'The reality for everyone is different': ECD educators respond to Covid-19 safety protocols

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"With the children so spread out, more staff will be needed."(Juanmonino/Getty Images)
"With the children so spread out, more staff will be needed."(Juanmonino/Getty Images)

The Gauteng High Court has given Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres the green light to open for business, delivering judgment on Monday, 6 July. 

And while the ruling has been made, ECD centres must first ensure that it complies with the Department of Social Development's (DSD) 60-page Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for their reopening to be legal.

While relieved that they will now be able to resume, ECD stakeholders are not so certain that the proposed safety measures are practical for all facilities in South Africa.

"The document in the first place is far too long and written in complicated English," says Jenny de Kock who co-founded ECD Owners of South Africa, a collective which set up the Facebook page Help SA ECDs Re-open.

"We have had to assist many of our colleagues with just understanding it, as most do not have English as their first language," explains de Kock, adding that the guidelines come at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet.

"We have very little funds left to keep our businesses afloat. Parents on the whole, are not paying fees, which is understandable. So where do we get the funds to purchase PPEs (personal protective equipment) to ensure compliance?" asks another ECD Owners of SA member, Jennifer McQuillan. She referred to the DSD's list of safety requirements, including masks for staff, sanitisers, thermometers, additional cleaning products, soap and water.

Even sandpits have been identified as a potential site for Covid-19 transmission.

"The SOP says we have to empty our sandpits; I have been asked by two ladies, whose schools are in informal settlements, for advice as their whole playgrounds are sand. They cannot afford to sort this out. Others have huge areas of sand under jungle gyms and cannot remove or cover all that sand," De Kock says.

The DSD's social distancing expectations pose even more challenges.

ECDs must follow strict 1.5-metre social distancing measures throughout every part of the day, including activities, lunch and even nap times.

"With the children so spread out, more staff will be needed to ensure that all children are watched and cared for," says De Kock.

McQuillan believes this will be difficult for centres which were at maximum capacity before the pandemic.

"The challenge here is for the bigger ECD centres… that are already overcrowded. If you have a spacious ECD centre, you can utilise different rooms, but the reality is that most ECD centres do not have much, if any, extra space. So, for many, it is a challenge."

"I've had to prepare two areas - one at the school and one at my home because I don't know how many children will come back. This affects overheads and staff job security. The reality for everyone is very different," says Kim Goldblum who is also a member of the ECD collective.

For Goldblum, the DSD's manual is "detailed and precise" but "unaffordable for most."

"Many ECD centres will either not open at all or open without the required PPE in place," she tells Parent24.

As far as being ready to open their doors, the members say support from the government is a dire need.

"The ECD sector is crying out to open. ECD centres in every area...[but] there will be those ECD centres that can comply more readily with the SOP than others, and this comes down to funds most often," says McQuillan.

For De Kock, the hope is that "the government assists those schools which need it."

"Our children have been left behind for long enough," says Goldblum.

"The SOP is the theory. Now we need the practice. The department needs to deliver the accompanying equipment and supplies to the vulnerable ECDs and give our parents and workforce peace of mind."

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