Early Childhood Education in South Africa

by Ikamva Labantu
One of the children supported by Ikamva Labantu
One of the children supported by Ikamva Labantu

Principal and practitioner training programme

Historically, pre-schools in townships are overcrowded, under resourced poorly managed and lack the required stimulation for the children in their care. Ikamva Labantu took up the challenge and in 2012 began a Principals and Practitioners Training Programme which saw both the principals the teachers in township pre-schools receiving training and support.

Now in its second year, the programme evokes enthusiastic responses from our participants who tell of how the training has helped them run and manage their pre-schools better while others have enjoyed formal pre-school teacher training for the first time in twenty years. Currently we are training 64 practitioners and 30 new principals from the community who attend regular training sessions at the Kwakhanya ECD Centre in Khayelitsha. Collectively, these practitioners and principals touch the lives of no less than 4 000 children every year.

The 9 principals who were trained in Year 1 have graduated to Year 2 training and are benefiting from the more in-depth subject matter pertaining to labour law practices, governance and the understanding what a learning programme entails. They are also learning about good leadership, fundraising and financial management and how it relates to running an effective pre-school.

Practitioners’ training covers the areas of the cognitive, physical, emotional and social developmental needs of babies and children. We have found approximately 90% attendance each month and we attribute this to the holistic support we provide the practitioners by way of a stipend for transport, payment for replacement teachers while others are on training and a light lunch for participatant on training days.

We are working closely with the Department of Education and the Department of Social Development and we envisage that our course will be fully registered by the end of this financial year.


Registration Help Desk Programme

Initiated in September 2013, a Coordinator and eight community based workers operate a Help Desk at the Kwakhanya ECD Centre to assist owners of local pre-schools to meet the regulated standards set out by the Department of Social Development to either achieve or maintain their registration and subsidised states. In three months we have assisted 20 pre-schools through this difficult and intricate process.


Language enrichment programme

Poor speech development is commonplace. This is often due to insufficient verbal stimulation. This programme delivers content that stimulates the developing mind’s cognitive and language skills which in turn, promotes communication between the child, the practitioner and the parent. Teachers have also noted that children now communicate more freely in class. Many practitioners and parents have commented that this programme has made a remarkable difference in the way that they relate to their children.


Special Educational Needs (SEN) programme

Cerebral Palsy , Downes Syndrome and learning disabilities are major obstacles for many children who’s conditions often remain undiagnosed for extended periods of time. We have an active database of children who have been identified, referred and successfully managed or who are still within the referral system. This year we have assisted 96 children by accessing the relevant services.

Parenting Programme

In order to re-enforce and strengthen the relationship between child and parent or care-giver we will present a Parenting Programme which commence in February 2014 Some of the topics to be included are child / parent relationships, the power of effective communication methods, health issues pertaining to young children and the importance of high self esteem. This eight week course will train 15 participants per session and groups will be held at the Harare Library in Khayelitsha.

The Pre-schools Upgrade Project

We are delighted to have been selected by the Department of Social Development to be one of the five NGOs working on the “upgrade project”. From the total of 280 pre-schools in the project, Ikamva Labantu has been allocated 55 sites in Khayelitsha, Mfuleni and Mitchells Plain areas. The Registration Help Desk team has the upgrade project under their wing with the goal to assist the 55 pre-schools to meet the minimum standards for registration as ECD sites by the Department of Social Development. The service delivery encapsulates minor structural upgrades and the training of the Management Committees and Principals in Governance. Once registered, these pre-schools will receive a government subsidy for each child at their school. This injection of additional finance will assist schools to remain financially viable for longer and will aid principals and teachers to pay better wages to their staff, attract more children and provide better services to those in their care.

Training of the teachers
Training of the teachers
Eye testing
Eye testing
Training  teachers in  language development
Training teachers in language development

Our aim is not only to foster literacy, but also to promote and encourage the creativity and whole brained thinking that leads to all great, world-changing ideas.

Pre-school children in the townships of Cape Town are greatly disadvantaged in many ways.  If they are lucky, they have homes where, even though living in poverty, they are surrounded with loving nurturing adults who care for them deeply. For most of these children, however, their  access to books and reading is minimal and furthermore, their home language is Xhosa and they have limited exposure to English. This means that they miss out on those first crucial years where the brain develops and sets the foundation for future learning and optimal development.

Ikamva Labantu has a multi-pronged approach towards promoting literacy and language development amongst the young children in its Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes. Firstly, we train pre-school teachers in the basics of language and communication and to apply these principles in the classrooms with exercises and games. We also train the teachers and community-based workers to recognize and identify language difficulties that children may have.  

Secondly, we have started a programme in on-line literacy training for pre-schoolers who are at an ECD centre in one of our community hubs. This has proved to be so successful that it will be rolled out to other centres during the year.

