Gauteng Creches Score with Early Childhood Development

article-sm-tuc-thobileWhen communities are plagued by poverty and crime, education easily falls by the wayside. Early childhood development is one of the biggest victims and it is estimated that more than 6 million South African children are at risk of not achieving the necessary developmental benchmarks.

This is where The Unlimited Child, an early childhood development initiative, has stepped in and is helping to create a future for tens of thousands of children by laying a solid foundation before they reach the age of seven. Easily replicable, The Unlimited Child programme focuses on a structured programme for preschool children as well as the training needs of their caregivers.

During July, the community of Olivenhoutbosch in Pretoria recently became part of the roll-out of the programme in Gauteng, when caregivers from five local crèches received practical training, teaching plans and specially developed educational toy kits. These toys are designed to specifically develop the children’s cognitive abilities, as well as gross and fine motor skills.

Thobile Msimang, a monitor and team leader for The Unlimited Child, provided hands-on training for the caregivers to ensure they know how to maximise the use of the toys and create stimulating learning environments. “The training went very well and I loved the involvement and participation from the caregivers in this area. They did not have the tools, so we’ve given them a lesson plan with a daily programme and shown them how to use it. But most importantly, we have provided them with toys to take back and implement what they’ve learned, said Msimang.”

According to Jessica Mokone, owner of Century Day Care, being part of The Unlimited Child programme will change her crèche and the lives of her children forever. “The kids are going to love playing with these new toys. The training has shown us that each toy has a different use and how we can use it to teach the children many things. This will help them to develop and it will be great for their future. I know from personal experience that if you don’t learn the right things early, school can become very hard. Now my children will find it easier when they go to school and they won’t struggle with subjects like maths. I am so excited that we can now give them a good foundation for their future,” said Mokone after the workshop. “Teaching is not about just getting a salary. If we help the small ones, we can change the nation.”

The Unlimited Child is a unique, proactive ECD initiative that is addressing a national problem. Since its establishment in 2008, it has already reached more than 500 crèches, 1400 caregivers (caregivers) and over 48 000 children. Currently, more than 26 000 pre-schoolers are enrolled at these crèches in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Gauteng. The Unlimited Child aims to replicate the programme in all nine provinces as the impact on teaching and learning in the crèches is immediate.

According to Steph Bester, chairman of The Unlimited Child, this latest expansion of the programme forms part of their mission to create a sustainable approach to solving some of the challenges in the ECD sector. “Our successes in KwaZulu-Natal are proof that The Unlimited Child can have a huge influence on future generations. We have seen that this project is a rapid impact initiative and its effect is felt within weeks of a community being ‘touched.’ We will continue to expand our footprint in the rest of the country and are confident that our progress in Gauteng will help us realise our aim of reaching 20 000 crèches nationally by 2020”.

The Unlimited Child launches in the Eastern Cape

Pictured from left are Noxolo Nkuntele, Dr Lauren Stretch, Nonqaba Mapumla, Hlengiwe Dube, Bulelwa Ntoni and Patricia Kulati.

Pictured from left are Noxolo Nkuntele, Dr Lauren Stretch, Nonqaba Mapumla, Hlengiwe Dube, Bulelwa Ntoni and Patricia Kulati.

Early childhood education in the Eastern Cape received a much needed boost when The Unlimited Child partnered with locally based Early Inspiration to provide training and educational toys to thirteen crèches in the Walmer township in Port Elizabeth.

The immense lack of early childhood education 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 Unlimited Child is helping to create a future for tens of thousands of children by laying a solid foundation before they reach the age of seven. At the same time, crèche caregivers are trained to maximise the use of the educational toys and to create stimulating learning environments.

“The state of early childhood education 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.

Hlengiwe Dube of The Unlimited Child busy with training in PE.

Hlengiwe Dube of The Unlimited Child busy with training in PE.

Easily replicated, The Unlimited Child initiative focuses on a structured programme for preschool children as well as the training needs of their caregivers. Since its establishment in 2008, The Unlimited Child has already successfully reached 615 crèches and 65 000 pre-school children. It has also provided training to more than 1 900 caregivers.

