Why is the City shutting down ECDs?

Peter Fenton, former chief education specialist in the Western Cape Education Department, Ocean View

My letter refers to the article “Children’s haven closes again” (Echo, June 15).

The Ocean View Care Centre does the following (and more): It counters malnutrition (thereby improving cognitive development and capacity for learning); it provides a haven of safety and protection from both the violence and neglect that surrounds these children; and it nurtures co-operation, respect and a love of learning.

Courtesy of Grassroots Educare Trust, ECD teachers are trained (previously unqualified and unemployed) and a structured early learning programme prepares the children for a successful transition into Grade 1.

Local primary schools will be able to attest to this.

The children receive two warm meals – for many their only nutrition of the day.

And as far as I know, this is the only fee-free pre-school in all of Ocean View (where some pre-schools charge more than the entire child support grant of R500 per month).

The alternative for these children – which the Care Centre is trying so hard to mitigate – is a trajectory of abuse (in all its forms), incomplete education, drugs, gangsterism and crime.

These societal “ills” adversely impact the quality of life for the residents of Ocean View – but also for us all (including “privileged” neighbouring communities).

Which is why the closure of this centre should ring alarm bells not just for the residents of Ocean View, but surrounding communities too.

Actually, about 60% of ECD centres in the Western Cape are not registered. There are obvious risks in operating an unregistered facility, and enough reasons to chase compliance.

But this is a developing country – not Finland. Un-insulated shipping containers do not burn.

Water and electrical connections were done by the City, and can be remedied by the City (which owns the land and the containers).

Closing down the Care Centre with its 100 or so children in the middle of winter, is beyond madness.

Registering an ECD centre is a terribly complex affair. It’s time-consuming, frustrating and expensive – particularly insofar as achieving compliance with municipal by-laws (zoning certificates, approved building plans, etc, etc.)

But without registration, centres have no access to the state subsidy for ECD programmes (R17/child/day).

This Catch-22 is far less of an issue in Fish Hoek, for example (where most ECD centres are also not registered) than it is in Masiphumelele or Ocean View (where most parents cannot afford fees beyond a nominal R200 to R500 per month, as opposed to fees of several thousand which obviate the need for a subsidy).

The City of Cape Town should be assisting ECD centres to achieve compliance.

As far as I am aware, the City is in fact assisting two pre-school centres in Masi and one in Ocean View – but these are already well-established centres.

Neither Department of Social Development nor the Department of Education (which took over ECD in April last year) are in the business of closing down ECD centres.

What justifiable reason does the City (that cares) have for doggedly insisting on closing this particular centre down?

Surely it would be better for all to invest its time and energy in supporting the Care Centre to meet its norms and standards for safety?

Globally, it is recognised that investing in ECD can yield high returns – higher than interventions for any other age groups (consider mainstream schooling, or NSFAS at the other end of the education spectrum).

The release of the PIRLS 2021 reading survey last month showed that 81% of South Africa’s Grade 4’s cannot read in any language (a worsening from 78% in 2016). Yes, if you are one of the few that can read for comprehension, you read that figure correctly.

Of 43 countries participating in the survey, South Africa came last. And of 33 countries tracking losses from 2016 to 2021, South Africa had the biggest decline, setting us back a decade. And still we close down centres of learning?

The average Brazilian Grade 4 child is 3 years ahead of the average South African Grade 4 child, despite Brazil and SA having roughly similar GDP per capita.

When I last looked, Ocean View had a higher school drop-out rate than the national average.

Dropping out of school yields a higher likelihood of dropping into child-pregnancy, drugs, unemployment, crime. These all contribute to the ever-increasing demand for social grants (with a commensurate decrease in available budgets for, say, building schools). They also contribute to the ever-increasing case-loads of social workers that cost the state far more than the “prevention and early intervention” of a R17/day subsidy.

When a care centre in Ocean View is shut down and 100 young lives are affected, there is a ripple effect that reaches us all over time. Let’s get the Care Centre back on track. What can you do to assist?

• The City of Cape Town responds: The City is currently developing a plan of action to assist and facilitate ECDs to become compliant and to enable them as organisations to become registered with the Western Cape Government.

The Children’s Haven was originally developed as an outcome of the World Design Capital initiative and has been in operation since 2015.

It emerged recently that there were various issues which required resolution in relation to the safety of the teachers, care-givers and the children within the facility and a notice was served by the City of Cape Town on 5 June 2023.

Since then, a series of inter-departmental meetings have been held by the City of Cape Town in order to find a way to facilitate and support the resolution of these safety issues.

The City has planned a meeting with the owner of the facility for this week in order to discuss the matter and agree on the way forward.