Early childhood development (ECD) is critical in providing the foundation for formal schooling and opportunities for improved socio-economic outcomes later in life. Studies continue to show that a high quality of education and nurturing care in these formative years will have long-lasting benefits for children, families and societies. However, according to research from Unicef, only 48% of South African children have access to early childhood education.
To help remedy this, the South African government has made ECD a priority in its national development plan’s vision for ensuring all children receive high-quality education. However, this ambition remains wishful thinking for most children from poor households and under-serviced areas under the current education system. Last year, the ECD function moved from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education, with President Cyril Ramaphosa proposing ECD education be compulsory for all children before Grade One.
As a long-standing partner of government on Education, Vodacom has committed to investing in ECD as part of its multifaceted education ecosystem model, which was launched in 2019 to help transform the country’s education system. In supporting 15 ECD centres across the country with access to learning materials, infrastructure and nutrition, Vodacom has helped more than 1 200 learners and educators benefit from an enabling environment for quality early education. This is enhancing the ECD centres’ vital role as support systems in their respective communities.
Creating an environment to learn and grow
Renovations and improvements at the ECD centres include painting, fixing ablution facilities, decommissioning pit latrines and increasing security. At many of the centres, there was no running water, let alone proper classrooms, a kitchen to prepare meals or enough toilets. Following infrastructure improvements, the ECD centres are now a healthy and safe environment, conducive to learning and enhancing the overall care of children.
“Vodacom has helped our centre significantly. The children can play safely and freely because of the additional space and facilities. The centre is also able to accommodate more children, which can help to make a difference in our community,” says Fowzia Dollie from Jolly Juniors Educare Centre in the Western Cape.
This has also been the case at other ECD centres in the programme, which have been able to increase admissions and the number of educators thanks to the upgrades. In addition, new cooking facilities and running water are ensuring that the centres can provide at least one healthy meal for children, many of whom are from families relying on social grants and this is their only nutritious meal of the day.
Driving digital literacy and access to technology
To expose children to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at an early age and develop digital literacy, Vodacom has provided the ECD centres with digital devices and learning materials, and volunteers that assist children with digital skills. This IT support extends to office equipment and connectivity, which can help the centres with more effective administration and communication with parents.
Ensuring a sustainable future
In 2021, eight of the ECD centres embarked on a sustainability journey with Vodacom’s ECD Green Programme. The planting of viable food gardens at each centre supplements feeding schemes while promoting sustainable practices, including educational workshops and farming training for educators and parents. The centres have also been fitted with clean solar energy and JoJo tanks for more sustainable power and water supply, especially during loadshedding and water outages.
Supporting the surrounding community
Vodacom’s ECD programme is not only benefitting children and their teachers but parents and the surrounding communities. Many of the ECDs serve as IT hubs for community members to access the internet for essential services, such as healthcare, and jobs – and to help bridge the digital divide.
“There is a significant lack of access to IT resources in our area. Our ECD centre allows the community to use our IT equipment for their digital needs, such as scanning documents, while saving money on taxi fares to get to town to do this,” explains Khathutshelo Gloria Rankhododo from Mvelaphanda Day Care Centre in Limpopo.
The ECD centres themselves offer opportunities for employment and community upliftment through the food gardens, recycling waste programmes and maintenance services.
“We have parents that own small businesses. The ECD works with them in taking care of the school, especially if we experience issues, such as electrics and plumbing,” says Dollie
Sylvia Nomandlambe Maposa from Lady Frere Day Care Centre in the Eastern Cape adds, “We allow disadvantaged families to help us in the garden and they take some of the vegetables home to feed their families.”
Working together for greater impact
The far-reaching benefits of Vodacom’s ECD programme would not be possible without collaboration between the government and other private sector and non-profit organisations. Through ongoing partnerships, the ECDs continue to deliver an important service to their communities and change the lives of those around them.
At Vodacom, we believe that investing in ECD needs to be a holistic, collective effort, which will help to lay the foundation for a better basic education system and enable young learners to reach their full potential. We are extremely proud of the progress of our education ecosystem thus far and continue to work with the government and other partners to actively transform the lives of learners, educators and communities and build a better future for this country; and we call on more partners to join us in this empowering endeavour.