Thirdly, Ikamva Labantu has partnered with an organisation, Humanwrit.es to address this issue.  Humanwrit.es produces notebooks called Writables For each Writable sold, 10 workbooks are donated to pre-school children. These books are specially designed for the youngest members of the community. The aim is to instill a passion for reading and learning during their earliest years. In May 2013, the workbooks from the first edition of the Writable were donated to 20 000 children in over 200 ECD centres that form part of the Ithemba Labantwana community forum, operated under the umbrella of Ikamva Labantu.

Your support of this project will enable us to supply much needed resources to pre-schools in the Cape Town townships. These will enable teachers to stimulate children and provide them with the necessary language development skills to learn effectively and perform better at school.

See the heartwarming  video of Ikamva Labantu children receiving Humanwrit.es workbooks on http://humanwrit.es/giving-back/

Pre-schoolers with their new workbooks
Pre-schoolers with their new workbooks
Mavis Ngoncolo Principal of Injongo pre-school
Mavis Ngoncolo Principal of Injongo pre-school

Early Childhood Development: How Ikamva Labantu helps pre-schools achieve the necessary registration to receive government subsidies

For most children in South Africa, life is a constant struggle from a very young age.  Services in quality early childhood development is poor and these children go to school without the basics necessary for them to thrive, learn and develop into adults with full potential. Ikamva Labantu has a comprehensive Early Childhood Development programme which seeks to address this problem in a holistic manner which includes teachers, parents and children and provides a sustainable solution to the problem.

There are 200 pre-schools that operate within the Ikamva Labantu umbrella of which only 40% are registered and receive state subsidies.  Registration requires, for instance, certain levels of teacher qualification, teacher to learner ratios, physical structures, policy adherence and resources. This is an enormously complicated cumbersome process for principals to navigate and thus, Ikamva Labantu works with the schools to achieve these standards and to set the registration process in motion.

Part of the process has been alleviated by the realization of our vision of creating a place of learning, development and support for pre-school principals, teachers and parents from disadvantaged communities. Kwakhanya, the Early Childhood Learning Centre, launched in early 2012 has been running successful experiential training programmes for teachers. Recently, a principals’  programme has been added, designed to enhance good governance and compliance with registration requirements. The on-site model school is flourishing with children showing positive developmental progress.

One of the pre-school principals on the Ikamva Labantu training programme is Mavis Ngcongolo. In January 2008, struck by the number of neglected, unsupervised toddlers and young children that she saw in the streets of her neighbourhood in  Mfuleni township, Mavis gathered six of them in her home and started to feed them and look after them with her husband’s earnings paying for food and other material needs. This initiative became the Injongo (“My Wish”) Pre-school (Educare) and by 2012, 80 children attend it daily. 

Injongo does not meet the government minimum standards for registration:  the structure is too small for the number of children and in poor condition. The necessary registration documents are required to be displayed on the walls, but these quickly become soaked because of the humidity in the rooms. Several documents are not up-to-date nor in place at all.  Daily menus and programmes are produced although these need adjustments from a logistical and healthy eating point of view. There is only one cot for the babies and the other children share 19 uncovered mattresses that are not able to be cleaned regularly. There are few toys or educational materials available. The five staff members are too few for the number of children.

Despite all these seemingly insurmountable problems, Mavis provides a safe and loving environment for the children. She makes do on the monthly fee of R100 ( $12/£7.7) per child which only some parents can afford to pay. She provides two meals a day and pays five assistants a basic salary.  Her husband has been retrenched and she does not have his salary any longer to rely upon. Further, she is used as a drop-in centre for vulnerable children, who often end up staying with her indefinitely, being fed, taken to health care facilities and, most important, provided with affection.

Mavis is learning to address many of the issues above in the Principal’s training programme.  We also work closely with Mavis to address her other challenges and we are trying to raise funds for the material needs that she has.

There are many other pre-school principals in similar situations to Mavis. Your support for Ikamva Labantu can make a world of difference to them and to their children who so desperately need stimulation, developmental input, sustenance and safety.

Injongo Children sleeping
Injongo Children sleeping
Injongo pre-school children
Injongo pre-school children


Spending time with the Kiddies in their Classroom
Spending time with the Kiddies in their Classroom

This summer, during my 2-week visit to Cape Town, South Africa, I met up with Jovanna to visit Ikamva's brand new building and get a tour of their early child care development facilities. Boy, was it a treat!

The new building is the new home for their operational base, including:

-- training spaces (where they train local women in early childhood development (ECD))
-- on-site day care (modeled after real-life kiddie classrooms, with glass windows so that instructors can observe and guide play facilitation)
-- counseling offices (for meeting with and updating family members)
-- and a large kitchen that kept producing such yummy food smells, not for me (unfortunately), but for the students and children.

