Real stories: Women in the ECD sector suffer harshly under lockdown and covid19 impact

Lockdown has been hard for many, but the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector has been hit particularly hard. This industry is run by women working to educate children between 0 and five years old – a crucial time in a child’s development when children learn the skills they need to reach their full potential in life.

ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresParents could not pay because they could not work, so we didn’t receive a salary.

Jillian, the owner of Hamptons Day Care in Eldorado Park, says, “Part of the hardship during lockdown was that there weren’t any funds made available from the government to support us in the ECD sector. Parents could not pay because they could not work, so we didn’t receive a salary. The government departments were closed, so we could not do follow-ups with regards to our compliance and registration. This made life very difficult and very hard for us. Having to go without salaries, without food made it very difficult,” she says.



ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresI couldn’t even put food onto my table for my children.

Bright Zondi from KwaZulu Natal operated her ECD from a wooden hut. She was so passionate about her school that a joint venture between GROW, Focus on Ithemba and various corporates built her a world-class container school with running water and flushing toilets. She says, “I can never forget the day my school opened, it was amazing. I see that my dreams are coming true. I’m going to change the foundation phase education in my community,” she says.

“I started the process of registering with the Department of Social Development so that I could get the government’s ECD funding. It didn’t work, even though I have all the right paperwork. Then COVID affected us. I have lost my closest staff, the people who were with me from before. My teachers just left me because my school was closed and there was no income to pay them. It hurt me a lot. I couldn’t even put food onto my table for my children, I couldn’t even look at my children,” she says.

“Not having money stressed me a lot. The doctor told me that I have depression. I always support my children, I support myself, I support my family, but I became a beggar. I was begging people to give me money, my mom, my sister and I’ve seen that I was a burden to them. This broke my heart. It made me feel small. It made me feel like I’m nothing,” she says.

“I miss having children around me, I miss running my school. It’s had a negative impact on our school so I’m thankful that one teacher is still here. I’m struggling to pay her because we have only two children. I just give my teacher that money. I know that we were the best crèche, but now I don’t feel like the best, I have to start all over again,” says Bright.

ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresThe landlord has locked me out of my preschool

Jennifer, a principal from Rugby in Cape Town has been running her preschool successfully for many years. She took over the school from her sister in 2015 and has been caring for 57 learners every month since then. Jennifer says, “I had a deal with the landlord to pay towards the rental arrears my sister incurred, and everything was fine. My school was doing well.

“When lockdown happened, I was forced to close the school, and I had no income. I could not afford to pay the R15 000 monthly rental. Now that we’re allowed to open again, the landlord has locked the premises, and I can’t get in. He wants me to pay my outstanding rent! All my teaching equipment is inside. I have spent years buying and paying off the books, tables and chairs, kitchen equipment and educational toys I need to run my school. Now I can’t open my school to start earning a living again, and I can’t get my stuff,” she says.

ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresIt was very shameful because we are responsible for our teacher’s families

Happyness, a principal in Soweto, says, “Lockdown was very difficult for us ECDs because we didn’t have any income. As principals, it was very shameful because we are responsible for our teacher’s families to have food to eat. It was very painful to tell our teachers who have been working at our ECDs for years that we don’t have money to pay them,” she says. “Many of us lost our staff members. They decided to go and look for other jobs because we were not loyal to them, we couldn’t give them anything.

“The most painful thing was when we were supposed to open again,” says Happyness. “We didn’t receive any funding to start again. We didn’t have money to buy the thermometer, the sanitiser and the cleaning materials that we needed,” she says.

Missalligned priorities

Lockdown has led to an estimated 30 000 ECD centres set to close permanently. Instead of assisting ECD with reopening costs, the Department of Social Development (DSD) recently announced they’d pay R1,3 billion to employ ‘youth compliance to ensure ECD centres are adhering to government COVID protocols. A petition launched against this received more 12 000 signatures. The petition was successful but DSD will continue to employ 25 000 Covid Compliance officers at R116m which we believe could have been spent helping ECD centres with PPE or on teacher salaries. “We are responsible business owners. We don’t need babysitters,” says Happiness.

Once an ECD centre is registered, the owner receives a monthly government subsidy per child, per day – essential for ECDs in low-income communities to be sustainable – and the school can register their staff for UIF. One of the significant challenges in the sector is the too onerous process of getting a centre registered with the Department of Social Development (DSD). Ikamva Labantu in the Western Cape has been assisting ECD schools to get registered since 2016, and earlier this year the DSD launched the Campaign to help ECD centres with the process. Arduous requirements, such as having to produce the title deed, approved plans and zoning certificate, can be an unattainable cost especially for schools working in areas where parents pay minimal school fees.

ECD Lockdown testimonialTrying to register, at what cost? 

Lindley, principal of Morning Star crèche in Seaview, Durban, says, “We are in the process of registering our crèche. We had to go through an architect who had to draw up our plans and send them to the respective departments. Just the architect fee was R38 000. Then we needed a traffic report. We had to get a traffic engineer to come out and do a count, which cost R22 000. We are still awaiting our paperwork from the municipality as there has been a backlog and because of COVID they’re short of staff. We recently found out that because our building is older than 60 years, we have to apply to for another report. With the UIF, we’re having a problem. We have to wait and register our staff for UIF in 2021.”

