South Africa is a very dynamic educational space and the government has worked hard towards defining and regulating each type of educational facility. Regulation of pre-schools and creches are particularly problematic, especially ones that have popped up in overcrowded suburbs and townships: most out of sheer necessity but some for illegal financial gain.
The Department of Education, with the Departments of Health and Social Services respectively, have taken large steps to define and control the start up and maintenance of ECD (Early Childhood Development) schools. This new legislation will hopefully regulate the quality and authenticity of pre-schools in South Africa.
ECD schools are separated into three categories:
- A creche, which is a full-day care facility for children from 3 months until 7 years of age. They are usually open from 7am-5pm and provide care and stimulation for kids whose parents are at work. The staff in a creche don't necessarily have to be qualified, but usually have completed some form of training program.
- A nursery school, which provides a pre-school education for children over 2 years of age, where teachers have to be qualified, and runs between 8am-12.30pm
- An Educare Centre, which not only offers education at creche and nursery school levels, but also provides health and welfare services to pre-school children.
Because of the realization that working class people need childcare in their area but the facility available to them does not necessarily fall under these categories, (and in accordance with the Child Care Act No 74 of 1983), it is possible to care for a maximum of six children without needing to register with the Social Services department in the Provincial Government.
All other types of ECD schools, whether small scale (24 children and less) or large scale (25 and more) need to be registered with the Provincial Government to exist. They must go through thorough inspection with requirements such as:
- Location: is it close to public open spaces, sports facilities, public transport, etc for the opportunity to share infrastructure and proximity to main access roads?
- Zoning Regulations: is property location appropriate for school use? Does its location maximize access to the community?
- Does the scale of the proposed school meet City Health Department directives and Social Services approval such as building safety, ablution facilities, qualifications of staff members, etc
- Applications must be completed with detailed site plans, letters of motivation and a breakdown of all the particulars of the running of the schoo
In spite of all these checks and cross checks done by three governmental departments to ensure that children have access to a pre-school environment in their area, illegal ECD schools still exist. To date, there have been only about 20 cases of ECD schools being shut down from lack of registration. Sadly, these cases have come to the fore from whistle-blowers who have witnessed child abuse on these illegal premises.
The Department of Social Development encourages the public to report any doubt on a school's legitimacy. However, there is clearly not enough staff to conduct background checks and oftentimes they hear of incidences when damage has already been done. It is not very clear what happens to a bogus school that has been closed down; some get a small fine to pay. Oftentimes the guilty owner gets away with the offense without punishment. These are issues that clearly must be addressed to protect the safety of our children.