Covid-19: Education

Covid-19 pandemic: preschools suffering as families skip fees

03 May 2020 - 00:00
By jeff wicks AND Jeff Wicks
Natashia Kellaris at Tree House on 11th preschool in Menlo Park, Pretoria, said the school had received   cancellations from parents.
Image: Alaister Russell Natashia Kellaris at Tree House on 11th preschool in Menlo Park, Pretoria, said the school had received cancellations from parents.

Children might be the biggest losers in the Covid-19 pandemic, with predictions that as many as 30,000 early childhood development (ECD) centres may have to close.

The study “Plight of the ECD Worker” forecasts that if these day cares, crèches and preschools are shut, as many as 1.5-million children will be left with nowhere to go.

Educational psychologist Cara Blackie said this could prompt a skills regression in children in the long term. The centres lay a foundation for later education.

The study’s grim estimates are based on a rapid survey of 3,952 ECD centres across SA.

It says that 68% of the centres surveyed are worried they may not be able to open when the lockdown eases, because parents have stopped paying fees and there is lack of support from the department of social development.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, the National ECD Alliance and the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development conducted the survey.

“If 30,000 ECD programmes stop operating, it would mean that nearly 1.5-million children would not have a place of care and early education to go back to after lockdown,” the report says.

“Our analysis suggests that 20,000 to 30,000 ECD operators run the risk of closure and as many as 175,000 people employed in the ECD sector could stand to lose their job in the absence of relief.”

Leighan Waterston, who runs a preschool in Limpopo that caters for 168 children and employs 23 people, said she is buckling under the financial pressure.

She said 46 parents skipped their payments in March, with another 89 parents skipping fees this month, leading to a R266,000 loss.

“I can’t be angry at the parents for not paying because some of them are without an income.

“We try to deliver an online service but many parents don’t have the means,” said Waterston.

Natashia Kellaris, a preschool owner in Pretoria, said she had had cancellations.

She managed to pay her 12 staff members their full salaries in March but had to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund when her shortfall grew. “When we come back, I don’t know if I can keep my staff complement or keep all of them at their current salaries,” she said.

Social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the department is providing support through partner NGOs. She said it is concerned about unregistered ECD centres and how they may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.