At Training and Resources in Early Education, we are committed to exponentially help more children and families improve their access to quality ECD interventions despite their circumstances. We believe that equitable and quality ECD is foundational for breaking the cycle of poverty in any country. I am overjoyed at the opportunity and privilege to develop strategies that will create game changing opportunities that will secure childhood futures for millions of children across South Africa. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that we have created an opportunity for one more child. I love it the most, however, when I get to talk to and watch little people in our various programmes whose lives have become so much more richer because they are part of exciting opportunities and help to co-create learning and playing spaces as well as experiences that impacts them meaningfully. Learning and playing with children is an integral part of my work from which I experience personal “transformation”. What an absolute honour and privilege!
Naturally as I contemplate what our theme for the year would be, I am convinced that as much as children learn through play, Play is also equally essential for adults to discover themselves and to express themselves and yes to also be creative! Isn’t it sad how we as adults have truly lost the playfulness, the creativity, the exploration, the liberty and freedom that once came very naturally in our early years?
There is urgency in rediscovering this natural side of ourselves if we really are going to make a difference on the whole playful learning agenda that we often pay lip service to but have no real deep understanding as to what this means. As we pursue quality methodologies and principles embedded in the belief that “care, learning, and nurturing form a coherent whole and that every child’s well-being and engagement are prerequisites for learning, we must open ourselves up as change agents to the experience learning through play by learning to play ourselves also. Only then can we truly impact the agenda of playful learning in a sustainable manner. We recognize that learning happens in different ways and in diverse situations and the ultimate goal of our engagements with children must be to set high, achievable expectations for each child while promoting curiosity, exploration, critical thinking, and cooperation. This will ensure that young children develop the “skills and dispositions for lifelong learning” (ISSA 2010). In 2016, we call on all staff and all the partners whom we work with to reflect on our own attitude towards playful learning. I encourage us to consider and embrace the unique opportunities and teachable moments that can come out of our own playful experiences. After all they do say that experience is the best teacher! Let us therefore collectively avail ourselves to “play to learn and to learn to play”. This is when we can become truly transformational.
2015 The year in focus
The South African Government has made significant progress to scale-up support for vulnerable children with access to quality ECD opportunities no matter where they live. The recent ratification of the National ECD policy is one of the many recent efforts of government to ensure that by 2030 and in accordance with the National development plan, ECD services will become an accessible service for children before school going age. However, despite this national commitment, children are still not being adequately reached. Children between the ages of 0-2 years receive the least support with the majority lacking access to formal early childhood care and education. Few are registered to receive public benefits including a per-child subsidy. There are approximately 5 068 886 children in the birth to four age cohort. Of these only 574 642 children are subsidized through DSD. Thus about 60% of ECD provisioning is in Home/family based care without subsidies. It has become a national priority to intensify the registration of ECD centres so that children who deserve a subsidy get it but that most importantly children receive quality services.
As a supporter of the government vision and priorities, TREE has developed an ECD programme quality assessment tool kit that aims to support Social workers with ECD programme assessment essentials in order to contribute to their role in promoting ECD in South Africa. The tool kit is supported by a two day workshop that seeks to assist Social Workers and Social auxiliary workers with this part of their role. We will continue to build on this work now by approaching several provincial departments of Social development to give us an opportunity to partner with them so that ECD registration can be as seamless as possible. In this way, we see us contributing to the “massification drive of ECD services” as it is now commonly referred to by the government.
The training department has continued to excel reaching an outstanding 1193 total number of practitioners trained in various ECD skills and interventions courses. TREE is proud to have continuously supported the capacity building of ECD practitioners and communities where the greatest need is required
- ECD Enabling Environment: The department has been growing steadily throughout 2015. The number of Toy libraries is now 7 across KZN (with a Toy Library to be launched in Nquthu) meaning that more communities and children have begun accessing this quality intervention.
- Special Innovations and Projects: TREE successfully managed a huge research project The Six Bricks (RCT) across 175 ECD sites in KZN. The results of the research are being finalised for worldwide documentation through the LEGO Foundation. This was major achievement for TREE which also led to the launch of the Sizanani Post Training and Mentorship Support Programme. We are truly indebted to the support of the Lego Foundation in supporting us to bring this much needed support to our practitioners and also place a large lens on the concept of playful learning. Through this intervention, we have become enthusiastic as an organisation to work tirelessly to change and shift teacher mind-sets while encouraging them to share learning and creative spaces with children. As Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” Children must be supported to take control of their world especially at this early stage!
Leaping forward into innovation
While we will keep firmly the agenda of learning through play, we have decided as a team that we now need to leap forward and really take to scale our programmes. This is in line with both the NDP vision for South Africa, as well as the recently promulgated ECD policy that requires that programmes be population based. As a team we took a step out of our normal programming to strategize for the next 5 years to 2020.
The picture here summarises a few key aspects that we addressed in our visioning process, what we see as our purpose, the challenges, the solutions and what we will do to specifically address the challenges.
To achieve this, 4 key building blocks were identified;
- Increase institutional reach – starting in KZN ….across the country to Mpumalanga, and Free State, (at least four provinces becoming a national organisation)
- Expand reach and access to quality services – an Essential Package delivered through – centres, playgroups, home-based programmes (tracking children’s progression into Grade R)
- Enable systems of Support – partnership with government to enhance systems of delivery including funding, integrated provision, improved registration of programmes and setting up centres of excellence for demonstration and learning.
- Institutional and programmatic excellence – all programmes and services offered by TREE will be of an excellent standard, will include tools for monitoring and managing success and will be supported by an efficient governance structure
Governance and Leadership
TREE is managed by a board of trustees who have remained committed to the organisation over many years. Many of our board members have on average been serving the organisation an average of +10 years. Not only has this assisted in organisational sustainability, it has also ensured that institutional memory and capacity have been developed over time. There are a minimum of 4 board meetings every year as well as bimonthly finance subcommittee meetings. The chairperson of the board also ensures that monthly meetings even over skype are scheduled with the Director to ensure that organisational goals and targets are met.
I would also like to pay tribute to the passion and dedication exhibited by the TREE staff members. Their relentless effort at maintaining excellence has been outstanding. Each individual has played a huge role and has led their space so ably. We do as well as we do because of our staff. They have been stalwarts and the results only serve to confirm this fact. As the Director of TREE I feel so immensely proud to be supported by an incredibly dedicated and passionate group of people. It makes my work that much easier.
In conclusion, as I Look back at 2015, I feel a great sense of achievement for TREE. There are many milestones that the organisation has managed to accomplish. As a result we can comfortably look forward to 2016 with much eagerness for even more innovation and responsive programmes that continue to shift and transform our children’s early childhood experiences and realities.