FIFI PETERS: We often hear that children are our future, but for that future to be bright we need to invest in them today – from their nutrition to their education and their wellbeing – to ensure that we raise a future workforce that’s able to make a meaningful contribution to the economy.
To discuss this further I am joined by Dr Tshepo Motsepe, who is a patron of the Early Care Foundation. We’ll also be speaking about the impact that Covid-19 has had on early childhood development. Dr Motsepe, thanks so much for your time.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Thank you, Fifi.
FIFI PETERS: First of all, may I ask a personal question? How are you, ma’am? It has been a crazy time these past 18 months as the world has been dealing with this thing called Covid-19. How are you?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: I’m alright although, like everybody else, being isolated, not socialising and buying online has been quite challenging, and it’s unbelievable how long ago one has actually met people. But on Monday I saw a few people whom I work with and a few friends, and we said, “Oh, we’ll meet and we’ll sit outside”.
FIFI PETERS: And enjoy the sun.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: The restrictions are a little bit (relaxed) now. So we’ll have a bit of interaction.
FIFI PETERS: Ma’am, we’re here to talk about the Early Care Foundation and early childhood development specifically. Before we get to the details, perhaps for our listeners who don’t know the work of the Early Care Foundation, could you enlighten us as to exactly what it does and what its mandate is?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: The Early Care Foundation is a non-profit organisation. We started operating in 2008. Previously we were working with formal crèches, but then we realised that there was a need where children in the first thousand days of their lives were not having any education or stimulation.
The first thousand days in any human being’s life are the most critical because this is where stimulation and growth should be promoted, and you can achieve optimal results by targeting this area.
We work with backyard crèches, the backyard crèches that people have in their homes, in a container, in a caravan – mostly in the townships, rural areas and informal settlements. These are people who are in low-income areas. Our aim is to make sure their children in the first thousand days of their lives are in a safe, secure, stimulating environment. For the ladies and the men, whom we call practitioners, who run the crèches, we’ve developed courses because they all have informal education. The level of education that they have is normally below level four. So we’ve developed courses that are accredited with sector education and training authorities. We have a basic childcare programme, (with) financial management and basic business management, so that the crèches which they run can be sustainable.
We’ve realised that these ladies should not just be childcare minders; they should be professional. By working with them and making sure that they have an education, we know that the children will have optimal training.
Most of the children who come to the crèches rely heavily on the meals that they get, and the only nutritional meal that they have in the day might be from the crèche. We also help these crèches to comply with the Department of Social Development. The restrictions to be registered are very strict. They have to comply with six government departments and we help them, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy and documentation that they have to fill in. On their own they wouldn’t manage. But when they comply with the six departments, they receive a grant from the Department of Social Development, which amounts to R17 per child per day – that’s about R274 a month. We encourage the crèche owners to let the parents pay. Most of the parents pay from the social grant and they cannot afford more than R100.
You’ll find that before a crèche receives a subsidy from the Department of Social Development, you’d find 90 children attending crèche in a container or in a caravan – and that is really just too many children in one place. But then the department stipulates that they all should be 2.2 metres apart – that’s a space between each child.
Once the crèches have a civil subsidy, it ensures their financial sustainability and the sustainability of the business. We always remind the cheche owners that they are not just crèche owners; they also business people.
The textbooks for the lessons that we teach are in animation. There are pictures that make it easy for the crèche owners to understand the message. Some of the lessons they do by acting to reinforce the message. We have trainers who go from one crèche to another. Normally we have about 20 crèches which are within easy access to each other, and the trainer goes from one crèche to the other, spends one day per week in a crèche, making sure of the resources and that the mentors mentor the crèche owners. And then once a week they meet in a hall where they receive their lessons.
In this way they receive their certificates. As I said, they are accredited and the certificates are nationally recognised – all over the country.
FIFI PETERS: So it’s quite a lot of work that the foundation does, but how has the pandemic impacted that work with the lockdowns and kids being in and out of school? It sounds like it may not have been easy.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: We know, like all non-governmental organisations, the crèches were really badly impacted. Parents lost their jobs and were not earning, so they could not pay for the children to go to crèches. That resulted in some of the crèches actually closing down and no longer operating. That left children unsupervised, not receiving stimulation, not receiving the meals that they received. And of course our funders, some of the corporates and organisations that funded us, some of their own businesses were negatively affected and they could not fund us with the funds that we had budgeted for.
