Compiled by Katie Florian
SAEP Impact Centre
Squeals of delight and laughter erupt as we emerge from the car and enter the Thandolwethu Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre in Brown’s Farm. We’re met with hugs from a crowd of toddlers as we make our way into Principal Constance Ndzelwane’s home, which doubles as an ECD centre every Monday through Friday.
We seat ourselves in a circle amid brightly painted walls and get down to business. SAEP Early Childhood Development coordinators Alex Hamill and Sandy Mitchell run through a short agenda, discussing measures for Constance to take to document cases of learning disabilities in order to receive better funding and to better care for the children she teaches.
As the conversation continues, Constance lifts crying toddlers into her lap, effortlessly staunching their woeful tears; she wipes running noses, and she appears to painlessly keep Thandolwethu operating, managing teachers and thirty-four children under the age of five.
Constance epitomizes excellence – she has a level-5 qualification in Early Childhood Development from Cape Town College; she has participated in trainings for Persona Dolls and Inclusive Education; and she has worked with SAEP since 2007 trying to acquire her property’s title deeds to complete her registration.
Thandolwethu is located in Brown’s Farm in a RDP house. Though the house is government-built, because land in Brown’s Farm is technically privately owned, Constance cannot acquire the title deeds for the property. Without these she does not comply with the standards for registration.
The standards for registration are rigid, but necessary. They are in place to ensure that all children in early childhood education get the same high quality service and care. For Constance – and countless other principals and educators in underserved sections of the country – registration means government subsidies that allow her to improve and expand her centre.
One of Constance’s hopes for the coming years is to expand her educare to accommodate more children. Because the need for childcare in her community is immense, she refuses to turn a child away, provided she can. She also plans to lengthen the hours of operation to extend late into the evening or overnight. “Many parents work in the evenings
But it’s not just the financial assistance that makes registration so valuable. “While the registration process is fraught with challenges, and the road is often long,” Sandy remarks, “there are many benefits along the path in addition to the subsidies received. Children’s rights and policies in place to protect and nurture children are brought to the awareness of the women who care for these children. Registered centres are monitored for health and safety standards, aiming to ensure that children are being cared for in safe and secure environments and that they are receiving care appropriate to their ages.”
Registration offers excellent principals like Constance the opportunity to expand and to provide more, high quality education for the young children in the community, but it also protects the children. It helps teachers prevent child abuse by informing them of their responsibilities and ensures that no matter their background, all children have access to the same high-standard services.
A proposed solution
Good quality childcare for all is essential, and the Department of Social Development is right to place stringent registration standards on all ECD centres, regardless of whom they serve. But, in areas like Brown’s Farm, some help is required.
We all want the same thing – unregistered ECD centres like Thandolwethu seeking to get registered, non-profits working with them, and the government hoping to keep the standards high – we all want equal access to quality, safe, and constructive learning environments for our little ones. We must work together to make it happen. By scaffolding their registration process, government could issue ‘provisional registrations’ where educares have an allotted amount of time to bring their facilities up to standard. If a centre fails to use the subsidy or resources for the intended purpose, they lose their registration.
Non-profits in the area can work together to grant the centres the support they need to solidify their registrations; we can network with one another and connect and refer the centre staff to the resources or services they require to officially register.
It’s an arduous process; it will require a lot of time and effort; it will involve collaboration and cooperation; it will entail policy shifts, compromise, and at times, sacrifice from everyone involved. But ultimately, the standards will not have dropped – children in Constance’s care will enjoy the same nurturing and love as those in Bishop’s Court. And perhaps, it will be one small step towards levelling the proverbial playing field of South African education.