Ikamva Labantu, one of South Africa’s longest standing NGO’s, launched the Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre in Khayelitsha on Friday 20 April. The Centre, aptly named “place of light”, offers a holistic and complete development environment to pre-school children in township communities.
Ikamva Labantu’s Director, Janine van Stolk, says the Centre’s innovative approach addresses the need in disadvantaged communities where the majority of young children under the age of six are denied access to a quality early childhood education.
“The years before school-going age are crucial to the development of every child, with their development needs resting solely on the shoulders of firstly their parents and secondly their teachers, once they are placed in a pre-school,” she explains. “However, our own experience with more than 12 000 pre-school children in 200 day-care centres in townships shows that the development needs of babies, toddlers and young children are most often not understood by those who care for them. To overcome this challenge, the new Centre is effectively reaching out to both parents and teachers, because both sets of caregivers together make up the world of a child.”
In order to strengthen the knowledge and practices of community pre-school teachers, the Centre offers an accredited teacher training programme with a strong practical approach. Ikamva Labantu has partnered with Grassroots, a non-profit organisation providing accredited in-service training programmes for Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners, to implement the programme.
The Centre serves as a best-practice model with training taking place at the on-site model pre-school made up of six classrooms and catering for different age groups.
Van Stolk says the first intake of community pre-school teachers sees 40 teachers enrolled for the ten month training programme.
“We want to equip teachers who run their own pre-schools with the knowledge and skills needed for providing children with a stimulating learning experience. Whilst most teachers are sincerely dedicated to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children in their care, few have adequate formal training or prior experience in the field. The result is that many six and seven year olds enter the schooling system unprepared and unable to learn, resulting in high rates of grade repetition and drop-outs.”
She says that the training they receive is estimated to impact the learning and development of up to 1 800 children in township communities.
“Our teachers do not only learn from books, but experience learning in action in the model pre-school classrooms. They observe while the trainers demonstrate the best early childhood development techniques and methods, to be used by the teachers on a daily basis when dealing with the children in their care. Once implemented in their classrooms, the programme is set to produce children that are mentally, physically and socially ready to cope successfully with schooling.”
Once teachers have completed the training, the Centre provides them with on-going monitoring and support in their own classrooms, as well as with the equipment needed to stimulate learning. With the vision of improving thousands of young children’s lives, accredited teachers are encouraged to share their knowledge and skills by mentoring and coaching their peers.
For the first year and pilot phase of the programme, 45 children are enrolled at the model pre-school, with the number set to increase to 60 in 2013. The 45 children benefiting from quality care and early education have been selected from the foster homes which Ikamva Labantu supports within their orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) programme.
The Centre’s holistic approach towards creating the best environment for children in townships during their early years, sees integrated support for their parents or caregivers offered at its Parent Centre. The programmes at the Parent Centre are all geared towards giving parents a platform to better understand their young children and to develop better parenting skills.
The Parent Centre not only addresses early childhood education and the developmental needs of children, but also issues like discipline, hygiene, nutrition and special needs. Discussion groups, movie screenings and special evenings (e.g. ‘Daddy Evenings’ emphasising the role of fathers), help parents to offer their children a caring and loving home where learning is encouraged.
Ikamva Labantu’s work with 200 independent township day-care centres means thousands of parents and caregivers are urged to make use of the Parents Centre’s programmes.
Founder and Honorary President of Ikamva Labantu, Helen Lieberman, has helped women from poverty-stricken communities set up ECD centres and pre-schools since the 1960s. She says the Centre is the focal point of their life’s work.
“The Centre is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the Mamas who founded township pre-schools at a time when these services were simply not available in their communities,” Lieberman explains. “Together, we have created a place of life and learning to give young children in townships the best chance in life. It’s ultimately about developing active and self-reliant communities by turning out children who are ready for school, who have the confidence to question, who have secure relationships with their parents and who have the life skills needed to become well-rounded and self-sufficient adults.”
In her keynote address the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Patricia de Lille, said the City of Cape Town welcomes the initiative.
“The Kwakanya Learning Centre epitomises this administration’s goal to build partnerships with business, NGOs and communities in order to help create the best opportunities for children. The Centre offers young children the best possible early childhood education environment, and stimulates their independent thinking – all of which will prepare them adequately for their formal education,” says de Lille. “We also commend Ikamva Labanthu for providing support to the parents and caregivers of pre-school children in townships, through this unique model. We hope that the Centre will be the breeding ground for future pioneers and leaders in their communities so that they too can be agents of positive change in our society.”
About Ikamva Labantu
• Ikamva Labantu is a South African non-governmental, non-profit organisation assisting and empowering vulnerable families and communities in township areas. The organisation traces its roots back to the 1960s and the apartheid era when Helen Lieberman and other community activists started working on addressing the severe lack of services and support for black communities. Today, Ikamva Labantu touches the lives of more than 25,000 people every day including over 1,000 children in 300 foster homes; more than 12,000 pre-school children in 200 under-developed day-care centres; and about 540 senior citizens in 17 seniors clubs.
• Ikamva Labantu’s programmes are focused on three main areas: community health; community learning and development; and community resources.
• These programs are interlinked to ensure that community leaders, teachers, parents, caregivers and families are empowered to find and implement solutions, with resources and guidance where necessary, enabling them to achieve independent and fulfilled lives for themselves, and for those whom they help and care for.
About Ikamva Labantu’s history in early childhood development
• Ikamva Labantu has extensive experience in supporting community-based ECD initiatives dating back to 1960s. In these humble beginnings, women would take the furniture out of their houses and convert them into day-care centres during the day. In the evenings, the sofas and cabinets would go back in the house and this routine would carry on every day.
• In the 1990s, these initiatives were incorporated into a fully-fledged programme of Ikamva Labantu with a goal of improving the learning environment and the level of care in the township pre-schools. Most of the time, these ‘day care centres’ are started from backyard shacks with conditions not suitable to effective learning and development. Over the years, Ikamva Labantu has provided over 100 physical structures and other interventions such as training and resource provision to an even larger number of pre-schools on ongoing basis. The NGO has established one of the largest community forums that serves as a platform for peer support for pre-school teachers. This forum presently consists of over 400 pre-schools in Cape Town’s township communities.
• In September 2011, Helen Lieberman was invited to attend the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York where she announced the December 2011 launch of the Enkululekweni Wellness Centre in Khayelitsha as well as the launch of the Kwakhanya Early Childhood Development Training & Resource Centre. The initiatives form part of Ikamva Labantu’s CGI commitment to health and education development in South Africa.