It is well known that to secure the future of an individual one of the best investments that can be made is in their education.
When families are unable to provide for the basic needs of their children, or when children are rendered vulnerable by the loss of one or more of their parents or a similar trauma, the risk of children dropping out of school is significantly increased. To reduce this risk Thandanani undertakes a range of activities aimed at supporting the education of the children we support. In this newsletter we speak to some of these activities.
There is a growing appreciation in South Africa of the importance of early childhood development, but such concerns are still far from being reflected in the allocation of resources. To fill this gap, three PMB-based NGOs have forged a unique partnership which makes a real investment in the future of society.
“The earlier the investment, the greater the return”. That’s the well-known principle of all long-term financial investments. According to Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman, it’s also true of our investments in people.
Neuroscientists will tell you that 80% of a person’s brain potential is developed by the age of four and most of that in the first 1,000 days, before the child is two, and years before formal schooling. Most of this development happens while the child is engaged in play (also referred to as the “work” of childhood) or meaningful interaction with a caregiver.
A 22-year-long study started among poor populations in Jamaica in the 1970s by Dr Sally Grantham-McGregor and Christine Powell showed that children whose mothers received weekly home visits for two years by doctors and nurses who helped them engage their babies in play attained higher test scores for reading, mathematics and general knowledge later in life. They stayed in school longer, were less likely to be violent, experience depression and had better social skills. Significantly, they earned 25% on average more than a control group of similar children.
The Jamaican study and others like it have been championed by Heckman as evidence of the human and economic value of quality early childhood interventions and have influenced the Early Childhood Development (ECD) policies of countries such as Brazil, Zimbabwe, and India.
In South Africa, a large proportion of the country’s 5.7 million children under four are born into poverty and conditions often not conducive to the development of supportive parent-child bonds. Stressed parents struggle to put food on the table and are also often not attuned to the emotional needs of young children or babies; nor are they aware of the importance of the first 1,000 days in early brain development.
When they reach age three, only 51 out of 100 children in South Africa will attend an ECD facility such as a crèche or a pre-school, according to statistics from the last national census. Even if they do, the facilities will often be inadequate and the emphasis is likely to be on rote learning and physical containment, rather than “purposeful play” – the kind that stimulates the brain and cognitive development.In a situation in which 50% of South African children who start Grade 1 drop out before matric, and 78% of Grade 4 learners are unable to read for meaning in any language, according to the latest PIRLS test, the need for early childhood stimulation programmes seems pressing and calls for more concerted action.
According to David Harrison of South African foundation the DG Murray Trust, resources that would be better spent in the first years of a child’s life are being concentrated at the level of higher education. “Over the next three years, more than a trillion rand will be spent on basic and higher education, but just 1% of that will go to early learning programmes. When will we confront the reality that homeopathic doses of early learning just won’t work?” he wrote recently.
It’s a view shared by Duncan Andrew, director of the Pietermaritzburg-based Thandanani Children’s Foundation. Referring to the #FeesMustFall protests that culminated last year in an increased allocation of funds to higher education to support the introduction of fee-free university study, he said: “It feels like the loudest voice gets rewarded … but as in most things, the real rewards lie in early investment.”
However, while financial investment is certainly needed, it does not need to be prohibitively expensive. A partnership forged in 2015 between Thandanani, and two other local NGOs working in the ECD space – Singakwenza and Dhlalanathi – has proved that effective early childhood stimulation (ECS) interventions can be made without enormous financial resources, said Duncan.
The Play Mat Programme draws on the expertise of all three organisations to target caregivers of children under six who live in resource constrained households that are part of TCF’s Family Strengthening Programme. Caregivers learn basic child development principles, the value of stimulation through play, and the benefits of intentional engagement between caregiver and child.
Caregivers are also taught how to make and use educational toys and learning aids made from waste such as used yoghurt tubs, milk bottle tops and cereal boxes. The toys are the personal “invention” of ECD practitioner and founder of Singakwenza Julie Hay who was determined to find a sustainable way to facilitate playing and learning among young children.
“Learning is not dependent on having nice shiny toys and materials; it’s about having a teacher with commitment,” she said.
Through the Play Mat methodology, each toy is attached to a specific set of lessons for the child – such as eye-hand coordination, problem-solving, counting, and practicing the pincer grip for future writing. There are also parenting skills attached to each lesson. These include the importance of love and praise, parental support as well as positive discipline.
According to Dlalanathi director Rachel Rozentals-Thresher the Play Mat concept builds on the idea that the relationship between child and its caregiver, which actually starts during pregnancy, sets a foundation for all future cognitive and emotional development of the child.
