The Northern Cape Department of Education has said that public schools in the Frances Baard District can only cater for a maximum of 1 421 Grade R pupils, while it has received 4 700 applications for admission for the 2021 school year.
EARLY childhood development (ECD) centres in Kimberley have indicated that they do not have the capacity to accommodate the influx of Grade R pupils who have not secured placement at public schools.
The Northern Cape Department of Education said last week that public schools in the Frances Baard District could only cater for a maximum of 1421 Grade R pupils, whereas it had received 4700 applications for admission for the 2021 school year.
It pointed out that in Kimberley alone, 3279 pupils would have to make use of ECD community-based centres.
The chairperson of the ECD Progressive Movement, Clive Tswaile, said on Thursday that ECD centres were already overcrowded.
“They do not have the means or resources to accommodate the overflow of Grade R pupils. A number of centres have not received funding and cannot operate, others are still waiting for the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Tswaile.
“This is while ECDs were warned that their subsidies would be withdrawn if they do not observe the Covid-19 regulations – if they exceed the maximum number of 50 persons occupying the facility or fail to ensure social distancing, sanitising hands and the wearing of masks.”
Tswaile added that ECD centres did not benefit from any nutrition programmes.
“Children cannot be left without a meal for the day and centres will have to rely on school fees to provide food. ECDs will also not be able to assist no-fee parents who cannot afford to pay.”
He also pointed out that a number of ECD centres were operating from makeshift structures and would not be able to accommodate more children.
“ECDs will require additional classrooms and mobile structures as well as additional staff and ECD practitioners to take care of the increased number of children.
“Many ECD practitioners are seeking alternative employment as they are only offered one-year contracts without any benefits,” he added.
Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe said the department was still busy finalising outstanding school placements in the Province, including for Grade R.
“Also, taking into account that a number of parents applied to more than one school, it may open up space for parents that applied for Grade R. We will have a better idea in terms of the need for Grade R placements when all offers have been accepted. The department is also in a process of verifying the available school spaces for each grade on the online admissions system,” said Van der Merwe.
The spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, Gamiem Abrahams, said that 30 percent of the Grade R children could be accommodated at community-based ECDs.
“ECDs are designed to provide early learning and development to children from birth up until the year before they enter Grade R/formal school,” said Abrahams.
“The safety and protection of children at community-based centres is the function of the Department of Social Development while the implementation of the curriculum and practitioners report to the Department of Education. The Department of Social Development does not report on the Grade R numbers at community-based ECD centres.”
Abrahams said that the process to transfer ECD centres from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education was under way and would possibly be finalised by April 2022.
He added that community-based ECD centres were managed by a committee composed of community representatives.
“These committees are responsible for the implementation of all policies, appointment of practitioners and compliance to the norms and standards as prescribed in the Children’s Act.”
He explained that in order to qualify for a subsidy, registered ECD centres had to comply with the requirements prescribed by the Children’s and Non-Profit Organisation acts and health and safety regulations of the by-laws of municipalities, based on the approval of an annual business plan.
“The subsidy is R17 per child per day for 264 days per annum for children receiving a child support grant and or situated in a war on poverty ward based on the actual enrolled number of children to the registered maximum capacity of the centre.”
Abrahams said that the subsidies were allocated to the ECD centres, where 40 percent went towards nutrition, 40 percent went towards the remuneration of staff and 20 percent was portioned for administration.
“PPE has been procured and delivered to the department’s district offices for ECD centres who registered on the database for non-registered ECDs in 2020.
“District officials are currently in the process of delivery and verification of centres for reopening. Overcrowding is not allowed.”
Abrahams added that environmental health practitioners from the municipality or departmental officials could close ECD centres that did not comply with the standard operating procedures
“According to the regulations only 50 percent of the enrolled number of children to the maximum of the registration capacity can be accommodated at a time. Centres must redesign the programme to accommodate all children in sessions and ensure nutrition of all children.
“All practitioners and cooks in ECD centres funded by the Department of Social Development were trained on the nutritional guidelines and standard operating procedures related to Covid-19.”
He said that ECD practitioners employed at centres that were funded by the state were appointed by the management committee on an annual basis.
“This is because the memorandum of agreement is only valid for one financial year. The management committees must comply with unemployment insurance fund contributions, according to compulsory labour legislation, for all staff. Any other benefits are determined by the management committees.”