Opening up young minds

Pre-schools are fun for toddlers and important for their physical, mental and social development. But many children in rural areas do not have an opportunity to attend nursery school, missing out on the fun stimu­lation their city peers enjoy.

Ntataise, winner in the Education Award category, is changing this. The organisation, which focuses on early childhood development, helps women in rural areas to establish pre-schools.

Puleng Motsoeneng, director of Ntataise Northern Free State, says a child’s early learning years are critical: “Birth to seven years of age is a period of rapid growth for physical, mental and emotional development, as well as for social skills and attitudes. Research shows that timeous, appropriate interventions can reverse the effects of poverty and deprivation and put children on the road to maximising their potential.”

Motsoeneng’s story illustrates how an individual can make a difference to a community.

When Motsoeneng married she suggested opening a pre-school on the farm where she lived. “Every­one thought it was a good idea as there were benefits for all. With the children being looked after at the pre-school, there were more women available to work on the farm. The children could learn and productivity on the farm improved.”

“But I did not have a clue how children develop and learn,” says Motseoneng. “We all thought we should teach the children but we did not know what to teach them.

“When I received training from Ntataise my life changed and I started on a new path helping children.”

After completing the first module with Ntataise, Motsoeneng met the parents to discuss the importance of early stimulation in a child’s life.

“It is not just about playing or caring, it is about helping them develop mentally, physically, socially and emotionally,” she says.

Motsoeneng started the pre-school with support from Ntataise, which sent a trainer to ensure she implemented what she had learned. The trainer helped her prepare lessons and showed her how to present information effectively to the children.

After successfully running the pre-school for six years, Ntataise asked Motsoeneng to become a field worker. “It was a major step for me as I was now helping other pre-school teachers,” she says.

A year later she was promoted to trainer. “As a trainer life was more challenging and I had to work with educational materials and gather information, and prepare sessions,” Motsoeneng says.

The next step was to become a trainer of trainers who would then train many pre-school teachers. “Through that training I was able to reach so many teachers and children,” Motsoeneng says.

Her extensive experience saw her become a member of Ntataise’s management. “When I became director it was the realisation of a dream. Four other trainers who I helped to train have since become directors in the organisation,” she says.

Ntataise has succeeded in not only helping people to be involved in early childhood development but has raised awareness of the importance of assisting children to develop from the earliest ages, says Motsoeneng.

“Early childhood development is on everyone’s lips and there is a general acceptance of the role it plays in our children’s future. Government departments, such as education and social development, involve Ntataise in giving talks and passing on knowledge and experience to others.

“The top people in the country are now aware and involved in early childhood development In the past they did not even think about it,” Motsoeneng says.

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Andrew Gillingham
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