Lockdown: What is happening to aftercare facilities, and their teachers?

"We are destitute, parents are desperate and children are frustrated they miss school and interaction with their friends and teachers"
"We are destitute, parents are desperate and children are frustrated they miss school and interaction with their friends and teachers"

The national Department of Social Development has confirmed that despite the easing of the lockdown, all Early Childhood Development (ECDs) and Partial Care Centres must remain closed until further notice.

To the thousands of daycare and aftercare facilities across South Africa, this is potentially devastating news. 

While the government has encouraged parents to continue to make the payments that they can, as the Covid-19 lockdown drags on families are feeling the financial pressure, and many are unable to keep up the costs.

Parent24 asked the Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Minister Sharna Fernandez, what she advises parents paying full fees, but not receiving the full service, can do now.

Spokesperson Joshua Chigome responded, explaining that partial care facilities are autonomous bodies and decisions are made by management committees, or boards, suggesting that parents and managers work out an arrangement that suits both parties. 

We also asked if there is a lockdown level that allows for ECDs to re-open, or if this is something that will be considered only once the pandemic is over, and received the reply that the DSD is "awaiting a national directive to pronounce on this matter." 

He also advised ECD operators to keep an eye on sacoronavirus.co.za, where the latest information on relief available to residents and businesses is available. 

99% say fees are not being paid 

In a recent report, 99% of ECD operators said that parents have stopped paying fees owing to the lockdown.

83% of operators said they have not been able to pay the full salaries of staff over the lockdown period, and 96% of them reported that their income was not enough to pay their operating costs. 

A massive 68% were worried that they would not be able to re-open.

This means thousands of people out of work, and thousands of children without care. The few centres that do make it out of this will have long waiting lists and will surely be tempted to lift fees or overcrowd classrooms.

The knock-on effect of this situation must not be under estimated.

Hard hit teachers 

There are currently 1 589 registered ECD facilities in the Western Province alone, of which more than 80 000 children at 1 124 centres are funded by the provincial DSD, in addition to 88 after school care facilities.

For one Western Cape teacher, this is a trying time. With her husband retrenched due to the Covid-19 lockdown, and the school she works at closed, the family is facing a dire future.

Lorrine, who has been overseeing aftercare classes for five years now, told Parent24 that the school principal told teachers that aftercare was "completely cancelled."

Her role includes helping the children with their homework and lunch, then playing games and entertaining them until their parents can pick them up after work.

While she was lucky to get a full salary in April, this month she is facing a 20% pay cut. She is fairly sure that aftercare won't feature at the school any time soon. 

Like Lorrine, many aftercare teachers are wondering what their future holds, and some are hoping to be incorporated into the regular school day, and assisting as classes resume.

With Covid-19 preventive measures being incorporated into schools, it makes sense that these educators would be useful in helping teachers to ensure that students adhere to physical distancing and sanitising regulations.

Essential service?

Some operators are calling for daycare and aftercare facilities to be allowed to open for children of essential workers, at least.

Take, for example, a single parent who is a high school teacher, and is now required to return to work by 1 June: who is to care for his or her pre-schooler? 

Several countries used this approach while enduring lockdown, and in some, like New Zealand and Australia, the costs of this specific childcare where subsidised by the government. 

Nonetheless, much remains to be seen as South Africa faces the peak of the pandemic over the coming months.


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