Battles of a creche to stay alive and expandDate Released: Tue, 27 January 2015 12:00 +0200
I NEVER quite understood the significance of restaurants such as Spur until my siblings and I started having children. Sure, when I wear my academic hat, there’s lots to critique about Spur’s commercialised misappropriation of native American culture. But apparently my 16-month-old can find her way to the play area of any of their restaurants without any help from me.
Similarly, four years ago, when my activist friends decided we should start a low-fee creche in Schauderville in Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas, I was equally oblivious to just how high the demand for early childhood education and care was in SA. From an education activist point of view, it seemed to me that a creche might be too "grass-rootsy", not high-advocacy enough. I was not sure how much it could advance the greater structural and political challenges of the schooling system. My friends insisted that I stop conceptualising "activism" as only being about combative discourse to hold the state accountable.
Since opening in 2012 the early childhood centre (The Little Red Teapot, as we named it), which caters for children aged four to five, gets about 60 applications for 25 spaces.
Parents from across the formerly "coloured" Northern Areas and the former "black" townships New Brighton, Zwide and Motherwell, which is 26km away, inundate the creche to try to place their children.
Traditionally, working black parents left their children under the care of grandparents and other relatives. However, with urbanisation, black families, especially single parents, are less able to depend on extended families and must find day care for their children outside the home.
Further, the inequality in the schooling system puts pressure on parents to put their children in creches, which can expose them to English as early as possible so that they can have an advantage when seeking placement in English-medium primary schools at grade one.
We also observed in Schauderville that many young mothers and grandparents in poor areas just do not feel they are able to adequately care for their children daily in the context of severe family dysfunction and community breakdown. They feel it is better to have the child safely in creche for the day to give them a sense of stable personal development.
From an official policy point of view, there are many reasons that are given for the importance of early childhood education. Educationalists see its potential for strong cognitive foundations for the child, which will set the foundation for more complex learning later. Based on this, governments see early childhood development as an investment that will pay off with future economically productive citizens who will create a stable society.
In 2010 Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga undertook to make Grade R universally available by last year. Given the demand, it is necessary that the state play a leading role in the expansion of the sector. However, the early childhood care sector employs many innovative and entrepreneurial women. What is needed is a good mix of options for parents and for the state to expand its subsidisation of nonprofit community creches such as the one we started.
It is important that as early childhood services expand, we keep the hard edge of standardised state education out of young children’s lives. The core philosophy that ought to guide the expansion of the sector in SA is not some officious educationalism, but a desire to give young children a safe and dependable space to develop a secure sense of self.
The state is supportive but the bureaucracy is disheartening. We waited for three years to get approval for subsidisation only to be told that the state forgot to make a policy to fund five-year-olds.
I was sure that this year we were going to have to shut the creche down but we returned to donors, begging bowl in hand.
Meanwhile, the creche has to make a plan to grow the capacity to take in more children. Given our history and the struggles of daily life in the townships, there is nothing as difficult as turning a child away.
By Nomalanga Mkhize
Mkhize is a lecturer in the history department at Rhodes University.
Source: Business Day