OPINION | Zahid Badroodien: Where's the support for early childhood development centres?

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It is inconceivable that both President Cyril Ramaphosa and minister Lindiwe Zulu expect ECD centres to operate normally without any form of support under lockdown Level 4, writes City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health Zahid Badroodien.

Since the onset of the first hard lockdown in March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government have given little to no attention to the early childhood development (ECD) sector. While various sectors received some sort of support, ECD centre owners and staff have had to fend for themselves for the past 15 months.

At a media briefing in Botshabelo in the Free State on Monday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that more than 200 000 schoolteachers had received Covid-19 jabs as part of phase 2 of the vaccination programme announced by the president on 17 June.

Since then, neither the president nor Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu have come out in support of the ECD sector by making pronouncements on when the vaccination programme would include ECD teachers and staff.

ECD centres expected to operate under lockdown Level 4

Instead, against the backdrop of an exponential increase in Covid-19 infections in several provinces, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening. The president announced that the country would go back to alert Level 4 lockdown in an attempt to curb infections and control the outbreak of the third wave.

The government has since published the regulations that give effect to alert Level 4. These detail further restrictions, including the closure of schools, with the exception of ECD centres.It is inconceivable that both President Ramaphosa and minister Zulu expect ECD centres to operate normally without any form of support and while ECD teachers and staff are excluded in the drive to vaccinate schoolteachers and staff.

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ECD centres are on their knees and lack greater sectoral support to not only ensure the health and safety of staff and children, but to secure the livelihood of thousands of ECD workers who depend on the sector to make ends meet. The move to alert Level 4 does nothing for the ECD sector.

City of Cape Town's support

The City of Cape Town has done a great deal to support ECD centres through our Social Development and Early Childhood Development Department. ECD centres reopened without support from the national government after the first wave out of necessity because parents needed to go to work and wanted a safe place for their children during the workday.

The City filled the void by approving Grants-in-Aid sponsorship funding to 35 City-owned ECD centres, where 3 629 families benefitted from food parcels, ensuring sufficient nutrition for young children.

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Through our Environmental Health Department, we have also supported the sector through the provision of Covid-19 health and safety information, as well as supplying personal protective equipment to centres that could not afford it. We also undertook site visits to various privately owned ECD centres to monitor compliance and provide health protocols for the management of public spaces such as ECD centres amid the global pandemic.

Despite all of our efforts and our eagerness to assist the sector, early childhood development is not solely a local government mandate and our role is limited. The sector is in dire need of leadership and support from the very top. In order to provide some reprieve to ECD centres, government must at the least cater for ECD teachers and staff in the current vaccination drive for schoolteachers and staff.

- Badroodien is the mayoral committee member for community services and health at the City of Cape Town.

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