The Unlimited Child

The Ndabayakhe ecd centre.

In 2017, when we consulted the King Cetshwayo District Department of Social Development in KZN, we discovered the Ndabayakhe ECD Centre in rural Empangeni in KZN, South Africa. It is an important Centre because it serves nearly two-thirds of children that live in the poorest 40% of households in the region. And there’s very limited access to early learning programmes in the area.

The centre has good infrastructure that had been built by a sponsor, including a variety of outdoor equipment. And the ECD practitioner, Ms. Nelisiwe Cele, had obtained an ECD Level 4 qualification. But, a baseline assessment of the quality of the Centre’s early learning programme showed that something wasn’t right – the Centre was underperforming.

children in ecd school classroom
crayons on a yellow background

The need for a better ECD solution.

Assessments showed that, sadly, there was no real evidence of a daily early learning programme, no lesson planning, no learning through play structure and no curriculum-linked toys and resources. And this showed that, while the children attended a structured space daily, they didn’t receive a level of development that would enable them to adapt to the challenges of formal schooling.

“I worked very hard to get my Level 4,” Nelisiwe says, “but when the mentor lady came to talk to me, I said I’m not really sure how to make my own lesson plan. They never showed us that. I wasn’t sure where to start.”

So we stepped in to help shift things for the better.

The big turnaround.

In March 2017, Nelisiwe attended The Unlimited Child early learning programme. The first phase being a foundational skills development training and an intensive workplace training on classroom practice, as well as clear guidelines on how to plan, prepare and implement a quality early learning programme.

“When I came back the next week, I was so excited. I was prepared, with good lesson plans and I knew the children were going to like the activities,” Nelisiwe beams.

“And the new toys were already there!. All this new equipment from inside the books, they were actually there in the room, and I could just start showing the children a new way to learn through play.”

To ensure sustainability, Nelisiwe was coached, mentored and supported through our Continuous Professional Development programme,

“I like that the ladies come back and visit us often. They come in and talk with everyone, sit in while we have lessons. And they even ask me how they can help, do I need anything more to help me prepare better,” she says.

“What’s also very good is when they take us to meet with other practitioners from the community. They discuss new ways to engage with the children and give us new ideas, but we can also talk with each other, and learn what it’s like at other centres. It’s like I get new ideas all the time.”

early childhood development reading class
children playing on a swing

A huge success.

A short while later, new end-line assessments showed a dramatic 80% improvement in achieving key school readiness milestones and competencies in the children at Ndabayakhe ECD Centre. There was marked improvement, especially in numeracy and literacy skills.

The Centre’s supervisor reported having received an influx of positive feedback from the community about Ndabayakhe ECD Centre, which is now seen as a successful and sustainable micro-enterprise in the community.

And we’re very happy to see real change like this, because it has the power to unlimit dreams, not only for the children but also for the men and women that support our communities in education.

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