Principal Economist – M Caridad Araujo, from the Division of Social Protection and Health, Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC, USA, wrote an article entitled “Promoting High-Quality Childcare at Scale in Latin America”. Reviewing the article in-depth, it outlines the key elements of good-quality childcare while offering guidance as to how to manage it at scale.
In the South African ECD sector, quality and scale in one sentence, can lead to much debate and differing of opinions. It is therefore important, to understand what constitutes quality and how is it possible to replicate that quality at scale.
The two main elements of quality in an early childhood centre are Structural Quality and Process Quality.
Structural Quality: Includes the infrastructure, the provision of equipment and curriculum, the safety of the environment and the child to care-giver ratio.
Process Quality: Looks at the interactions between the child and the care-giver.
An environment suited to young children needs to have high-quality interactions with their care-giver that is both frequent and responsive to their interests. They thrive in a warm, happy, safe environment that is sensitive to their needs. These two qualities are interrelated and have a direct impact on the development of the child.
Comparing our GROW with Educare Centres to the study on high quality childcare, it is evident that both structural quality and process quality are given a great deal of attention and is the core of our business model.
Structurally, our classrooms are transformed into optimal learning environments. The curriculum is structured and educationally designed and developed. The equipment is age appropriate and directly linked to the curriculum. All aspects of safety, such as gates, sleeping mattresses, electricals and plumbing are ensured.
Quality in our processes is also prominent and evident through our training on all aspects of child development as well as the social and emotional needs of a child. Our experienced education mentors in the classrooms, provide hands-on mentoring of the teachers and demonstrate best practice methodologies while observing, guiding and correcting where necessary. It is essential that process quality is not compromised as this has a direct impact on a child’s development.
Promoting high-quality childcare at scale in the South African context, is so necessary and relevant.
Children in the low-income areas are subject to higher levels of violence, neglect and abuse. The anxiety and stress arrive with the child at the Educare Centres and they need and rely on quality teachers to provide the antidote through love, attention and care.
The study of High-Quality Childcare at Scale described some very relevant findings that closely mirror the GROW with Educare strategies and vision. These findings are as follows:
- “Do not rush expansions in coverage without a strategy to provide quality services in place.”
GROW with Educare Centres has taken the decision to expand slowly so as not to compromise on the quality and sustainability of the project. Evidence suggests that an inadequate quality childcare service in the first 3 years has a negative impact on the child’s development.
- “Target well”
It is our understanding that the children from low income communities benefit the most by quality programmes. Our focus therefore is to ensure deep, sustainable quality rather than a light touch aimed at maximum reach.
- “Work conditions”
The teachers in ECD centres in South Africa often work in poor conditions and are grossly under paid. They receive little or no job security and are often volunteers. The GROW with Educare project ensures that all staff have contracts and development plans. Their salaries are reviewed with the business mentor and are subsidised for a period when the Government subsidy has been applied for but is delayed in process. The Principal also prepares annual staff evaluations and is assisted by the Education Mentor to provide a structured and conducive working environment.
This is a fundamental aspect to the GROW with Educare Centres model. The Education Mentors visit each centre with the aim of encouraging, guiding and supporting the teachers. The Business Mentors meet with the principals to guide them through the financial and administrative aspects of running a small business.
- “Continuous quality improvement”
GROW with Educare has made use of technology in order to gather data on the operational processes and the developmental progress of the children. This allows continuous learning and responsive action.
- “Pre-service training”
An 8-module training programme is mandatory for all staff of all GROW with Educare Centres. This training covers all aspects of the curriculum, the equipment supplied and the developmental areas of the 2-5-year-old child. Teachers are guided and trained through the purpose of each activity and educational equipment, while gaining a better understanding of their role as a nurturing care-giver.
- “Curricular and early learning guidelines”
The Grow Learning Company designed the accredited curriculum that is used in all the GROW with Educare centres. It is aligned to the National Curriculum Framework which has been introduced by the Government as the national standard for early childhood education and care.
- “Keep the focus on process quality”
The GROW with Educare project team understand the critical essence of the day to day interactions between the care-giver and the children. We consistently work through our mentoring prosses and additional workshops to develop and support the teachers who have themselves seldom been exposed to a nurturing environment.
While there are many challenges that are not only unique to the South African Early Childhood Development landscape, GROW with Educare Centres is continually addressing the question of “Quality at Scale” and ensuring that structural and process quality is never compromised and is implemented in a credible and sustainable manner.