Let’s focus on a caring approach to pedagogyDate Released: Tue, 2 June 2015 10:35 +0200
IT WAS a pleasant surprise to see that Jane Evans of Ntataise and Professor Roger Southall from Wits University’s sociology department responded to my column on the struggles of a crèche — The Little Red Teapot — in the Port Elizabeth area.
In a continent replete with one-dimensional images of black children to be pitied or rescued, it can be hard to write on early childhood education without the risk of the public seeing it as mere "quaint" nurturing work.
As Prof Southall and Ms Evans point out, how we approach early childhood care raises questions about the troubles facing society and also presents the opportunity to think creatively about how to resolve some of them.
Prof Southall describes the sociological phenomenon of many lower-middle and working-class black families whose children tend to have to leave their neighbourhoods to access decent education.
Where early childhood education is concerned, there is pressure on parents to place their children at feeder crèches where they will learn English and stand a chance of attending the good primary schools that recruit from these preferred crèches.
It has almost become an entrenched feature of life for children in rural areas and townships that the quality of education is directly proportional to the distance travelled from home to get to school. The closer to the township the school, the greater the likelihood that the education is poor.
This means three things happen: by the age of five, many black children have to get accustomed to school being far from home; they have to use dangerous scholar transport; and that, for many parents, keeping their small children in aftercare for longer is the only option. It is in understanding this context that the crèche I wrote of was started in partnership with a local school through donor funding. The aim was to break the distance-quality problem by providing excellent nurturing, high-quality, low-fee early childhood education on the doorstep of struggling families.
The crèche also responds to the social effects of unemployment. It is counterintuitive to think that unemployed parents need crèches for their children. But in SA, crèches are vital for families affected by unemployment. By attending a good early childhood centre, a child of an unemployed parent is guaranteed a steady morning routine, a meal, protected care and the beginnings of an education, while the parent either tries to find a job or make sense of their lives outside of the formal economy.
The educational aspects are particularly important. Having spent eight years in education activism, I am more convinced than ever that we ought to be more concerned with improving the social and relational aspects of learning rather than this lopsided tinkering with standardised teaching methods and curriculums.
For small children, a trusting relationship with the teacher is more important than highbrow theory. This requires that the state take a flexible and community-rooted approach to early childhood development and Grade R rather than its currents attempts to locate all Grade R teaching in its own (mostly dysfunctional) schools.
Good nonprofit early childhood development centres that are subsidised outside of the schooling system have positive effects for the whole system. Finally, the donor sector should realise just how critical it is to support early childhood development centres. This is not about "charity" but a long-term social and intellectual investment in the children, as well as their teachers.
The ripple effects of early childhood development support go well beyond the classroom, as seen in initiatives such as the fledgling Puku isiXhosa Story Festival, started by activist Elinor Sisulu to invigorate creative writing and publishing in African languages and to encourage parents to read to children from an early age.
Dr Nomalanga Mkhize is a lecturer in the history department at Rhodes University.
By: Dr Nomalanga Mkhize