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Impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic on the local ECD Sector

The impact of the pandemic forced a major change in focus for KET during 2020. 108 preschools were closed during lockdown and parents stopped paying fees for many months. Survival of the preschools and their staff presented a crisis. 4 900 children were also threatened by suspension of key support structures including daily feeding, education stimulation and being left alone during the day, or cared for by older siblings while parents worked or looked for casual work. Teacher training, programme implementation and site visits were halted. Government funded preschools were required to continue paying teachers and providing daily meals to children. This left 31 unfunded affiliated preschools that were converted into soup kitchens and distribution points. Many parents did not pay schools fees, leaving121 principals and teachers were at risk of not earning any income and being permanently lost to the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector. Children aged 4-5 years entering formal schooling in 2021 required ongoing support to ensure they entered Grade R with no development delays. Local job losses in a predominantly tourism industry led to 434 preschool parents being identified as requiring food security support.

Our Response to the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic 

We realised early on that we needed to support parents, children and teachers threatened by hunger and survival. In these circumstances we knew there would be a need to expand our focus beyond our 108 preschools to the “COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE’ and address base issues beyond our chosen mission.

Knysna Education Trust (KET) had to ensure availability of at least 12 months funding reserves to keep paying our own staff during lockdown, while normal preschool programmes were suspended. All staff normal goals and work activities had to be redeveloped and realigned to respond effectively to the crisis. We implemented a 90-day rolling review of strategic priorities to drive focus and prioritisation.  Strategic priorities were translated into output-driven team and individual goals. Out of budget expenses were incurred to comply with Covid protocols and accommodate remote working by management and senior employees.

Knysna Education Trust’s (KET) planned infrastructure upgrades for 2020 to accommodate growing projects, expanded training programmes, and beneficiary access to IT infrastructure to complete online applications, had to be suspended. 

From March to April, KET collaborated with Knysna Rotary and other funds to assist with community feeding schemes through soup kitchens, provisioning of food hampers or grocery vouchers. KET’s staff spent many hours within the first month verifying and gathering data for the feeding initiative driven by Rotary Knysna. Local job losses in a predominantly tourism industry led to 434 preschool parents being identified as requiring emergency food security support.

KET had considered that the Covid lockdown could extend beyond the predicted 8 weeks. The impact of extended closure on the affiliated unfunded Early Childhood Development facilities would be catastrophic for principals, teachers and the young children. The KET Board could not accept that young children would go hungry under these conditions. The KET Board committed to continue alleviating hunger by providing food security assistance to these vulnerable preschools (along with age appropriate education stimulations packs) once the Rotary supported ended in mid-May. It was agreed to use R600,000 of reserves for food. These are reserves that had been carefully built up over the years for infrastructure upgrades and developing our education programmes.  

Our innovations and adaptions to the crisis were possible because of pre-existing management, financial and governance disciplines and competencies.

The following infographic tells a wonderful tale of donor, local community and volunteer support coming together to provide hope and practical assistance to one of the key socio-economic micro enterprises in our local communities, namely care groups/early childhood development facilities.

Post Covid: Multi-model Early Childhood Development Services Delivery

To date 106 preschools have ‘opened’, however we anticipate some closures over the coming months, due to financial constraints and preschools unable to become Covid compliant.

This will result in:

  1. Teachers losing their jobs and potentially being permanently lost to the ECD sector.
  2. Many children not having access to ECD services and education programmes.
  3. Children being left alone at home alone or with family members or neighbours during the day while parents  are out seeking work.
  4. Children at risk of not being fed during the day.
  5. Children at risk of violence or abuse instead of being cared for in a place of safety.

To address future risks and create pervasive access to ECD services irrespective of where a child lives. KET intends rolling out its multi-model ECD programme delivery plan to ensure ‘no child is left behind’.

This model will ensure that out of work principals and teachers (as a result of preschool closures) will have alternate means to sustain themselves while still servicing the ECD need in the Garden Route area. It is critical for KET to ensure that these ECD teachers are not lost to the ECD sector and that alternative forms of ECD provisioning are available to families and young children.

After extensive research it was concluded that the Flourish, 0-2 years and the Smart Start, 3-4 year education programmes would provide the best solution. Smaller informal entities where community members are taking care of preschool children, aftercare groups, play groups or any form of supervision for children that take place would all benefit.  With the help of KET and these two programmes, these informal care groups will grow into formalised stimulation groups that will benefit the children and the teachers. KET is currently establishing working relationships with both entities to provide these much needed services and programmes locally.

Recently we identified additional areas in the Elandskraal, Karatra, Diep Walle, Buffelsnek and Goudveld settlements that are in need of ECD services and teacher training for preschool children aged 6months to 5 years. Some informal play groups already exist which would also benefit from formal training, equipment and ongoing support and monitoring. Accredited and trained practitioners would provide quality ECD programmes in areas previously not serviced and empower women to generate a subsistence income through nominal fee charges.

Remaining Future Focused 

KET’s multi-model ECD services delivery model is taking root and we are targeting the establishment of at least 60 ECD micro-enterprises by end July. These entities will ultimately operate as SmartStart franchisees in under serviced and economically strained areas. These franchisees will provide an ECD service to areas that are too small to fund and operate a large ECD facility. These initiatives will help us ensure universal provisioning of ECD to all children in our assigned geographic region ensuring that ’no child is left behind’.