We received a hefty fine for unpaid UIF

Kulsum Davids, owner of Creative in Mitchell’s Plain, has managed to register her preschool for UIF. She says, “Everyone has a fear of registering for UIF as they don’t know what to do. The department issues forms, and you need to be able to read and comprehend, fill them in and hope it’s correct. It was a struggle. There isn’t a tutorial or someone who comes out and explains how to register. This time we were fortunate to have a representative help us, thanks to GROW Educare Centres (an organisation working with Kulsum to ensure quality education and a sustainable business model). We were about to register for UIF when lockdown happened, and it was put on hold. After lockdown, we submitted our forms and everybody here felt like there was a weight lifted and that we’re moving in the right direction,” she says. “However, then we received a hefty fine for unpaid UIF. We were aware we had to back-pay, but the amount was ridiculous, and we had to pay it in 14 working days,” says Kulsum. “We’d just resumed from lockdown, our numbers of returning learners were at the lowest we’d had. I mean we’d just had six months with no income at all, and we had to pay fines! I started freaking out. I contacted GROW for help and guidance. If they hadn’t helped me I don’t know what would’ve happened because the department was so strict on the money being paid back in 14 days.” she says.

We’re not business people

“We’d like to do the right thing but we’re a small business and we could’ve lost everything because we didn’t have that money. Yes, they said we could apply for payments, but where should the money have come from? If I showed them the books, there is no break-even. It puts so much strain on you, so much stress. They overlook the bigger picture and just see the bottom line. They were not lenient. If we didn’t have support from GROW we would probably have had to close our doors indefinitely,” says Kulsum. “In this industry, we teach children. As we go along, we’ve acquired the business skills, but when you decide you want to open an ECD it’s about giving back to the kids, educating children. We’re not business people,” she says.

ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresIn lockdown we had to go line up for the food parcels

Dimakatso, an ECD owner in Ekurhuleni, says, “The bank gave us time off to pay for three months, but we were not working for five months, now we are in arrears. Our income comes from the crèche. In lockdown we had to go line up for the food parcels, sometimes you line up the whole day, but they cut you off and you don’t get anything. It was hard,” she says.

“I so wish that we can still be compensated so that we can cover the bond and municipality arrears, like others who got relief funds during COVID. It was tough, but it’s still tough. It’s still affecting us, even now because we’re not operating at full capacity. Most of the children didn’t come back because their parents lost their jobs, others are still in fear of COVID. We really need some relief, even now,” she says.

ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresChildren do not always get a nutritional meal when they stay at home

Lucille, from Rainbow Educare in KZN, has opted to only reopen next year. She says, “One of the challenges we face is that parents are leaving their young children at home with their older siblings, rather than pay for the ECD. The older siblings are at home because they don’t have school every day. Children do not always get a nutritional meal when they stay at home and are not as safe as at the ECD.  It is also important that children are educated properly in their ECD years,” she says.



ECD owner lockdown quote grow educare centresThis pandemic is really killing us

Joyce Cwayi, who runs an ECD centre in Cape Town, applied for the government subsidy last year with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and was finally approved in March. However, she has yet to receive the subsidy money due to her centre.

Joyce says, “I get approved on 25 March. Then it was lockdown and officials were working at home not in their office so we couldn’t visit them, you just email over and over again. Even now (24 November) still, we’re waiting for the subsidy money, I’m not getting it in my hands. They’re open now, but they say my papers are missing. We had to refill another form so that we can get the money. During lockdown,it was very hectic and stressful for us as we had no income at all. This pandemic is really killing us,” she says.

What is GROW Educare Centres?

Sheilah Chikoki is the Western Cape Regional Manager for GROW ECD. She says, “GROW Educare Centres is all about the availability of quality early learning and the creation of business sustainability. We support women running good ECDs in poorer areas, helping them to implement an excellent early learning programme, provide nutritious food and help the owners run a sustainable business,” she says.

GROW Educare Centres is a non-profit social enterprise. We use a proven recipe for success to equip women to run 5 Star Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres that are also financially sustainable businesses.

We work with over 40 early learning centres across the country, and growing every year.

We believe that:

  1. excellent preschool education should be accessible and affordable in every neighbourhood.
  2. qualified teachers and centre owners should be paid fairly.

That’s why we are changing the status quo in the ECD sector by partnering with ECD owners to offer quality and professionalism that under-resourced communities have never seen before.

We have developed and tested a recipe for success (a social-franchise operating model) which is proven to improve education and business outcomes in early learning centres. This model has been successfully replicated to 43 centres in four cities across South Africa and is available to ECD Centres through our 5 Steps to 5-Star Journey.

We provide women who have a heart for children and head for business with a complete recipe for ECD success.

How is GROW assisting ECD centres during Lockdown and Beyond*?

  1. We provided food parcels for teachers, ECD staff and parents
  2. We provided monthly food voucher stipends for ECD owners, staff and teacher interns.
  3. We provided parents with at-home schooling ideas and suggestions
  4. We assisted schools with TERS applications and other disaster relief applications where relevant
  5. Once the Department of Social Development issued the protocols and guidelines for reopening we were able to complete and issue each centre with our Back to School Manual. The manual included:
    1. An easy to follow summary of all the actions, materials and equipment required by centre owners before reopening
    2. Checklists, forms, policies and posters
    3. Teacher training manual and activities/resource pack
    4. Templates for communicating with parents
    5. Human Resources guidelines
    6. Tips for survival and financial sustainability
  6. All centres received a COVID19-starter pack from GROW containing handsoap, paper towels, disinfectant, spray gun, cleaning cloths, and protective equipment.
  7. MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet donated a portable handwashing station to each centre
  8. Selected centres received face shields, thermometers and hand sanitizer from monies donated by this year’s Mandela Day campaign.
  9. We held COVID-19 training workshops.
  10. We made sure every centre was ready and compliant to reopen safely.
  11. Our business mentors provided continuous support and assistance during this time to help their businesses survive and now, recover.

Donate Now

*Our support is made possible thanks to the generous donations of organisations and individuals. Special thanks go out to Care4Education, MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, Paxful, ICM Foundation and Environ for their significant donations towards disaster relief and humanitarian efforts during 2020.

GROW Educare newsletter subscribe to add impact to your inbox