Anyway, we tried to continue. We tried as much as possible. Instead of the lessons having been one-on-one, we adopted online training. But of course with the online training it meant that the practitioners had to have an Android (device).
FIFI PETERS: And even data.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: A device on which they could follow the lessons. But it has continued. Despite that, we’ve been able to continue with our lessons. I think with level three it was also possible for our trainers to go on site.
We support crèches in four provinces – Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Western Cape. We also recently received offers through a company in KZN.
They identified us and said they’d like us to give our lessons to the crèche owners of their employees.
FIFI PETERS: You mentioned the importance of the first thousand days for children and you have launched a new campaign, I believe – the #NoOneLeftBehind campaign. Tell us about that, ma’am, and what you’re hoping to achieve.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: We are hoping that we can request the public to donate R400 which will enable a child to go to crèche for a month. If funders donate R4 800, it ensures that a child goes back to the crèche for the whole year. Nelson Mandela said education is the most important way of promoting communities. Education is very, very important, especially in the first thousand days. If the children receive the stimulation, the adequate nutrition, then they should be able to reach their full potential.
At the same time, if the crèches can operate, we will be at least promoting employment because crèche owners are also employers, and it will have a good impact on the income of families if they can open their crèches and operate properly.
FIFI PETERS: That’s how individuals can get involved – with the donation of R400. What about the private sector?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: We rely on corporates. We rely on private individuals. Sometimes in the past some people have put their money together and donated that R4 800 or the R400,depending on what they are able to donate.
FIFI PETERS: I think I’ve heard the saying that ‘enough is never enough. There’s always room to do more.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Of course.
FIFI PETERS: How has government played its role in supporting early childhood development, and what more can it do?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Of course you know that the law says that children before they grow to Grade R should at least have had two years of a training. As I said, the Department of Social Development gives a subsidy to the crèches once they comply with all the requirements of six government departments.
The needs exceed the supply. That is why there are always non-governmental organisations because on its own government cannot meet the needs. That is why we rely on non-governmental organisations to assist and respond to a need in society.
FIFI PETERS: For our listeners, as well as our viewers who perhaps want to play their part, where can they access more information to do so?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Oh, they can get [information] online on the website earlycarefoundation.org We’d really appreciate support from the public.
FIFI PETERS: Right now we are all looking forward to beating this virus and we’re looking forward to what a post-Covid-19 world will look like. How do you see the post-Covid-19 world for early childcare development?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Oh, we are hoping that the children will all able to go back to the crèches post Covid. The economy will have improved. And of course in that way more people hopefully will be back at work. They’ll be able to pay for their children to come to crèches.
Of course, we still rely on the Department of Social Development to give the subsidies. We will play our part and as much as possible assist the practitioners all over the country.
FIFI PETERS: And what would you say the cost to the economy could potentially be if we don’t invest more in early childhood development today?
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Children are our future in any society. If we do not prioritise the development of children in the first thousand days, imagine what type of a society we would have.
We would have a people who cannot achieve; it will affect their future educational potential. Honestly, it will have a very, very negative effect on the public if we do not prioritise this critical area of all human beings’ lives.
Children who go to crèches are inquisitive, they explore, they learn – and this is the time when they can absorb the most – in the first thousand days of their lives. But of course everything else has to be right in the environment where they are.
FIFI PETERS: Ma’am, just a last comment. I suppose the reason why it is so important to invest in them is to potentially give them the opportunity to break the cycle of these children also one day falling into the social grants line.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Yes. We have to break the cycle of poverty in our society, the inequalities, by prioritising children in disadvantaged low-income families. That will make sure that we break the cycle of poverty. In South Africa the Gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world. We are one country with the most inequality, so we’ve got to work hard. It’s in our interest that these children get the best opportunities in their lives. These are the future workers. These are the future executives.
They are the future politicians, and we’ve got to make sure that as much as it’s in their interest that we promote them, it is also in the interest of society at large, in the interest of the country and the country’s future.
FIFI PETERS: Ma’am, I couldn’t agree with you more. But we will leave the interview there. Thanks so much for your time and for joining the Market Update.
DR TSHEPO MOTSEPE: Thank you so much, Fifi. Thank you and the [listeners]. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
FIFI PETERS: So, if you want to get involved and play your part in investing in early childhood development, you can go onto the website of the Early Care Foundation for the details on how you can make your donations and invest in children of the future.