Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) play a vital role in society. They ensure the safety of children who might otherwise be vulnerable, they provide peace of mind to parents who have no one to look after their young ones, they provide nutrition for children who might not have sufficient access to food, and they also encourage the holistic development of children through play-based learning. ECDs are also a source of income to many unemployed members of the community who either open a creche/centre/preschool as a source of income or alternatively, for those find employment opportunities in a creche/pre-school. Thus, not only are ECDS beneficial to children and parents, but they create job opportunities for those they employ. COVID-19, however, now threatens the survival of many ECDs in townships and local communities. After the announcement of the closure of ECD in March 2020, and the easing up of restrictions which permitted centres to reopen from September 2020, many ECD owners, witnessed a decline in learner numbers, loss of income and increased operational costs (e.g., sanitizing the school premises). The impact of COVID-19 seems to have permeated in 2021 as well.
In the months of February to May 2021, Care for Education (CFE), with the help of two community workers, visited 7 ECD centres in Chief Albert Luthuli, East rand. The centres are amongst several beneficiaries of DUPLO Play Boxes from CFE. The aim of the visits were to find out the extent to which COVID-19 has impacted centres/creches/preschools after a year of lockdown. From the visits, practitioners expressed how COVID-19 continues to impact their livelihood. For Pauline in Morehill ECD centre, “COVID-19 is still affecting how we operate. Social workers tell us that we need to deep clean every Friday. Now we also need to buy food. Costs have gone up, but fees have not increased because parents lost their jobs or had salary cuts”. For other educators, the impact is more personal, as shown by Phumza from Kids of the Kingdom “We don’t have many kids. I am still struggling especially with money, I even lost a sister due to COVID-19, she was more involved in the creche than I am, its hard I won’t lie. I used to look after 40 kids, now I am only left with 15”. Phumza’s utterances also highlight a trend of lower numbers of children attending creche, which is a common reality for many of the centres.
The tragedy in this, is how COVID-19 has also changed how children play as described by Nosisi from Charity “when there is outdoor play, we can’t allow them to touch. We now monitor how they play with toys because social workers come to see if we are following the rules”. COVID-19 has also changed how often children can play as voiced by Dimpho from Rearabilwe ECD, “the children only play in the morning once, we need to soak the toys, so there is no time to soak the toys more than once, the kids only play once. The rest of the day is spend getting them to sit still. However, despite the grim reality, practitioners remain hopeful that a cure for COVID-19 will be discovered, and children will yet again play freely-without restrictions!