Organisations in the early childhood development (ECD) sector are calling on the government to extend the deadline for applications to the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund.
The deadline for applications is Friday and the process opened on 5 February. Payments are expected to be finalised before the end of the financial year on 31 March.
The R496-million fund aims to assist ECD facilities, including crèches, day care services and nurseries, that were hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of these facilities couldn’t open for months due to government regulations. After reopening, many pupils did not return due to financial constraints at home.
On Thursday, Department of Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant indicated that the department would issue a statement on the application process.
A statement was later released to say the application deadline would be extended, but it was later recalled.
Oliphant did not comment further at the time of publication.
The ECD sector is in crisis, said Colleen Daniels-Horswell of the C-19 People’s Coalition’s ECD and Basic Education Working Group, after the Covid-19 lockdown left many schools without an income.
She said that two weeks were not enough for ECD school principals to submit applications and that many were struggling to navigate the application process.
“The two-week deadline to complete the application process is too short. The majority of ECD principals/owners only have time to apply for this relief at night or over the weekend because they are operating centres and programmes with reduced staff members because of not being able to pay salaries. What is worse is that the central supplier database registration system (an additional requirement for unfunded ECD services) goes down for maintenance after 19:00 on most days.”
According to Daniels-Horswell, by Monday, only 9 717 out of 29 836 ECD principals/owners who had started the application process, successfully completed their applications.
The organisation is lobbying for a two-week extension of the closing date.
In addition, the application process needs to be streamlined, said Daniels-Horswell.
“Applications are done via a digital application platform only. This excludes those who do not have access to internet or a computer/laptop, or do not have high levels of computer literacy. People are struggling to work through the application process using their phones. Data is expensive,” she said.
Added to this, the two application platforms are “predominately English using terminology that is unfamiliar and difficult to understand” among other barriers, said Daniels-Horswell.
“The first step (and by no means the last step) toward creating greater access to the Presidency’s ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund is extending the application deadline beyond this Friday, 19 February. Given the unnecessarily complex and onerous process, the current two weeks which were given [are] not sufficient for ECD workers to complete an online application.”