Early Childhood in South Africa: The Developing Families Project

December 3, 2008 at 7:14 pm Leave a comment

posted by Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member

southafrica1It is 14 years since South Africa overturned apartheid and became a democracy. As you may know, extreme poverty, unemployment and health challenges, including HIV-AIDS and its stigma, continue to ravage the majority population. During this time, the South African government has designed and continues to implement Grade R (Reception Year), the first year of formal schooling, which parallels western kindergarten. In addition, great strides have been made in the quality of preschool programs for children 3 to 5. Yet, because increasing numbers of children are enrolling in Grade R, and because more mothers are joining the workforce, younger children are entering informal crèches and preschool programs cared for by women who are not yet trained in the group care of infants and toddlers.

Ntataise (“to lead a young child by the hand”) was founded in 1980 to help women in resource-poor rural communities gain the knowledge and skills necessary to establish preschools for vulnerable families with young children. To date, Ntataise has trained over 10,000 women, reaching 350,000 children, and, in the process, has strengthened the capacities of the rural townships it serves in seven of the nine provinces. Our approach builds on Ntataise’s training and support programs, using the integrated, community-based engagement and empowerment model previously piloted with Ntataise.

The Developing Families Project aims to utilize the preschool as the port of entry for addressing both health and education issues. Harnessing South African culturally-based understandings of who infants, toddlers and two-year-olds are with some western understandings of the rich learning and relationship possibilities of very young children is a challenge we and our South African colleagues look forward to sharing. At the same time, we hope to integrate HIV/AIDS training and advocacy into the birth-to-three curriculum. The project will feature Early Child Development (ECD) spirit and techniques to foster engagement and learning (including consensus-building, use of all of the senses, role playing, visual and auditory stimulation, metaphor, use of the arts, hands-on experiences, warm and supportive environment, relationships rich in interaction and nurturance, reflective practice, and mentoring).

southafrica2In May 2008 we visited four Ntataise sites in four separate provinces that had expressed interest in collaborating. In over 50 preschools we saw programs for children age three and above that reflected the years of training and support that Ntataise has given to these rural organizations. We observed children actively engaged with art, block building, dramatic play, manipulatives, and books (often homemade). We witnessed interactive communications between teachers and children and children with their peers.

southafrica3In stark contrast, sometimes in the same preschool, the under three’s tended to be in groups of 10-40 with one or two caregivers. There were few materials, children sat closely together with little to no interaction with each other or their caregivers. As always, there were extraordinary exceptions where a few women created warm, home-like family environments with few materials and little support. But, as a general rule, and as one caregiver casually remarked about infants and toddlers in rural care settings, “they are waiting to be 3.” These photos illustrate the stark contrasts we observed.

Finally, and perhaps most important, professionals working in economically deprived communities always run the risk of being seen as powerful and all-knowing, especially in international work. The power differential that automatically exists and can derail any good and well-intentioned work must be brought to mutual consciousness. Therefore, a planned, conscious effort is continually at the forefront of our work toward leveling the power differential and normalizing relationships among and between people.

This summer, informal “Listening and Sharing Groups” (some conducted by Emily Polidore, BSC alum) have provided data that will help us shape the training and advocacy components as we work with our Ntataise partners.  We look forward to continuing this exciting work together.

southafrica4Five Ntataise ECD trainers will visit Bank Street on Wednesday, December 10th at 6:30pm. These women will share their expertise and points of view about early care and education in SA, and we will provide more details about the Developing Families Project.
Please join us!

Virginia Casper has been honored to work in South Africa in early childhood over the past 8 years and is thrilled to share some of what she has learned with the Bank Street alumni community. She currently is a Bank Street instructor, formerly served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and before that directed the Infant and Parent Development Program.

For more information about this work…
Casper, V. (2005). Beyond Feeders and Growers: Changing Conceptions of Care in the Western Cape. Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 77,16 (1) 55-59.

Lamb-Parker, F., & Motseneng, P. (2007). Preschools as Nodes of Support: Case Study of Community Engagement and Empowerment in Rural South Africa. Zero-to-Three, National Training Institute, Orlando, FL.

Entry filed under: early childhood, families, international education.

Generations of Bank Street Teachers and Learners Making Room in the Circle

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