Building a nation

Finalist—Non-profit Organisations Award: Early Learning Resource Unit

‘Build a child and you build a nation” is the understanding at the heart of the Early Learning Resource Unit’s activities.

The Western Cape-based NGO supports early childhood development (ECD) in mostly rural communities across South Africa. It also trains ECD teachers to provide the right learning opportunities for children.

In the 30 years the unit has been active, it has reached more than 5.9-million children and more than 36 000 teachers.

Teachers are given training opportunities, including South African Qualifications Authority-accredited learnerships. This means they are recognised as professionals in the sector and can market their skills elsewhere.

The unit also provides training to other NGOs that give ECD training. A variety of bridging courses have been developed for people who have not had training before or who require refresher courses.

These cover knowledge about the legislation governing ECD centres and what is required of caregivers. Although it’s important to train teachers, the Early Learning Resource Unit says it has long recognised that ECD doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

‘It is important to create an enabling environment for ECD because there are environmental factors that negatively impact on children’s ability to learn. Up to 78% of South African children do not have access to formal learning environments and ECD centres,” says Kaiema Lowe, the NGO’s fundraiser.

To address this disparity the unit provides support to families of vulnerable children by teaching them how to access government and other community services. The process normally involves getting local government to deliver the required educational services.

The unit’s family and community motivator programme and the Wakh’untwana Wakh’isizwe (build a child, build a nation) programmes are aimed at improving the health, safety, emotional and nutritional needs, as well as the early intellectual stimulation, of children.

In Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape and Vredenburg in the Western Cape the programmes reach at least 1 450 children and up to 40 teachers.

The Early Learning Resource Unit also plays research and advocacy roles in the ECD sector. It has been working with the Western Cape department of social development through the Human Sciences Research Council and was given the task of researching the management of 240 ECD sites across the province.

The unit has been invited to join the 12-member expert committee for the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation for September 2010.

It has produced a range of resource materials to support its learning programmes, including toys and books in many of the country’s official languages. Its involvement in research comes full circle here as the learning materials contributed 14% of the unit’s income in the last financial year.

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