The building is an outstanding achivement shared by the entire community. I surmised from the conversations I had with Jovana, other Ikamva staff, and even an ECD practitioner-in-training that it's really made a huge difference already; the opportunity for the women to practice ECD theory in an actual kindergarten setting, and in their native languages has resulted in increased learning retention (for the ECD practitioners) and receptiveness (on the part of the children).

The most exciting part of my visit was getting to see the lead ECD instructor guide a cohort of caretakers-in-training through a learning/facilitation method: as another play facilitator attended to a group of about 20 kids (aged 1-4) within the glass walls of one of their on-site children's play rooms, 8 women, huddled together, peered through as they listened to the lead instructor observe and comment on the activities. 

It was really fascinating to watch, but even more fun to go in and participate in activities with the childrenm. We played a few games, and I learned the first two lines of a children's song in Xhosa (though, admittedly, the children sang way better than I did).

After spending some time at the childcare center, Jovana took me to visit several other sites Ikamva supports, including an informal day care center in one of the townships (run by a really sweet older lady), and their very own community space for Elders, where older women can play games, read books, and do aerobics. In fact, a contingent of grannies was away that day because they were competing in some physical games in another township.

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Ikamva, and was so inspired by the passion and dedication of every single person I met. They're an organization that's creating real change within the communities they serve, by supporting leadership from within. For the sake of the children and young women I met, who have no doubt been touched by Ikamva's dedication, I'm so thankful that they exist.

ECD Class, Peeking into Playtime in Session
ECD Class, Peeking into Playtime in Session
Young Women Learn ECD in their Native Tongue
Young Women Learn ECD in their Native Tongue
Singing Time!
Singing Time!
Happy faces
Happy faces

There are very limited opportunities for young South African children from disadvantaged township communities to have access to early childhood education. Pervasive poverty and unemployment have made the opening of a pre-school an attractive opportunity for income generation for women in these communities.  However, the vast majority of these women has no experience or training in the field and is unable to help the children develop intellectually and emotionally.  Further, their “schools” are under-resourced and do not comply with basic standards of health and safety.

Ikamva Labantu has responded to the situation over 40 years by providing training and resources for pre-school owners so that they are able to reach a stage where the government will register and subsidise them. We have now developed our training programme even further with the opening of our Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre in Khayelitsha township dedicated to education and support of pre-school practitioners. The centre is named Kwakhanya which means “moving from darkness into light.  It provides the setting for training ECD practitioners to understand child development and learning and the opportunity to apply this theoretical knowledge in a real “live” pre-school which also operates in the centre.

Lindiwe from the Little Bird Educare Centre attends the programme at Kwakhanya. Her school was visited by Ikamva Labantu staff members before the training and the sad “before” picture emerged.  There are six practitioners at the school and 97 children. After the course, and with encouragement and further site visits, significant changes had taken place.

“Before”: Some of the major defects

The school was lacking in resources, especially for the number of children. There was no separation between the play areas for the different age groups. Unhappily, there were no active play or creative areas for children to engage in learning through play, and children’s handiwork was not displayed. Storage for items was lacking and there was a general sense of disarray.

Health issues and hygiene were also a problem with water for handwashing being re-used, an unsterilised sandpit, no first aid box and no sickbay or isolation area. From the safety point of view, there were no safety policies available or displayed, no evacuation procedure in place and only one fire extinguisher with no one trained to use it.

“After”: Significant progress has been made since the commencement of the ECD experiential training in April this year.  

There is now a sense of order at Little Bird pre-school. The children have been separated according to the different age groups and the active play areas have been clearly signed.

Children’s work is being displayed and resources have been appropriately stored. The wall areas are now well used. A daily programme on the activities and routines as well as a daily menu are clearly visible. Policies have been pasted up.

From the hygiene point of view, things have improved considerably. Clean hand washing water is available for children to wash their hands during routine times. The person changing the nappies is observing the universal precautions and wearing gloves and the nappy change area is clearly signposted and moved away from food preparation areas.

Most important of all, Lindiwe is happy and enjoying her job and so do the other staff members at Little Bird. The children in their care now have better facilities available to them and are in a pre-school where their growth, both intellectual and emotional, their stimulation and their hygiene and safety are taken care of.

Your support of this project will assist another woman to improve her skills as a pre-school practitioner so that she is able to provide an environment for children conducive to their growth and learning. The value to our communities and to the future is immeasurable.

A daily programme displayed on the wall
A daily programme displayed on the wall
A designated play area
A designated play area
Improved tidiness and hygiene
Improved tidiness and hygiene



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Organization Information

Ikamva Labantu

Location: Cape Town, Western Cape - South Africa
Website: http:/​/​ikamva.org
Ikamva Labantu
Project Leader:
Jovana Risovic
Cape Town, Western Cape South Africa

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