A Boost for Early Childhood Development in The Cape

tuc-165x121Living on the Cape Flats, the future for 4-year old Tanita Abrahams does not look promising. Though she dreams of being South Africa’s next Charlize Theron, chances are high that whilst Tanita is still in primary school, she will be hooked on drugs and alcohol and she will become a member of one of the vicious gangs in the area. Instead of a life on the stage, her reality will become simple survival.

Tanita’s only hope is education and the foundation for her future will begin with what she learns before the age of seven. This is where The Unlimited Child, an early childhood development programme, is helping to create a future for the tens of thousands of children who potentially share Tanita’s fate.

The immense lack of early childhood development (ECD) throughout South Africa has always been a pressing concern and was the reason for establishing The Unlimited Child. According to Steph Bester, chairman of The Unlimited Child, serious intervention is needed to put the spotlight on the massive socio-economic impact this can have for future generations. “The state of early childhood development in South Africa is shocking and it’s estimated that there are more than 6-million preschool children in this country who receive little or no proper stimulation. This will directly affect their motor skills, cognitive and emotional development and the lack of stimulation makes these children extremely vulnerable,” explains Bester.

“Statistics from a recently released audit by the Department of Social Development have shown that 91% of the 20 000 ECD centres audited countrywide did not follow a proper curriculum and 40% did not have sufficient support material. The Unlimited Child is a successful, proven model in KwaZulu-Natal that plays a critical role in changing these statistics and we are currently building a wider network to roll this out nationally,” says Bester.

The Unlimited Child programme is easily replicable and focuses on a structured programme for preschool children as well as the ongoing training needs of their caregivers. It providesan integrated, rapid impact programmeby supplying crèches in disadvantaged communities with educational toys specifically designed to develop the children’s cognitive and gross and fine motor skills. At the same time, crèche caregivers are trained to ensure they know how to maximise the use of the toys and create stimulating learning environments.

The success of The Unlimited Child has been proven in KZN where the initiative is actively involved with over 425 crèches. With the goal to roll-out The Unlimited Child on a national basis, the organisation recently introduced a pilot programme in Cape Town.

According to The Unlimited Child’s Western Cape co-ordinator Grant Abernethy, the selection of crèches in Masiphumelele in Kommetjie and in Khayelitsha marks the start of much greater things for developing partnerships with other organisations in the region.

“The caregivers and some of the mentors in the new crèches have already had extensive training and the educational kits have been delivered,” says Abernethy. “But there are many more deserving crèches in the Western Cape and we want to tap into the active ECD sector in the region to reach them.”

Abernethy says there has already been progress in this regard. “There are a number of very good organisations operating in Cape Town and where we can add value to the work they are already doing in the education and stimulation of pre-schoolers, we will offer to collaborate with them,” he explains. “In addition, the various government departments in the Western Cape are very active in ECD and they are a great resource.”

By working together, The Unlimited Child is aiming to create a sustainable approach to solving some of the challenges in the ECD sector. “All our partners are passionate advocates for early childhood development and together we could give many of the young children in the region who are not currently being reached with adequate stimulation, the option of a solid foundation for a brighter future,” says Abernethy.

Since its establishment in 2008, The Unlimited Child has already successfully reached 425 crèches and 45 000 pre-school children. It has also provided training to more than 1 300 caregivers.

Bester concludes: “Our work in KwaZulu-Natal has proven that we can change the lives of future generations. It is fantastic that the right people and partnerships in place in the Western Cape and we are confident that our progress in the region will help us realise our aim of reaching 20 000 crèches nationally by 2020”.