“People obviously like to invest in something tangible like a centre of education, but actually the most important investment we can make is in the caregiver and their young child. We believe that if caregivers are responsive to their children, understand their role in early learning, and have skills, knowledge and simple tools through which to engage their children in purposeful play for a short time each day the impact on the child’s future will be enormous.”
TCF’s Play Mat facilitator and auxillary social worker, Thobile Sokhela, says the results on the ground have been phenomenal.
“The first session is always tense,” she says. “The children don’t move, and if they do, they gravitate towards the other children because they don’t see their mothers or caregivers as playmates. In fact, many children fear them. The caregivers are also restrained.”
However, after a few sessions, things start to shift quite dramatically. “You see caregivers really engaging their children through purposeful play, and teaching them things like counting, shapes and colours using the toys that they have made. You can see the relationships starting to deepen and the children developing,” says Sokhela. “The caregivers are no longer resistant to the notion of playing with their children; they simply don’t at first understand how it helps.”
The physical play mat, a large, soft blanket with a weather-proof base provided to caregivers as part of the programme, has become associated with a safe and rewarding place to play in the minds of participating children. Sokhela says she has seen children dragging out the mat as their way of asking for “play time” with their caregiver. She has also seen children mistaking ordinary blankets for the play mat and using them to instigate independent play sessions with their siblings and even neighbours’ children.
“The project is very popular. One mother took her child out of a formal crèche and brought him back to the play mat group because she said she could see that he was learning much more on the mat,” said Sokhela.
Importantly, the programme is also building stronger, more stable, relationships between caregivers and their children. In a recent evaluation, one caregiver said: “Before coming to this programme I used to struggle a lot with shouting and hitting my son because I didn’t know what else I could do in order to discipline him. Now I have bonded with my son; we laugh and play together all the time …”
It is these small changes that the Play Mat programme hopes to bring about: caregivers purposefully playing with their young children a regular basis and teaching them basic but critical concepts and skills. “It is these seemingly small investments that could change a child’s future, says Andrew.
Written By: Sharon Dell, Published: 10 May 2018, The Witness
Many of the families Thandanani supports cannot afford to purchase school uniforms for those children attending school. As a result, these children often attend school in old “hand me down” uniforms. This often sets them apart and makes them vulnerable to stigmatisation and ostracism. Consequently, at the start of each school year, Thandanani assesses the condition of the school uniforms of the children on our database and, where necessary, facilitates the purchasing of uniforms for those children whose uniform requires replacing. This helps prevent the child from being stigmatised at school and helps foster acceptance and encourage school attendance.
We were able to reach this many children because of the support we receive from our regular donors and people like Bule Qhobosheane and Jessie Chetty.
Bule Qhobosheane, one of our 2017 Star Award recipients works on a lovely initiative collecting and sponsoring school shoes to children in need. She travels from JHB to deliver the shoes to us and then assists us in distributing them. A new pair of shoes can bring the greatest joy to a child, giving them pride and confidence to go to school in a pair of shiny new shoes. Most of these children either do not have school shoes or have worn them until they have literally fallen off of their feet. Thank you Bule for your contribution and spreading joy to these kids.
Similarly, another one of our Star Award recipients, Jessie Chetty, sponsored new school uniforms and stationery for two children this year. Each year Jessie spoils a Thandanani family with something in the way of food, clothing or household items. This year it was school uniforms and the children were so grateful that they wrote personal letters to Jessie and her family thanking them for all their care and support.
Thank you Bule and Jessie for your constant care and your generous contributions. These children all started the school year with smiles on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
Some of you may remember the heart-warming story of Xolani. He was orphaned at six and raised by his grandmother. Even though there was not always food on the table she insisted that the children attend school where Xolani excelled. Thandanani became aware of the family’s plight and stepped in to assist. Xolani passed matric and qualified to attend university where he would walk 20kms a day just to attend his classes. Thandanani took action and assisted him with a travel allowance. Xolani has continued to excel, and just recently has completed his Masters in Science (physics), with Cum Laude, and will go on to do his Doctorate.
As a founding member of Thandanani Children’s Foundation, Penny Haswell was actively involved in providing care and support to abandoned babies at Edendale hospital in the late 80’s. To honour Penny Haswell, who passed away on 27 October 2014, and her legacy of “putting children first”, the Haswell family have established the Penny Haswell Education Fund to continue her passion for promoting and fostering children’s education. As at March 2018 the Penny Haswell Education Fund has a reached a fantastic R 433 162.00
If education is important to you and you would like to make a contribution, to invest in a child’s future, please click on this link www.thandanani.org.za/support-us/penny-haswell-education-fund