Prof. Eric Atmore – The Centre for Early Childhood Development

“Children are not considered of importance in South Africa”

Thank you for agreeing to this interview Professor. Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself?
I am South African born and bred. I grew up in Woodstock, Cape Town in a working-class environment, where money was not in abundance but family cohesion and support was. Growing up I saw the importance of family and how families are critical to early development and well-being.

After high school, I went to the University of Cape Town and graduated with a bachelors degree in Social Development, two honours degrees, in Social Development and in Social Policy; a Masters degree in Social Policy and Management. After a 25-year break, I completed a PhD in Education Policy Studies at the University of Stellenbosch. Subsequent to this I was appointed as Extraordinary Associate Professor in Education Policy Studies with a focus on early childhood development (ECD).

In 1994, I started the Centre for Early Childhood Development, based in Cape Town, of which I am still the organisation Director today.

I have written and published extensively on early childhood development and on child wellbeing.

Tell us about CECD?
The Centre for Early Childhood Development is a non-profit organisation, working in vulnerable communities, providing teacher training, constructing and upgrading ECD centre buildings, providing education equipment, doing leadership enhancement and advocating for the child’s right to quality early education and care. In our 26 years since 1994, we have been recognised as a leading ECD organisation globally. In South Africa, we have received the president’s Award for ECD from former President Nelson Mandela, an award as the top Information and Communications Technology for children in Africa and many other awards.

To my understanding, there are 30 000 ECD programs in South Africa, providing a place of care and early education to 1.5 MILLION CHILDREN.

What does CECD do on a daily basis?
Each year we work directly with some 400 ECD centres, mostly in the Western Cape but increasingly in the other eight provinces of South Africa. We enhance the capacity and skills of mostly women who educate and care for our youngest children. Our highly talented trainers and field workers work in vulnerable communities each day supporting ECD centres in ensuring that each child has his or her right to quality early development assured.

We also project large-scale national ECD projects in which we work with competent ECD non-profits. Here our role is mainly project management and ongoing organisational development.

What is social service’s role and responsibility to CECD at this time (COVID-19)?
Do social services understand what it is that you do?
At this time it would be desirable if the Department of Social Development and the Department of Basic Education supported non-profits, such as ourselves and others, to meet the emergency needs of young children and families. In this time of COVID-19, this is mostly the need for food and good nutrition. Whilst these two state departments know exactly what ECD non-profits do, sadly but predictably these provide very little to no support. ECD centres are supposed to provide food to thousands of children with the measly R16 per child per day ECD subsidy. This is expected to meet the ECD centre costs of staffing, equipment and food. To illustrate the value that is placed on children, failed companies such as SAA and Eskom are or have been bailed out with billions of rand every year whereas Government knows full well the needs of vulnerable young children but the political will to meet these needs is absent.

Do they understand the harm that threats ECD’s if they fail in their duty?
Yes, they do and many officials do excellent work, but the political will to ensure the rights of young children is missing.

What happens on your side if you are kept in the dark with processes like ‘phasing in of kids back to school.’
Since the lockdown began we have received hundreds of phone calls from ECD centre principals asking what government is doing for children and when will ECD centres be allowed to open. Each time I have to answer that nobody knows. In all the many briefings by the two responsible ministers, ECD provision has not been mentioned even once. This illustrates clearly that children are not considered of importance in South Africa.

What is your message to anyone who might see this from Social Services? 
The Departments of Social Development and of Basic Education need to meet South Africa’s commitment to children as set out in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child which our government ratified on 16th June 1995. We also need to remind politicians and our officials that the late Oliver Tambo told us “… a nation that does not value its children does not deserve its future”.

*Humans acknowledges that there are two sides to every story. We are happy to speak to anyone from Social Services, The Department of Social Development and/or the Department of Basic Education if they chose to come forward to respond. If anyone else can help, please do.


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