ECD staff protest to save jobs in the sector

Boniswa Gquma and Centre for Early Childhood Development director, Eric Atmore.

The R1.3 billion that the government plans to spend on hiring youth to check Covid-19 compliance at preschools should instead be used to save the teachers’ jobs, say those opposing the plan.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu says her department will hire 36 000 young people on short-term contracts to check early childhood development (ECD) centres are Covid-19 compliant.

ECD staff protested against this last week, saying instead of policing nursery schools, the money should be used to save 175 000 long-term jobs in the sector.

Staff at the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), in Claremont protested outside their offices for an hour on Tuesday and Thursday last week.

The centre gives preschools training and support.

The centre’s Bridget Kahts said the C-19 People’s Coalition had been campaigning since the start of lockdown for the Department of Social Development to support ECD staff. A letter had been sent to Ms Zulu asking for a meeting and calling on her to redirect the R1.3 billion to support the ECD workforce directly and to disburse the money in the form of “ECD continuity grants”. Thousands of ECD workers had sent the minister emails asking for the same thing.

To date they had received no responses nor an acknowledgement of receipt, Ms Kahts said.

“Our director, Professor Eric Atmore, is part of the C-19 People’s Coalition team that organised the nationwide week of protests and therefore it was imperative that the Centre for Early Childhood Development was involved.

“More so, as an organisation, we feel strongly about the cause – with this illogical spend of R1.3 billion by the minister, the ECD sector will suffer. ECD centres are in dire need of support and these funds would go a long way to supporting the sector to reopen.”

As part of the campaign the Coalition launched a petition, www.change.org/SaveOurECD, that gathered close to 10 000 signatories in less than a week, asking the minister to redirect this money to save the ECD workforce.

Another CECD staffer, Chanel Fredericks, said government needed to be reminded of the valuable role ECD workers played in the lives of young children.

“We cannot afford for ECD centres to close. If we do, we have failed our children,” she said.

Boniswa Gquma said: “We need to stand up and send the department and government a strong message on how bad they are treating our young children.

“I hope that by being part of this protest it will open their eyes to see how the teachers, parents and young children are in need of government support.”

Ms Kahts said the CECD had surveyed more than 100 preschools and found that only 21% of their pupils had returned.

ECDs lacked the expensive personal protective equipment needed to legally reopen and they were trying to make do with, on average, 30% of their usual income because many children had still not returned, she said.

The Department of Social Development said in a statement that it wanted to both create and protect jobs in the sector, while stemming the spread of Covid-19 and driving up ECD registration.

“The package will not only create employment opportunities for youth, but also provide support aimed at unemployment risk reduction intervention in the ECD sector,” it said.

The department said members of the National ECD Intersectoral Forum had welcomed the proposal and set up a team to give comments and suggestions.

“The department is committed to using the economic stimulus intervention to ensure the
sustainability of the sector, which was reflected in the plans presented to the forum,” the statement said.