Children at early childhood development centres (ECDCs) won't be heading back on Monday, along with pupils in several other grades, after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga amended gazetted directions on the return of school pupils.
The minister removed an aspect in the directions that relates to ECDCs, removing the definition of pre-Grade R.
In directions gazetted on 22 June, pre-Grade R was defined as "...the provision of early educational programmes by a school for learners below the age of admission to Grade R, and excludes an early childhood development programme as contemplated in Section 93 of the Children's Act, 2005 (Act No. 38 of 2005)". It meant that early childhood programmes in schools could reopen alongside Grades R, 1, 2, 3 and others.
But the amendment effectively halted these programmes.
This means that parents of children at a pre-Grade R level have to keep their little ones at home until the Department of Social Development gives the green light for the resumption of early childhood development centres and programmes.
According to basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, the department has no jurisdiction over ECDCs because they are provisioned for under the Children's Act. Instead, they fall under the Department of Social Development.
"The custodian of the children is the Department of Social Development where ECDCs are registered and it is them who will determine when they go back. The grades covered in the [South African] Schools Act are the ones going back because the custodian of the...act is the Department of Basic Education," Mhlanga told News24 on Thursday.
Social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said in response to News24 that ECDCs remained closed under the Level 3 lockdown.
She added that the department was working with centres to prepare them for reopening on a date that is yet to be announced.
"Some of the preparations under way [include] making sure that all ECDCs are registered, and we launched the Vangasali campaign (Leave no child behind) with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The campaign seeks to make sure that every ECDC in the country is registered so that they can receive the necessary assistance," Oliphant said.
The department has also developed a self-assessment tool which lists standard operating procedures to ensure that all centres are ready to reopen.
The basic education department is preparing to receive pupils in Grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 on 6 July to join their peers in Grades 7 and 12, who returned on 8 June, after being away for more than 10 weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a survey conducted by four teacher unions, school principals in several provinces anticipate that they won't be able to cope when more grades return to class, News24 reported on Wednesday.
Among other issues, they have raised that they won't cope with screening and that they might experience difficulties with sanitation and water provision.