According to a report called The Plight of the ECD Workforce, collated by various Early Childhood Development (ECD) organisations in April 2020, only 1 -1.5 million learners (out of a population of over 5 million children between the age of 0-4) will be able to attend an Early Childhood Development centre in South Africa. This is due to the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown regulations that have forced ECD centres to either layoff staff or close completely. Rosemary Mokoena, Teacher Training and Development Manager of the Nokuphila Teacher Training Academy, emphasises the importance of having well trained and certified ECD teachers and what the academy aims to achieve through their programme.

Based on the findings from the 2018 General Household Survey, the learners who don’t attend ECD centres and stay at home with parents or guardians lacked the needed stimulation during this highly important development phase. Often because the parents or guardians didn’t read to them or draw with them. But is it simply enough for children to attend any pre-school establishment, such as day-care centres, crèches, playgroups and nursery schools where the minimum requirement for a pre-school teacher is an (NQF) Level 1 (grade 9)?

Teachers at Nokuphila School are well educated, many hold a bachelor’s degree (some have honours and masters). This translates into better quality education for learners as teachers are more informed and better equipped to help them master the curriculum and develop them holistically as responsible citizens. The importance of having well trained and certified teachers is also crucial at a pre-primary level as those learners feed into the foundational phase.  

According to Mokoena, the difference between children who attended ECD centres with trained teachers versus untrained trained teachers or children who never attended pre-primary at all is self-evident. These children often have no or very little experience playing and working in teams (poor social skills) and the teachers in the foundation phase need to spend more time trying to get the children caught up on educational and social milestones that should have been reached before grade 1. Children who are placed in the care of trained ECD staff, according to Mokoena, have shown to have greater cognitive acuity, emotional development and interpersonal skills. This allows the learners to perform better in a formal educational environment and boosts their confidence.

The Love Trust’s Teacher Training Academy is therefore aimed at training accredited (NQF) Level 4 (their teachers need to have a National Senior Certificate) and Level 5 ECD teachers as they understand that the most valuable resource in the education of children is their teachers. The programme is a two-year course that teacher students attend weekly (thus they can still work while studying). The programme focuses on theoretical work as well as provides a platform for the teachers to share their personal experiences (being a woman, being a teacher, etc.) that impact them directly.  In this way they provide emotional support and learn from each other. Through upskilling, multiple benefits are realised. The teachers benefit their learners, they gain the opportunity for upward momentum in their profession as a teacher and improve their confidence and self-esteem. 

To date, more than 500 teachers have graduated through this programme. To help reach and benefit children at ECD centres across the country, The Love Trust is involved in training teachers from early childhood development centres in Gauteng, KZN, Western Cape and Free State.

Sadly, the report, The Plight of the ECD Workforce, suggests that ‘20 000 – 30 000 ECD operators currently run the risk of closure and 118 000-175 000 people, employed in the ECD sector, could stand to lose their jobs in the absence of relief.’ Let alone the number of pre-schoolers who won’t have a learning centre to return to. The Love Trust is no different and is more in need of private and public support to continue the good work than ever before, because, if support for these organisations falls apart, South Africa’s levels of poverty and inequality will mushroom, and our social challenges will increase. The report states that ‘ECD operators are therefore an important component of our social fabric and networks of care and reciprocity on which both the formal and informal economy are built. There is no other community-supported initiative as important and that exists at the same scale as the ECD sector.’

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