crèches, playgroups, nursery schools and daycare mothers in the northern Johannesburg township.
Kgari says he told the department’s senior management about how rude their inspectors were during a presentation he made to them last year, but it hadn’t helped.
“I told them how they have failed us and what we want is at least meals for our children. But their inspectors are rude. Children in most of our centres eat pap and soup or sometimes just plain rice. They eat this every day,” he said.
Of the 144 ECDs under his watch, only 10 receive subsidies from the department because most, without any title deeds to their properties, are unable to register and receive the subsidy of R15 a child a day, which the department provides to help cover food, staff salaries and training.
Kgari, a father of four, opened his own crèche in 2012 after resigning from his job as a machine setter and operator.
He used R85 000 of his R100 000 voluntary retrenchment package to extend his RDP house and convert it into a crèche to pursue his dream of helping young township children grow up in a proper environment and receive a good educational foundation.
After he finished building he went to the Johannesburg city council to get his Oratile ECD in Diepsloot Extension 7 registered.
But when an inspector arrived, Kgari was ordered to demolish the building because it didn’t comply with safety standards.
He rebuilt it and used most of his savings in the process.
He was later helped by a donor referred to him by the city inspector after witnessing Kgari’s enthusiasm.
Kgari quit his old job, where he earned a monthly salary of R12 000.
But since 2012 Kgari has been unable to access the department’s subsidy for his crèche – which serves 120 children – because he did not have building plans.
He has recently hired an architect to have them drawn up.
Other than this, his crèche has excellent security features and complies in every way.
Kgari is applying again in the next few weeks in the hope that he will receive the subsidy since his building plan has been done.
The R350 a month the parents pay covers three meals a day for the children – aged between six months and six years – as well as stationery and the salaries of seven teachers, a cook and himself, the principal.
Less than a kilometre away, Kganya Day Care Centre in Diepsloot Extension 1 will not receive a subsidy from the department any time soon.
Owner Dikeledi Ramathoka said having her centre in an informal settlement would not get her a subsidy.
She converted four shacks into a kitchen, rest rooms and an office.
There is no security other than a makeshift gate with a padlocked chain at the front of the property. The gate is connected to a rickety fence and her neighbours behind the property have easy access to her centre.
Ramathoka opened her centre in January 2010 and has survived with the help of international humanitarian aid donors Joint Aid Management and Rise Against Hunger. “I need somebody who can help me with a building or accessing the subsidy. It’s not easy because they want a title deed and other things.”
The centre serves 43 children and employs three childminders. Parents pay R250 a month and this covers fees, salaries and two meals for the children.
Nelson Mandela Foundation analyst Sumaya Hendricks said the foundation holds monthly meetings with ECD centre practitioners and one of the issues that keeps emerging is the allocation of land in townships and informal settlements.
“The practitioners say that not enough land gets allocated to education compared to churches,” Hendricks said, adding that the exact number of children with no access to ECDs is unknown but some literature puts it at 1 million countrywide.
She said children could access childcare, either at privately owned institutions, from day mothers or through public schools.
A lack of title deeds for ECDs deprive them of subsidies because they are unable to register with the department and this was among the key issues the foundation raised in its submission for amending the Children’s Act.
Colin Almeleh, the executive director of Ilifa Labantwana, which assists ECDs to access government subsidies, said that despite a significant increase in the number of children accessing early-learning services in the country in the past 15 years, between 2012 and 2016 this access seemed to have plateaued.
He said this was likely because most group-learning programmes for preschool children receive limited additional public resources and are not free, unlike health or education services.
“Only children whose caregivers pay can gain access. The quality of services provided to these children is relatively unknown.
“This means that more than 1 million of our country’s two to six-year-olds still do not have access to any form of early learning.”
The Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy chief executive, Masennya Dikotla, said ECD for children should be free and compulsory.
“ECD centres provide a strong foundation for future learning and play a fundamental role in children’s later success,” he said.
Social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the department has had to deal with numerous problems at ECDs, which don’t comply to norms and standards, as well as by-laws.
Among these were issues relating to land, zoning, untrained teachers and poor food given to children. She said the Children’s Act was amended to address these gaps.
Oliphant said both the Children’s Amendment Bill and the Child Care and Protection Policy still need to be considered for approval by a Cabinet committee.
“The department is engaging with cooperative governance and traditional affairs to deal with the allocation of land for ECD centres, including in new development areas as children need services in the vicinity where they stay.
“The department is organising an indaba with municipalities to deal with role clarification and challenges experienced that are blocking the registration of centres, land issues and by-laws.”
Olifant said the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department, with the environmental health department, had developed a registration framework that would help centres to meet some norms and standards, allowing ECDs to qualify for a maintenance conditional grant that would help them to comply fully.
Once registered, centres would qualify for the subsidy, for which Treasury had allocated a conditional grant to the department.