By Jessie Taylor
Funding Scheme to keep classrooms open for small children
As many of the country’s 32 000 Early Childhood Development centres face an uncertain future, a government fund looks to provide a lifeline until young learners can return to their classrooms.
While many sectors were impacted by lockdown regulations in response to the global pandemic, the ECD sector has been particularly hard hit. Many of the businesses in this sector are small and privately owned, often providing services in impoverished areas.
ECD education is vital for healthy childhood development. Not only does it prepare children for primary school, but it also develops the social, emotional, cognitive and physical well-being of children. This education provides a foundation for lifelong learning and well-being.
However, many families were forced to put this education on hold. Schools were forced to close for parts of the last year, and once opened, many of their learners did not return to the classroom due to concerns over safety or financial constraints due to job losses among parents.
Relief for hard-hit programmes
A relief fund has been established to stimulate the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector, to save jobs and keep business doors open. Payments commenced this month, with thousands of ECD staff expected to receive the once-off funding.
The Department in the process of finalising ECD stimulus employment relief fund payments, after calling on small businesses in the sector – such as crèches, daycare services and nursery schools – to apply for assistance.
The ECD stimulus employment relief fund provides a R496 million fund to assist South Africa’s ECD facilities, many of which have taken severe financial strain as a result of the various levels of national lockdown, imposed in response to Covid-19.
The fund is designed to provide a one-off payment of around R4500 to ECD staff members, with four staff members eligible per facility. This includes cooks, administrators and other workers. However, the funds can only be applied for by the operator of the facility, and only one application can be made per facility.
“Following the national call from the for all Early Childhood Development programmes to apply for the ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund (ECD-ESRF), verification and payments are now being processed for qualifying ECDs,” said Social Development spokesperson, Limka Oliphant.
A sector buckling under the weight of the pandemic
The relief fund comes not a moment too soon, as the sector finds itself struggling under the effects of the global pandemic.
Estimates from the Centre for Early Childhood Development suggest more than half of South Africa’s ECD centres have not been able to reopen, even in level 1 of the lockdown.
A report by Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Fellow Janeli Kotzé and co-authors found that Covid-19 had disrupted the function of ECD programmes and could have far-reaching impacts on children and their families.
Four months after the closure of ECD programmes in March 2020, the ECD sector was operating at less than a quarter of its pre-lockdown levels, the report found.
And the impact on the learners was equally severe – the number of children attending ECD programmes in July had dropped by almost 20%, compared to levels pre-Covid-19. The report estimated that only 13% of children under the age of six were attending ECD by mid-August.
“When viewed from a broader socio-economic lens, the threat of ECD programme closures across the nation will have impacts beyond ECD operators to the lives of millions of children, millions of households and millions of adults who rely on these ECD services. A swift intervention by the government is necessary to save this important sector and limit the ripple effect of programme closures on multiple layers of society,” said Janeli Kotzé.
Around 28 200 applications have been received by the Department of Social Development, for around 125 407 staff members. Following a verification process, there are around 25 571 applications with 116 102 staff members currently on the system, added Oliphant.
About the ECD Relief Funds Scheme Application Process:
- The application process opened on 5 February and closed on 26 February.
- The Department made the applications process available online through the GovChat application platform. But to accommodate those with connectivity challenges, applications could also be lodged with the department’s local offices.
- Around 28 200 applications have been received by the Department of Social Development, for around 125 407 staff members.
- As part of the cleaning and removal of duplicate applications among others, the number of applications on the system is 25 571 applications with 116 102 staff members.
- At the moment, applicants have been contacted via SMS as part of the verification process and are urged to update their applications with all the correct details.
- During the verification process common issues that have been picked up are incorrect ID numbers and names of applicants not being as stated in their identity document; incorrect banking information; incorrect addresses and incorrect classification of funding.