When the Nelson Mandela Foundation made a case for Vodacom in 2018 to partner with it for early childhood development and the eradication of pit latrines in schools as part of the Thuma Mina spirit, it was perfect timing because Vodacom was already contemplating how to bring into reality its vision of an education ecosystem to support government’s Vision 2030 comprehensive approach to education. Why is it so important for us to focus on early childhood development?
A growing body of evidence shows that central to providing quality basic education requires a range of early childhood development (ECD) services and programmes that support the holistic development of young children.
According to public policy, delays in cognitive and overall development before schooling can often have long lasting and costly consequences for children, families and society. Thus the most effective and cost-efficient time to intervene is in the early years of life. The 1 000-day window from conception to two years is a particularly sensitive period in child development.
The National Development Plan’s vision for education and training is to ensure that all children have the benefit of a high-quality education and for about 80% of schools and learners to achieve 50% and above in literacy, mathematics and science by 2030.
In his 2019 State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said government would make ECD compulsory for all children before they enter grade one, as this is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in social skills and in life. To give emphasis to this pronouncement, government is working towards migrating ECD centres from the department of social development to the department of basic education to synchronise ECD with basic education. With effective and efficient funding and management, Vodacom believes that a renewed focus on ECD will strengthen our basic education system and help the country to produce well-rounded professionals, and in this way overcome poverty, unemployment and inequality.
In keeping with its 2018 Global Citizen Mandela 100 pledge, in March 2019, Vodacom unveiled a multifaceted education ecosystem model that examines the interdependencies and interrelationships of ECD and high schools, and incorporates teacher training, parents and local communities to significantly transform our education system. The plan is to ensure that all the ECD centres Vodacom adopts are close to Vodacom-connected schools.
To date, eight ECD centres have been upgraded and renovated at a cost of over R5-million. These centres received an ICT trolley solution and a mobile library with zero-rated literacy and numeracy content to expose children to technology in the early years. Vodacom has also decommissioned pit latrines in three of these ECD Centres. By the end of March 2020, Vodacom will have upgraded 11 ECD centres. Vodacom’s ECD programme is not only benefitting the children but also their caregivers; and the education ecosystem is also benefitting parents, teachers and youths, who are also becoming digitally literate.
Further, by upgrading the state of ECDs, Vodacom has contributed to improved sanitation and health in these facilities, factors that make for conducive and safe learning environments. Critically, the upgrade of the facilities will ensure that the ECD centres meet government’s regulatory requirements, and this in turn will give the owner and the staff access to various free training courses, which will improve their skills in the area of ECD. This will ensure that learners who come from these facilities have a strong education foundation and are well prepared for primary and high school education. All these interventions will in turn enhance the quality of South African education.
These modest contributions are aimed at improving our education system so that it can better equip the youth and future generations, so they can contribute meaningfully to the mainstream economy and take full advantage of opportunities ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution. It’s time we realise the need to remain open to doing more with partners in civil society, labour and government, to circumvent the inability of some children to gain access to quality education.
Takalani Netshitenzhe is chief officer: corporate affairs for Vodacom Group