“We have seen that this project is a rapid impact initiative and its effect is felt within weeks of a community being ‘touched.’ We will continue to expand our footprint in the rest of the country to realise our aim of reaching 20 000 crèches nationally by 2020. In order to achieve our goal, we partner with organisations such as Early Inspiration that are already active in specific areas. By working together with partners that are passionate advocates for early childhood education, The Unlimited Child is aiming to create a sustainable approach to solving some of the challenges in this sector,” says Bester.

The Unlimited Child approached Early Inspiration to identify crèches they are already involved with and that specifically cater for 3 and 4 year olds in the Walmer area. Following a very successful training programme, certificates and educational toys were issued to the respective care givers and supervisors.

article-sm-certificates-and-toys-handoverDr Lauren Stretch, the founder and director of Early Inspiration, early childhood development has always been a passion. “Through my studies, I realised the importance of early stimulation and intervention. Through active engagement in the field, I have realised that our country faces a desperate need and this stirred a desire to make a difference and greater impact,” says Dr Stretch.

“All children are currently undergoing pre-assessments and monitoring will take place throughout the year followed by a post assessment group, which will reflect the impact achieved by The Unlimited Child in classrooms within Walmer township. We are pleased with the scale and progress of the intervention. It is important that we are first comfortable with current interventions before scaling up. Maintaining quality is a key focus for The Unlimited Child and Early Inspiration and this needs to be a priority before we can look at any further expansion,” concludes Dr Stretch.

Early Childhood Education is the key to South Africa’s future

tuc-earlychildhhood-img012016Millions of children across South Africa have returned to school this week, joined by a whole new intake excited to be starting primary school for the first time. The sad fact is that many of these first-graders have already been short-changed as real learning starts even earlier – with well-planned early childhood education, says Steph Bester, Chairman of The Unlimited Child.

“Internationally, educationists agree that a child’s ability to learn is shaped during the first six years of life. Those who miss out on early childhood education may never fully catch up on their cognitive and personal development and will probably battle with learning to read, write, spell or do maths.”

The importance of preparing young children for school led to the launch of The Unlimited Child in 2008. This organisation now reaches over 800 crèches in six provinces: Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Western Cape. More than 90 000 young children have benefitted so far from the initiative’s expert-developed practitioners’ guides, kits of educational toys and books, training for caregivers and ongoing monitoring.

“Seeing the difference that these programmes make to young children, our aim is to reach 20 000 crèches,” says Bester.

South Africa’s National Development Plan placed high priority on early childhood education for four and five year olds but about three quarters of the country’s 7 million children under the age of six are not yet benefitting. Bester believes that corporates and individuals have to help fill this gap in order to positively impact South Africa’s future.

“Studies by UNICEF, UCT, Wits and Stellenbosch University to name but a few, have shown that beyond better literacy and numeracy, good early childhood education programmes help prepare young children to learn more effectively through primary and high school,” he says. “As a result, they also significantly improve grade promotion, repetition and dropout rates.”

Providing children with a stimulating environment in which they can learn and grow is not only for their development – studies have also shown that high-quality early childhood programmes bring impressive returns on investment to the public. One of the most significant research papers published in this regard is a 20-year study that found toddlers from Jamaica’s capital Kingston who were exposed to high quality stimulation programmes were on average earning 25% more as adults than the children who didn’t get any intervention. The public also saw returns in the form of reduced special education, welfare and crime costs (Prof P Geltler & J Heckman).

“In the longer term, early childhood stimulation programmes will enable our country’s future generations to transform their own opportunities in life and impact our economy for the better.”

The Unlimited Child was founded after researchers encountered crèches where young children were left sleeping instead of being stimulated or where caregivers had no equipment to help them introduce early learning. Two leading South African educationists, Freda Wilkens, a renowned early childhood development specialist, and educational management specialist Ian Corbishley, created The Unlimited Child’s stimulation programmes.

The initiative now has four programmes, designed to provide age-appropriate stimulation for various age groups. The programmes and toolkits for babies, toddlers and pre-Grade R children are aligned to National Early Learning Development Standards (NELDS) whilst the Grade R programme is aligned to CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement). Each of these programmes are now being rolled out to crèches participating in The Unlimited Child.

Putting purpose before profit, The Unlimited Child was founded and continues to be supported by The Unlimited, a Durban based financial services company. “We really welcome like-minded organisations to partner with us as together, we will be able to achieve a far greater impact on the future of South Africa than we ever could alone,” Bester concludes.