The challenges facing Early Childhood Development in Soweto and the children left on the back foot
Last week Maverick Citizen published reports about the findings of the Thrive by Five Index that showed that 55% of four to five-year-old children are not able to do the learning tasks expected of their age group, with 28% of children falling far behind the expected standard. Maverick Citizen’s Tshabalira Lebakeng went to visit several Early Childhood Development centres in Diepkloof in Soweto to hear about the experience of teachers, parents and children there. These were his findings.
First I first met Makabelo Ramatseba. She’s 34 and working at a supermarket as a teller. She was taking her daughter to one of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) daycare centres in Diepkloof. She says it costs R350 a month but she is not happy about the standard of service. Her child doesn’t know how to count from one to ten. When Ramatseba asked her child what she did at school she told her they were playing and a teacher told them to sleep.
Ramatseba told me she went to speak to the principal. But the principal told her they have too many kids and they don’t have enough teachers. She told me she doesn’t care as long her child is safe. It’s her daughter’s last year at the daycare. Next year she is going to school and she hopes that at school they will be able to teach her child.
I asked Ramatseba about food at the ECD daycare. She told me when they asked the principal about the menu she is always telling them they have enough food for every child. But the problem is her child is always hungry, as though she hadn’t been fed.
“On free days when I don’t have to go to work I don’t take my child because I know it’s only eating, playing and sleeping,” she says.
When asked whether the daycare raises its rates in line with fuel price increases, she told me they won’t do that “because the R350 she’s paying is already too much. If they can do that it will be more difficult. Because the father of the child is not working a permanent job.”
Mama Nomsa is 30. She is a self-employed parent who does baking, sewing and laundry to make ends meet. She told me that after a few months she found out that at the ECD centre where she sent her children: “Only the principal has an ECD qualification. The rest of the teachers don’t have qualifications. The owner of the school just calls people who need a job to take care of the kids.
“If you take your child to a daycare the people there are supposed to teach your child to paint or write. But the person who should do that work is not qualified.”
She adds that the social services department is not conducting door-to-door inspections to see whether qualified personnel are employed: “Because ECD schools need people who will help and understand the brains and minds of our kids.”
Mama Nomsa told me it pains her “because most of the parents don’t have money to take their kids to those expensive daycares where people are paying thousands of rand. But there is nothing we can do.”
I asked why people don’t complain.
“Complain or not complaining it’s the same,” she replied. “They will say ‘take your child, if you are not happy, to those who don’t have qualified teachers’. If they can fix this our kids will go to grade 1 prepared for school.”
I asked her about the high price of fuel and what she will do if the daycare prices go up. She told me she won’t survive at all. She is already suffering through the high cost of transport money to get to work and to buy food. It will be her end if the schools raise their prices.
I went to visit Tlhalefang Day Care Centre and asked Ntabiseng Ramasodi, a teacher, about the data that shows 55% of children are not reaching the required standard when they reach school level. She agreed: “there are daycares that have teachers who are not qualified. But it’s their daycare, no one can ask them questions.”
“What the community needs is a space where they can leave their kids in the morning and fetch them after school.”
Ramasodi said another problem is that parents don’t continue teaching their children after school and leave all teaching responsibility to the daycare teachers.
“If teachers can work together with parents it will help our kids.”
Tlhalefang Day Care Centre caters for 18 children and each and every child needs special attention and additional help from parents at home.
I asked her about additional challenges.
“Everything, it’s expensive. Water and electricity, it’s higher now. We are using a gas stove because there is a lot to cook. A child is paying R300. A 9kg gas cylinder costs R300, it lasts for only three weeks, so it’s too much.”
The centre provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for the children. On Mondays, they receive pap and maas; on Tuesdays, rice and mince; Wednesdays, chicken and pap; Thursdays, pap and spinach; and on Fridays, pap and fish. She says social services assist with food.
Finally, I went to visit Bophelong Day Care Centre where I met the principal, B.R Segakweng. She told me that it’s the parents’ and school’s job to help the kids to have a better education. They are still kids and they need extra help. “We must work together with guidance of parents to make them reach the standard.”
I asked her about rising prices: “The challenges are that food is too expensive. Because of Covid-19, some parents lost their jobs. It is difficult for them to pay on time.
“We can’t send kids back home because the parents didn’t pay. Everything is high: transportation for the kids, it’s gone up”, she said. “The subsidy we get from the government is not meeting the needs. The government is giving us R3,500 to pay a cleaner, gardener and for buying cleaning materials.” However, principal Segakweng says that “No matter the food, it’s expensive, they make sure they give the children quality food.” DM/MC
Read Maverick Citzen’s reports on the Thrive by Five findings: