Early Childhood Education in South Africa

by Ikamva Labantu
Teachers taking part in experiential learning
Teachers taking part in experiential learning

Teacher training at Ikamva Labantu’s Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre

Kwakhanya means moving from darkness into light and our new centre in Khayelitsha does just that.  It provides the setting for training Early Childhood Development (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.

Kwakhanya launched in April this year and the training is well underway with trainee practitioners coming from selected pre-schools in the surrounding townships. The first course in basic ECD skills with 20 trainees concluded in June. Besides training in childhood development, other relevant topics included illiteracy, poor health, poverty, HIV/AIDS, children’s and women’s rights, child abuse and protection and minimum standards for ECD provision.

This same group of trainees has now embarked on the second part of their programme in Babies and Toddlers Development and Care.  This provides information and practical experience in the psychological, emotional and social development of babies and toddlers, including feeding, adult/child interaction and the importance of play.

A second group of 20 trainees started a programme in Support, Mentoring and Coaching at the beginning of June. This training includes facilitation and mediation techniques, understanding stages of childhood development, designing indoor and outdoor classrooms, learning outcomes and assessment standards.

A Language Enrichment programme given by our resident speech therapist started at the end of May. This is designed to enhance practitioners’ knowledge of the importance of language development and stimulation in pre-schools. Practical workshops develop skills to transfer to the classroom.


The pre-school on site is a model school where trainees can practice their newly learnt skills in a real educational environment before returning to their own pre-schools. We currently have 45 children, aged 0 to 6, attending the school and accommodated in 3 well-equipped classrooms. These children have been selected from Ikamva Labantu’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children programme.  In this way, we are able to enhance our existing services to the families that we support and address the children’s developmental needs at the same time.

Your support in this project is helping us to make a vital difference not only to the development of pre-school teachers, but also to the lives of those children in their care whose potential can be realised through appropriate stimulation and learning.

Language enrichment programme
Language enrichment programme
Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre exterior
Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre exterior

“Kwakhanya” means moving from darkness into the light……such an appropriate name for Ikamva Labantu’s new Early Childhood Learning Centre in Khayelitsha which officially opened its doors on 20 April 2012.

The centre is a training and resource facility that aims to enhance the early childhood development (ECD) knowledge of parents, caregivers and ECD practitioners (teachers) so that they can deliver the best loving care and education to our pre-school children.

Kwakhanya comprises a range of facilities including Training Rooms; a Model Pre-school with up to six demonstration classrooms; a Parent Centre; Offices and Utilities (e.g. kitchen).  The centre also has an indoor and outdoor play area.

In our Training Rooms, ECD practitioners will undergo accredited ECD training to enhance their knowledge and skills and build their classroom expertise. In addition, parents, caregivers and ECD practitioners will receive training from Ikamva Labantu staff and other partners on issues like children’s’ health, language and emotional development.

In our Model Pre-school, we have six classrooms for children from our local communities for the ages 0-2 years, 2-3 years and 3-5 years.  The classrooms will provide these children with best practice, age appropriate, loving and stimulating education.  The classes will also serve as an experiential training environment for teachers participating in the training programme, giving them a chance to put theoretical learning into practice.

The Parent Centre is a first of its kind. We recognise that real development can only happen when a child is well supported by its family.  Here families, caregivers and practitioners will be able to access information, assistance, referrals and knowledge about good parenting from professionals such as psychologists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre will also provide a welcoming venue for meetings, interactions and discussions for members of the community.

Our children are precious.  Getting the right start in life is as much about what children learn as about the caring and understanding of the families around them and the capacity of the teachers who guide them. We hope Kwakhanya will fulfill our dream to be a place where such care can be realised. 

Our precious children
Our precious children
Key note address by Patricia de Lile
Key note address by Patricia de Lile
Our trained teaching staff
Our trained teaching staff
One of the children at our Centre
One of the children at our Centre
One of the model classrooms
One of the model classrooms
One of the model classrooms
One of the model classrooms
Teachers taking part in experiential learning
Teachers taking part in experiential learning
One of the pre-schools supported by Ikamva Labantu
One of the pre-schools supported by Ikamva Labantu

Ikamva Labantu’s (IL) programmes reach 3 broad segments of the disadvantaged populations in the poverty-stricken Cape Town townships: carers and orphans and vulnerable children and youth; early childhood development (ECD) practitioners and pre-school children; and older persons.

Ikamva Labantu’s programmes are focused on three main areas: community health; community learning and development; and community resources. These programmes are interlinked to ensure that community leaders, teachers, parents, caregivers and families are empowered them to find and implement solutions, with our resources and guidance where necessary, enabling them to achieve independent and fulfilled lives, for themselves, and for those they help and care for.

This account provides an overview of some of the activities in the ECD sector where the donations received through Global Giving have made a major contribution.

  • Food security

Township pre-schools are mostly infomral and started by 'mamas' in their own homes. Until these pre-schools get registered with the Department of Social Development and start receiving government subsadies, these women struggle to cover the operational costs as the fees are minimal. In order to ensure that childrren receive adequate nutrition, Ikamva Labantu provides regular monthly food parcels to 125 pre-schools, reaching approximately 7 500 children. This Food Security programme is coupled with education and training focussing on promotion of optimal nutrition for children. The training cycle consists of nine sessions per trainee and topics covered include Menu planning, Nutrition and HIV and AIDS, Nutrition care, Micronutrient deficiencies, and infant and young child feeding.

  • Ikamva Labantu’s Language Programme

Ikamva Labantu’s Language programme continues to work within three areas: parent communication groups; language training in ECD schools and early identification and intervention of children with special educational needs.

  1. The parent communication group is receiving positive feedback from all participants who are engaged in improving the communication environment of their households. They are helped to understand their crucial role in the emotional development and learning potential of their children. The first 10-week training programme has been completed and a second programme will be completed by February 2012. Four community workers have been specially trained in parenting skills to support caregivers in their homes and at the pre-schools.
  2. The language training programme in the ECD centres has focused on five pilot workshops and accompanying practice sessions relating to the development of communication in children and the identification of children with learning disabilities. These workshops were presented in six ECD schools. Language packs have been developed to distribute to pre-schools which include posters, pamphlets and pictures.
  3. The early identification and intervention of children with special educational needs (SEN) programme has seen training in SEN given to IL teaching staff and six pre-schools, all community workers and at the forum for all ECD teachers and caregivers. Referral procedures have been established and there has been valuable networking with associated disability forums.

In February 2012, the first training cycle for 40 ECD teachers will commence at Ikamva Labantu's ECD Training and Resource Centre. The training will focus on infant care, language development and parent support and is based on experiential learning methodology.

Ikamva Labantu would like to thank you for your continued support of this programme which is making a true difference in lives of some of the world's most disadvantaged children by ensuring that they have a strong foundation for future learning and break-away from the vicious cycle of poverty.

Speech therapy at IL
Speech therapy at IL's best-practice site
Little eaters
Little eaters
Health screening at one of the pre-schools
Health screening at one of the pre-schools


Ikamva Labantu's Language Programme continues to run three projects, namely the parents project, the language training project and thirdly the early identification and intervention project.

The parent project has focused on a group of caregivers from the Masikhulisane Educare.  These caregivers were selected through the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Sector at Ikamva Labantu. The caregivers ranged in age between nineteen and seventy.  The participants were mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, foster mothers and aunts.  The focus of the group was directed towards changing the communicative environment of children through changing the experiences of caregivers.   The premise for this project centered in promoting both the understanding that parents and carers are the primary teachers in a child’s life and that parenting through engaged and empathetic communication  has a critical effect on the learning potential and emotional well-being of every child.

The Training program was offered to the staff at local pre-schools.  The educators took time from their lunch time to work with the speech therapist.  The course was six weeks in duration and covered speech, language and communicative development as well as developing skills in recognizing children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).  The emphasis of the course was practical. Experiential learning technique were used to ensure that the participants consolidated their understanding through ‘hands on’ work with the children. Therefore each session was divided between theory and practical work in the classroom. 

The third project concerns identifying children with disability through training the educators and community workers in pre-schools. These children need to be identified as early as possible if they are to receive the intervention required to improve their educational prospects. Research shows that this early identification and intervention in respect of SEN children is (i) essential within these pre-school years, and (ii) provides the best chance of educational success in the long term.  Half of all intellectual development potential is established by the age of seven. This means that when a child reaches school-going age, he or she has been largely ‘set up’ to succeed or fail in the classroom. For children with obstacles to learning—SEN children—the risk of failure is particularly

To achieve this goal, the project equips workers in the local community with the skills needed to recognize SEN children and to make quick and effective referrals to appropriate professionals in the departments of Education and Health.

Last week I had the privilege of meeting Lindiwela, a foster mom and recent widow who has adopted nine South African children.  She lives in a shack in a township where piles of trash lie on the sides of unpaved roads, electricity and running water are near non-existent, and unemployment is higher than 40%.  Two of her nine children are HIV+, and one is blind and dumb and had been raped twice by the age of eight.  As I listened to Lindiwela tell the story of how she came to be a foster mom, I saw a piece of paper with words of inspiration on her wall.  The first line on that page read, “Oh how you are blessed.”  When I read this I cried.  In the midst of all that was around her, she still had so much joy...more joy, more strength, and more courage than I could fathom. 


I felt blessed having been able to hear her story and shake her hand, thanks to Ikamva Labantu, the organization that brought me to Lindiwela.  Ikamva Labantu believes in keeping children in their communities, rather than institutionalizing them and moving them into orphanages.  They seek foster mothers like Lindewela and provide the financial support they need to care for, protect, and raise their children.  In addition to funding foster moms directly, they also build community centers for children to use for educational and nutritional purposes.  I visited a couple of the centers and was struck by how welcoming and expansive they are.  Each center costs about 5 million Rand (approximately $750,000 US dollars) to build, so funding is critical. 

One thing I observed while peering into the classrooms at one of the centers is that the children did not seem to be very engaged with the teachers.  Children were mostly being watched rather than being taught.  I learned that currently there is no formal training given to the teachers.  While Ikamva Labantu was only providing space for the school to use, as opposed to running and directing the school’s classroom activities, it is developing a new training facility and curriculum that all school teachers at Ikamva Labantu facilities will go through.  This training will be helpful to ensure children are really learning when they come to the centers and hopefully empower the teachers with tools to engage the kids more. 

In addition to welcoming children, the community centers also serve the elderly in the community.  Grandparents and other senior citizens join knitting and gardening clubs that meet at the centers every day. 


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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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