/ 25 June 2024

Early Childhood Development forums can be essential resources in communities

Research shows that pupils with sufficient exposure to early childhood development programmes have better attainment levels and cognitive abilities.
File photo

Stories of sacrifice and selflessness are commonplace when principals in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector recount the origins of how their centres (often referred to as creches or preschools) started. 

When commencing work in the ECD sector in 2018, the Nelson Mandela Foundation frequently hosted, and engaged with, principals with the aim of better understanding the issues that were affecting them. At the time, investment in the leadership potential of ECD forums — groupings of ECD principals in areas such as Orange Farm, Mamelodi, Alexandra and Vosloorus — was lacking, despite the immense potential of these collectives. 

This gap was identified in a conversation between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Early Care Foundation in 2019 and funding was put aside to develop a skills programme to enhance the leadership potential of ECD forums with the aim of not only benefiting the ECD sector but also the communities where the forums were located. 

The Early Care Foundation, through its work in the sector as a training organisation, recognises ECD forums as one of the key stakeholders to engage in communities and for ECD advocacy. 

These forums have the power to ensure that relevant information on opportunities; training and development; funding applications; sector updates, etc., reach the ECD centres, day mothers and play groups in their communities. 

The thought was that investing in the leadership capabilities of members of an ECD forum could strengthen their commitment enhancing ECD delivery, their role within their communities as well as result in ECD forums being better managed and more organised. 

While Covid-19 prevented the roll out of this programme at the time, the ECD skills development programme became a reality in 2023, in partnership with the Jim Joel Fund. 

We received 41 applications from ECD forums across Gauteng, where the pilot was run, with 13 ultimately selected for the programme. Each of the forums had to nominate two representatives to attend the training and they, in turn, needed to share their learning with the other members. 

The block training sessions were held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation over a period of 16 days. The forums were visited in their respective communities as part of the support and coaching component and the ways in which they implemented the tasks and goals — which they had set during the training — were observed. 

Each forum was requested to present a report on the progress made on their tasks, as well as their implementation journey, after each block training. These sessions were important as the members shared lessons and motivated each other.  

The focus of modules one and two was understanding community development within an ECD context and establishing a local forum. Module three focused on community stakeholder relationships to support local forums, while module four was centred on how to resource and sustain a local forum. 

Topics across the different modules included explaining community development and the importance of individual participation; reflecting on one’s own expertise and skills to inform a personal contribution plan; demonstrating an understanding of project management tools and determining mechanisms to gather resources that are appropriate for specific communities.

One of the representatives who attended commented that the “training has helped us mature personally and build on our strengths” and enabled forum members to reflect on and adjust their roles and responsibilities. Similar accounts were given by others who attended. 

The training created an opportunity for forum members to identify their values and principles which, in turn, served as a source of motivation in resolving challenges within the forums. The forums were encouraged to develop a vision and mission or, if they had already done this, to update it. The importance of teamwork within the forums was emphasised as it leads to more effective, efficient and successful practices.

ECD forums, if well run, have the potential to become essential resources in their communities. ECD affects so many elements, such as youth employment, parental engagement and local economic activities, as well as centres being safe places of care for children. These elements are underpinned by collaboration and resource mobilisation by community stakeholders.

In an effort to make sure as many ECD forums as possible benefit from this initiative, the course content from the pilot will be made open source. This will give training organisations in the sector, ECD forums and organisations who work with them the opportunity to use the modules to develop their own training initiatives aimed at enhancing the leadership potential of the forums. These will be made available on the websites of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Early Care Foundation. 

Ipeleng Mohlala is the chief executive of the Early Care Foundation and Sumaya Hendricks is the head of the dialogue and advocacy team at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.