9 December 2015, Durban, South Africa. It is the season of goodwill and giving – and early childhood education initiative The Unlimited Child will be giving gifts that will change the future of South Africa.
This week sees the organisation’s pilot launch of three new education programmes – programmes that will ultimately be supplied free of charge to the crèches using The Unlimited Child model. The organisation has a national footprint as it has reached 762 disadvantaged crèches in six provinces: Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.
“Since we launched The Unlimited Child in 2008, it has already helped provide quality early childhood education to 90 000 children, mostly aged between three and six years,” says Steph Bester, Chairman of The Unlimited Child. “Our programme is based on international research that shows play is the only effective way of teaching pre-school children.
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.
“To meet the stipulations of the National Early Learning Development Standards (NELDS) curriculum, we have refined our play-centred learning programme so that it can respond to the needs of a broader age group. Our three new programmes for babies, toddlers and Grade R will complement our existing core programme for pre-Grade R children.”
All four programmes – consisting of a practitioner’s guide and an age-appropriate kit of educational toys and equipment – will be supplied to new crèches identified by The Unlimited Child according to the age mix of their children. Over time, these programmes will also be rolled out to the crèches already reached by The Unlimited Child.
“We train all caregivers how to use The Unlimited Child programmes so the rollout to the crèches already following our model will involve re-training many of our caregivers to help them make the best use of these new programmes,” says Bester. “The caregivers often do not have matric, let alone a teaching qualification. So we give hands-on, practical training showing them how to use the programmes. This is followed by regular monitoring of our crèches.”
This week a pilot group of nearly 40 caregivers from 10 different crèches are being trained to use the new programmes. During the four day training session, caregivers will learn to use the easy-to-follow practitioners’ guides that provide detailed outlines for activities and tasks for 200 days a year. They guide caregivers through the crèche day, from how and when to use the toys in the kits to when nappies for babies and toddlers need to be changed. “Caregivers can use the equipment in different ways,” says Bester. “Our training helps them understand that when the toys are used effectively, the children get maximum educational value.”
The combination of the toy kits and the guides are the culmination of three years of planning and design by two of South Africa’s leading early childhood educationalists, Freda Wilkens and Ian Corbishley. They have ensured that the new programmes are relevant and credible, in line with current curriculum requirements.
The Unlimited Child has partnered with educational toy supplier and publisher Vivlia to supply the material for the programmes. Bester says Vivlia have been totally committed to sourcing the best-quality toys for the kits. Many of the toys have been specially designed by Freda Wilkens and have been sourced and produced locally. This has meant that South Africa’s rich heritage can be reflected as much as possible.
“We want the children reached by the programme to be proud of their South African roots,” Bester says. “So when we include animals, they are rhinos and elephants; our dolls reflect who we are as South Africans in our rainbow nation. In addition, all our books and picture cards feature real South African characters. An example of this is that instead of Old MacDonald, we have Farmer Kunene! And our books and picture cards are available in three languages – English, isiZulu and isiXhosa – with a sePedi version currently in the pipelines.”
While The Unlimited Child is making a difference for thousands of children, the reality is that there are 7 million children in South Africa under the age of six, three-quarters of whom do not have any access to quality early childhood education, Bester notes.
“Many of these children are in crèches,” he says, “but because of a lack of stimulation they are already on the back foot when they start primary school. The Unlimited Child’s goal is to reach at least 20 000 crèches across the country and we would really welcome like-minded companies and philanthropists as partners to help us achieve our goal and change the future of South Africa.”
Putting purpose before profit, The Unlimited Child was founded and continues to be supported by The Unlimited.