Building better ECDs

Some of the members of the Westlake ECD Forum who worked hard to clean and replant Restio Park for the children to enjoy, from left, Shanel Matambo of Sunbeam ECD; Helen Brown, chairperson of Westlake ECD Forum and founder of Little Squirrels ECD; Lydia Mert of Lydias Day Care; Alicia Van Schalkwyk of Mountain View ECD; Portia Dlakadla and Somi Mboya of Amazing Grace Upliftment Centre.

There aren’t enough registered preschools and creches in Westlake Village to meet the early-education needs of some 700-odd children in the community.

This according to Jane Worthington-Fitnum, of Noordhoek, who does volunteer work in the community, and helps childcare centres register with the City and the provincial Department of Social Development.

According to her, there are scores of schools and creches in the neighbourhood, but only Emmanuel Educare is registered… and it is full.

About 120 children in the community are ready for Grade R, but only half can be accommodated at Emmanuel Educare.

Westlake Primary School has no Grade R, and of those who go to Grade 1, half are held back.

“Children who attend a good preschool learn how to be prepared for ‘big school’: to hold a pencil, the basics of the alphabet, numbers, colours, shapes and the routine of being in a class,” said Ms Worthington-Fitnum.

Project manager with Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT), Nicci Woodbridge, said most preschools and creches in Westlake were unregistered, overcrowded, had no formal programme and were unhygienic.

Ms Worthington-Fitnum said she knew of one creche with 39 children, from the ages of three months to 11 years. There were five babies to two cots. “But the place is clean, the children off the street and safe… as safe as they can be in a shack which is falling down and has a leaking roof,” she said.

She said City zoning regulations were a hurdle to many creches trying to register.

“When Westlake was built in the late 1990s, there was no provision made for ECD centres, so all houses were zoned single residential. Women opened up creches and now to be legal they first need to acknowledge that they have been operating illegally and then apply to City planning to work out the ‘administrative penalty’ (fine), which they need to pay, and only then can they apply for a ‘departure from current use consent’, that is permission to operate a ‘place of instruction’ in a property which is zoned for ‘single residential use’.”

In July 2016, Ursula Forrest, a director of Flow Foundation; Lydia Ingpen, of Amazing Grace; and Christiane Savoia, of Orphan Care Foundation and WUCT, resurrected the Westlake ECD Forum, which meets on the second Tuesday of the month. It has access to funding for training workshops and helps creches register.

According to Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokeswoman, Millicent Merton, the department is responsible for public schooling from Grade 1 to 12 in the province. The Department of Social Development is responsible for registration of preschools.

Grade R is not compulsory, but WCED spokeswoman, Jessica Shelver, said many of the department’s schools offered it, as did other organisations, including churches and non-profits.

According to Landie Diamond, principal of Westlake Primary School, most of their Grade 1s come from Emmanuel Educare Centre adjoining WUCT.

The pupils come from diverse backgrounds and many struggle to learn English on a first-language level. About 20% of their Grade 1s have to repeat the year.

There are about 40 pupils in each class and they do not have teacher assistants, just a volunteer parent in both phases.

Andrew Preston, of Emmanuel Educare, said the school admitted children aged 3 to 6. The preschool was registered with the WCED and Social Development and had to re-register every five years.

“It’s a rigorous process covering everything from floor space per child, a business plan, fee structure, evacuation plans, qualifications of staff, health clearance and more, to qualifications of teachers, clearance certificates and so forth. A certificate is issued once this process is completed and without that, no subsidy would be received from either department,” he said.

Emmanuel Educare has 174 registered pupils, down from 180 earlier in the year. The two Grade R classes have 29 pupils each, down from 30 each earlier in the year. They have six qualified teachers and six assistant teachers, and remedial teaching is also available.

Ms Worthington-Fitnum said there was no dedicated social worker for Westlake, and many children wandered the streets at all hours, some expelled from school for bad behaviour and learning problems. There were also children who had no birth certificates.

But Social Development spokesman, Sihle Ngobese, said the department offered social services in Westlake through its NGO partner, Badisa, which had a team of six social workers and a supervisor working in the area.“Through our Grassy Park local office, we have six social workers, a social auxiliary worker and one community development practitioner to assist with older people, disability, and substance abuse rehab cases in Westlake Village.

“We also attend to all fires, disasters and social relief of distress applications,” he said.

The Department of Social Development provides childcare grants and subsidies to registered preschools with more than six children.

Mayco member for transport and urban development Brett Herron, said if a creche had more than six children, the owner had to register to be zoned as a place of instruction.

The City’s role, he said, was to help creches become compliant so they could register with Social Development. A creche operating illegally could be fined and closed, he said.

Parents of school-going age children can contact the district official in charge of admissions for Metro South, Lynn Primo, at 021 370 2000/2035, 021 372 1856, or if their children are battling to find placement in a school.