/ 1 June 2011

ECD practitioners ‘tired of being marginalised’

Early childhood development (ECD) practitioners from all nine provinces will march on Wednesday to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to deliver a strongly worded memorandum to President Jacob Zuma, calling for the immediate implementation of the Children’s Act and an end to the “marginalisation” of the ECD sector.

The march, which coincides with Children’s Day, will be led by the South African Congress of Early Childhood Development (SACECD). About 2 000 ECD practitioners are expected to participate.

About two thousand early childhood development practitioners marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on June 1 to demand a living wage. South African practitioners — 60% of whom live below the poverty line — look after children at their most important developmental stage. Watch our slideshow.

There are more than 10 000 such practitioners in South Africa, providing basic care for children between one and nine years old. But SACECD says that about 60% of ECD centres operate under unhealthy conditions, with no access to running water or electricity, while 20% of ECD practitioners are inadequately trained.

The memorandum also highlights the need for increased government funding, as many ECD centres rely on fees paid by parents to cover the maintenance costs of their facilities and teachers’ salaries.

Daily subsidy
Mokgwedi Malefane runs an ECD crèche from her mother’s house in Dube, Soweto. She looks after 60 children between the ages of one and six. Parents pay only R350 a month because it’s all they can afford, but this barely covers basic costs. Rent is R1 200, water and electricity amount to R700 a month, and she spends up to R6 000 on food for the children. Teachers’ salaries account for another R1 000.

Malefane is eligible to receive a daily government subsidy of R12 per child, but she’s decided against this because it would mean reducing the number of children who attend the centre. She doesn’t want to do that. Parents in her community are “desperate”, she says. Her ECD centre is a lifeline — especially for those who need a safe shelter for their children while they are at work.

Across town in Bez Valley, the Little Saints pre-school faces similar problems. Manager Debbie Lee says it’s a “myth” that ECD schools in the suburbs receive higher subsidies and teacher salaries. Little Saints survives on donations from local churches and businesses — as well as nominal fees from parents. Lee believes that government should be more committed to the ECD sector, and urges private companies to build ECD centres to cater for the children of their employees. “We could eliminate child abuse in this way,” she says.

‘United statement’
In the upmarket suburb of Rosebank, there’s a glimpse of what ECD centres could be like — given the resources and training. Vuleka Primary School runs three crèches, which cater for 150 children. Vuleka — like most ECD sites — depends on fees to cover basic costs, but parents in this community can afford to pay R825 per month. This means that the school can pay its teachers monthly salaries of R5 000 to R7 000.

This rate is much higher than the norm, but headmistress Melanie Charland points out that her staff should actually be earning between R10 000 and R13 000 monthly, because they are all highly qualified. She, too, feels government could be doing more.

SACECD’s chief executive, Leonard Saul, hopes that Wednesday’s protest march will “make a united statement that we are tired of being marginalised and sidelined”.

The SACECD memorandum asks the president to:

  • Build proper ECD structures in every community (so as to) provide a safe and healthy environment for children;
  • Review the subsidy per child per day so that children can be afforded a nourishing meal and practitioners can receive a decent wage;
  • Make finances available to train ECD practitioners who have no formal qualification at levels 4, 5 and 6;
  • Establish posts for ECD practitioners at community based sites.

SACECD is giving the government until July 30 to respond.