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Britehouse and the Diepsloot Preschools Project address the lack of effective early childhood development in SA

Despite the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy stating that government has prioritised ECD within its National Development Plan 2030, many children still have no access to this.

Johannesburg, 15 Jan 2020
Read time 8min 50sec

SA has an estimated 5.7 million children who are between one day old and four years old, and ensuring that these children are not left behind is critical. According to Statistics SA’s latest General Household Survey, only 38.4% of those children (roughly 2.2 million) currently attend Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres. For the remaining 49.2%, just over half of their parents read books and draw with them. 

So, how do we as a nation ensure that every child receives a good foundation that enables them to thrive? The answer could lie in fostering stronger private-public partnerships that provide the skills and the funding to tackle the challenges facing ECD in SA.

Making an impact, one school at a time

Over the past 26 years, the Diepsloot Preschools Project (DPP) has developed more than 30 preschools, mainly in Diepsloot and the surrounding areas, but also in outlying areas where demand is high, such as Polokwane, Bushbuckridge and Sinangwana, near Umtata. The project's officials are currently building a new preschool outside Mokopane and are completing a new preschool at Riverside.Two large, portable buildings were also supplied for a new preschool in Venda.

The project was born from founder and developer Patti Hanley’s desire to live a life of purpose, and to uplift the community. She identified an urgent need for preschools in Diepsloot, where she had volunteered at the primary school.

Part of the DPP’s vision was to drive the development and sustainability of the preschools, and to introduce a structured education system based on the government’s CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement) objectives, which would facilitate better education standards for young preschool children in the townships. 

To date, more than 17 000 children have received a solid grounding because they attended a DPP-developed preschool.

Building strong foundations from successful collaborations

Recognising the importance of early childhood education, Dimension Data has been involved with the DPP since its inception back in 1993, when Bruce Watson donated a portion of the funds used to build a beautiful brick schoolhouse. It replaced the original storeroom that was initially used as a preschool to teach children from the Diepsloot and Riversands areas.

In 2011, Dimension Data Britehouse became more actively involved with DPP through Automate, and later through Emmeline Bester of Britehouse, who was instrumental in developing the Computer Hub at the Sunrise Secondary School in Diepsloot, which DPP was given access to, for their training one day a week.

In 2013, Britehouse became an "adopt-a-preschool" host, supporting Dikeledi Ramathoka, the owner of Kganya education centre, and later Britehouse Preschools. Neither of these preschools receive any funding from the Department of Social Development or the Department of National Education, and as such the schools rely heavily on the DPP to help them find funding for renovations, new buildings and preschool equipment.

Britehouse sponsored the development of various preschools during FY2015 until FY2018. The sponsorship enabled the provision of preschool equipment such as furniture and stationery, and much-needed maintenance, for a number of existing schools, and aided in the development of new preschools. The funding was also used to pay a stipend to some of the additional teachers as school fees in the extensions of Diepsloot are minimal and hence, the paying of salaries can be challenging.

“One of the greatest rewards for me is meeting past learners,” says Hanley. “I’ve met a number of children from our very first class at Riversands back in 1993 who have achieved wonderful things. One is a very successful preschool owner, another by the name of Kgomotso Phiri achieved a university degree and is a journalist. Another original learner is now a manager of a Pick n Pay clothing store. She told me she would never have been able to get this job if she had not had the good foundation of preschooling.” 

Empowering the community

The project is also focused on the upskilling of unemployed women, and to this end has facilitated the founding of new micro enterprises as a number of these newly upskilled women have started their own businesses.

Britehouse provided sponsorship for 36 Diepsloot adult learners to attend a year-long Business Administration Course which they completed in April 2018.The feedback from the head teachers has been fantastic as many of these people have never had any formal accounting training, and this course has facilitated better office systems and practices. Many people have asked for a second Business Administration Course.

