By MaryAnne Isaac
There’s no doubt that a child’s earliest years of life sets the stage for all future growth and brain development. Studies reveal that a baby’s brain develops during the initial years of life forming new connections at an astounding rate of more than 1 million every single second – a pace never repeated again.
It is imperative that the knowledge and skills of South African teachers and Early Childhood Development (ECD) specialists continues to match an advancing world and education sector, as this proves essential to strengthening our education system.
Research shows that skill levels of ECD teachers are unsatisfactory, and teachers are required by law to participate in professional development practices, such as attending workshops and skill courses that keep them up-to-date with current practice.
However, it can be difficult for some teachers to access these continuing professional development courses at tertiary institutions, as many of them live and work in remote communities.
ECD learning has been identified as being a key factor in helping minimise poverty and inequality in South Africa, due to the preparatory role it plays for formal schooling. Interactions in early language practise, cognitive, and socio-emotional development, in the first few years of life, are especially important. However, according to the 2019 South African Early Childhood Review, many caregivers have never engaged in key activities that are likely to improve early learning outcomes, such as reading, telling stories, or playing with children.
Moreover, several crèches and nursery schools are started in rural areas simply because there is a great need as parents are at work, but the founders and teachers of these schools have little or no education or training in ECD.
Stadio Faculty of Education, a private higher learning institution, has taken its Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) courses off-site, and into under-served areas. The faculty’s most popular CPTD courses are those related to ECD.
“ECD focuses on the very initial stages of education. I believe the way a teacher handles a child’s formative years is crucial to their development and their educational journey as a whole – especially if they have a disability or learning difficulty. So, we try to emphasise the importance of what teachers are doing with the children in their care and empower them with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform this vital work,” says Larry Mthimkhulu, CPTD manager at Stadio Faculty of Education.
The first of Stadio Faculty of Education’s popular ECD courses is “An Introduction to Childhood Practices in the South African Context”, for the age group 0-5 years, which Mthimkhulu says is ideal both for teachers or parents who want to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the duties of a professional ECD practitioner or caregiver.
In addition, the Inclusive Education course helps teachers to recognise disabilities and learning challenges early on, such as hearing impairment, ADHD, or dyslexia, among others, so that they can work with parents to ensure their children are directed to the right specialists to support the child.
“Identifying learning challenges early on makes the whole learning experience much better for the child,” says Mthimkhulu.
Furthermore, the Movement Play for Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children course aims to help ECD teachers to create appropriate movement programs for their schools. It is essentially the beginning of Physical Education (PE) and starts to develop children’s gross motor co-ordination.