Independent Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres say Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu is failing to protect teachers in this sector against COVID-19.

SA Childcare and ECD Owners SA recently wrote to the Minister asking her to prioritise them for inclusion in the vaccination programme for teachers. Neither organisation has received a response.

Independent ECDs fall under the Department of Social Development.

Jennifer McQuillan, co-founder of ECD Owners of SA, says while the Basic Education Minister is doing a sterling job ensuring teachers are vaccinated, they are forgotten by their minister.

McQuillan says they feel let down by Zulu as they had to litigate to be able to open during lockdown last year as well as to force the department to pay ECD subsidies and now they are ignored during the teacher vaccination drive.

“That’s why we are called the forgotten sector, because for us we have, unfortunately, a Minister that is not there. So we have to take to the streets or take to the courts in order to get anything done in our sector. It’s a reality and it’s a great shame. The thing is ECD teachers need a choice to be vaccinated. In the early years as well children don’t wear masks, The research is if they do get COVID-19, they get it more mildly and they can spread it, and you can’t get a three-year-old to social distance,” says McQuillan.

COVID-19 Vaccine rollout | Roll out for teaching staff begins in different provinces:

COVID-19 safety in schools

Arno van der Merwe, CEO of SA Childcare, says ECDs have stringent COVID-19 protocols that protect both the children and teachers. He says research done at 835 nursery schools proves this.

“We asked the question how many staff members at your school did test positive, if any. And about 17% of nursery schools had positive cases and by far the majority 83% had zero COVID-19 cases. We also asked the question if you did have a positive case how many teachers of staff members contracted COVID. And what is interesting only between one or two staff members and that was the vast majority of schools. We also asked a further question, were there any children that tested positive and again it was about 15.5% that said yes,” says Van der Merwe.

COVID-19 Vaccine rollout | Start of the education sector vaccine programme

Vaccination of teachers

He says, however, 80% of teachers working at independent ECDs indicated they would be interested in having the vaccine if it was offered. Van der Merwe says ECD teachers should be prioritised as a risk group just like teachers falling under Basic Education.

McQuillan says although some ECD teachers will be eligible for vaccines due to their age, they should not have to wait.

“All that we want to do, we have this call-out, please include us. It’s a simple request. Include us so that we also have the choice to be vaccinated or not,” says McQuillan.

The Department of Social Development’s Spokesperson, Lumkha Oliphant, did not respond to a request for information or an interview.

Gauteng educators receive their COVID-19 vaccines