In June 2017, the DPP ran its first Childhood Development Training Course for township women. This SAQA Level 4 blended platform course (digital content and face-to-face tuition) has now been accredited by the ETDP SETA. The second ECD course in Tembisa ran between January 2018 and January 2019. Two courses ran in Diepsloot between June 2018 and June 2019. During the past year, DPP has upskilled 109 township folks on ECD and Business Administration.

“In 26 years, the DPP has never received any funding from government, the Lotto, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, or any significant overseas donations,” says Hanley. “Funds for the development and ongoing support of the preschools and the adult education courses have come from fundraising golf days and ladies’ luncheons, as well as collaborative corporate partnerships like the one we enjoy with Dimension Data Britehouse.”

Britehouse also sponsored the digitisation of the ECD course material, including the uploading of daily lesson plans, the Children’s Bill of Rights, etc, on to tablets which are awarded to each of the successful graduates after each year-long ECD course. The graduates are added to the National Database of Learners and will be able to teach at any preschool in SA.

Sowing the seeds of success

There have been incredibly positive outcomes from these investments in the community. Of the 109 learners who attended courses in 2018/19, a further 12 preschools have been opened by some of these learners.The result of those schools opening is the creation of approximately 48 new jobs, and this too has a ripple effect throughout the communities in which these schools have been seeded.

The course was hugely beneficial for Pastor Mois, who attended the Business Administration Course in 2018. The skills he learned has enabled him to better administer the accounts for both his church and his preschool in Diepsloot. He and his wife, Maria Baloyi, are in the process of opening a second preschool and a new church in Limpopo. Together they run three preschools in Diepsloot and are expanding their ministry and the schools in Limpopo.

Maria is one of the DPP’s biggest success stories. The first preschool building that the DPP built in Diepsloot Ext 5 in 2010, called Little Lambs, was built for Maria. Maria was inspired to start the school when she saw how many children were running around unsupervised in Diepsloot. She decided that on the two days that she wasn’t working, she could provide a place of safety and somewhere educationally stimulating for them. 

“We started with four children and were growing fast," she says. "Soon we had 20 children sitting on mats on the floor of a garage.”

That was when she met Patti, who assisted her to build the bigger school. Today there are 106 children at that school. The school was built from the ground up, a double-storey school with three classrooms, an office, a kitchen and toilets. The building was funded by Total Facilities Management Company. 

With the team’s encouragement, Maria has attended several courses, including the Britehouse administration course, which have helped her to better understand the systems needed to run the school, and how to work with the learners’ parents. In March 2018, Maria graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree.

Florence Tshabalala is another success story. Florence attended the ECD course and has started a nursery school, Clever Kids ECD, in her small home in Diepsloot. She is hugely motivated to give the children the best start possible, and her aim is to grow her nursery school and to find new, bigger premises.

“I named my school Clever Kids ECD, because I want all children to be clever and to be open-minded,” says Florence. “I opened my school in February 2019, and I now have 12 children between the ages of three months and six years.” 

Her school is open from 5am to 6pm to allow for parents to drop their children at the school and make it to their jobs on time.

The ECD course has helped Florence create structured daily activities for the children, and she introduces new themes to them each week. She was given an iPad on graduating from the ECD course; it is preloaded with the year’s course material, which she can refer to while teaching. 

Patti has also provided her with workbooks based on the CAPS curriculum, which will ensure that the children are ready to graduate into the primary school system.

Florence’s hope for the future is that she owns and successfully runs a bigger preschool, where she’s able to help more children. “I also want to help mothers in the community like I was helped with this ECD course,” she says.

The value of strong foundations

Research conducted by James J. Heckman (the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics, and an expert in the economics of human development) has shown that every dollar spent on high-quality, birth-to-five programmes for disadvantaged children delivers a 13% per annum return on investment. If we look at the current state of education and employment in SA, investment in ECD is clearly what our country needs.

Editorial contacts
Britehouse Catherine Seymour (+27) 11 575 0727
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