We believe the early childhood development is the best social investment that we can make in South Africa and this is the main focus of our Education Programme.
Research in the field of early childhood development (ECD) suggests that in children, half of all intellectual development potential is already established by the age of four, and that by school-going age children have already been largely prepared to succeed, or under-prepared to fail. Education and mental stimulation in the first years of life, along with basic health care and adequate nutrition, are the crucial determinants of the intellectual growth essential for success at school and achievement later in life. However, very few South African children receive adequate early childhood education. Much of the pre-schooling which does occur takes place in cramped, dilapidated and unhygienic conditions and the end result is that many children enter the formal schooling system drastically unprepared, which results in frustration and poor learning, high rates of grade repetition, failure and drop-out.
The predominant model for ECD provisioning in South Africa has sought to replicate a western pre-school model which was developed in middle-class contexts and assumes that parents understand the value of education and are able to provide the required levels of support and nutrition. Given our drastically different reality here in South Africa, such models cannot be translated into disadvantaged rural African contexts without adequate funding and support. Rather than replicating a western model largely unsuited to the needs and realities of children in rural contexts in South Africa we take an integrated approach to working with individual children, families and the community as a whole in a framework that acknowledges the realities of the specific socio-economic conditions in which these groups live.
Our ‘Safe Park’ model grew out of a priority identified by women’s self-help groups who were concerned about the safety of their young children who were playing unsupervised during the day and who were exposed to many risks. For this reason, they established non-formal pre-school sites called Safe Parks which provide a safe and stimulating environment for children who are too young to attend school as well as for after school care.
In line with our asset-based approach, the Safe Parks were established organically within the homes of group members with the services functioning on an entirely voluntary basis.
Over time and with the support of our funders, we have provided basic indoor and outdoor resources and, in recognition of the community's own efforts, to fundraise for improved infrastructure such as ‘Edutainers’, upgrading of existing buildings and additions such as fencing, toilets and verandahs.
To address long-term sustainability, we support groups in formalising their sites and registering with the Department of Social Development in order to be able to access government funding for child nutrition and teachers’ salaries. In addition, we provide training and support to enable the groups to establish their own small businesses alongside the Safe Parks in order to generate an income for the site as well as the women and their families.
In an effort to equip community members with the necessary skills to provide nurturing environments for young children we provide non-formal workshops for parents, grandparents and carers on the importance of early stimulation and learning and basic ECD theory and practice, as well as family health, hygiene, nutrition and children’s rights. In response to requests from community members, we have also introduced a focus on Parenting Life Skills. These sessions raise awareness about the rights and needs of young children and encourage discussion of challenging subjects such as communication within the family, relationships, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.
In order to raise the level of ECD services we have also assisted individuals to access formal training through Rhodes University’s Centre for Social Development.
Inclusion and access
Inclusion and accessibility are two particularly challenging aspects of the provision of ECD services in South Africa, especially in economically challenged and geographically remote communities. Whilst funding and resources are one aspect of the challenge, attitudes towards disability and difference within communities can also be a significant obstacle. In rural communities individuals with physical, intellectual or social challenges are sometimes accepted as they are but nothing is done to try and improve their condition or to provide support; or they are shunned and excluded from community activities. We have come across many such cases where varying degrees of intervention at a community level are possible and can make a difference.
To address the needs of children with disabilities, we have involved the community and other service providers such as local schools, clinics, social services and the occupational and speech services of the closest hospital. Gradually attitudes are beginning to shift from identifying certain individual children or families as a problem, to acknowledging that they have a problem and are in need of assistance and support rather than judgement and blame.
Fort Brown Primary School
Working in partnership with Kwandwe and the Department of Education we were able to centralize local farm schools in the area and in 2002 we built a four class-roomed school at Fort Brown. The Foundation has since been able to add onsite teacher accommodation and has facilitated the provision of transport for children from rural villages to the school. We continue to work to support teaching and learning at this school.
Educational loans and bursaries
As part of our commitment to enabling access to education we make small loans for educational purposes to individuals and families in the communities in which we work. We also administer a bursary fund which was set up with the generous donation of an Old Selbornian, Mr Peter Darke, and enables a rural boy to complete his secondary schooling at Selborne College in East London.
Working in partnership with other providers and the AgriSETA, we have enabled access to accredited Adult Education courses run in rural communities, specifically focusing on literacy and numeracy.
Computer skills training
We have installed six computers in our Learning and Training Centre at the Mgcamabele Community Centre and a further five at Fort Brown Primary School. Successful basic computers courses have been offered to equip community members with the necessary skills to support learning and improve prospects for gaining employment. We are currently exploring ways to develop this facility and to enable access to computer skills in other communities.