Dreams of opening a quality pre-school centre in her community
Meet Jennifer Crossley, a qualified Grade R teacher from Maitland, a low-income area in Cape Town, South Africa. After experiencing first-hand how children who are unprepared for Grade R eventually drop out of school, turning to drugs, gangs and crime; she dreamed of opening a quality pre-school education centre in her community: a school where children from her community, between 2 and 6 years old, could come to be properly prepared for school so they were on the right path to becoming successful adults.
Children who don’t get proper early learning education quickly get left behind.
“There are often more than 40 kids in one public school Grade R class (the first school grade at age 6),” says Jennifer. “The teacher doesn’t have a chance to give any child one-on-one attention, they have to push on with the curriculum. Children who did not get proper early learning education quickly get left behind. You see how that child closes off, cries that he doesn’t want to go to school. Parents, often also poorly educated, don’t know what to do and the whole experience is ruined. Teachers push the children through to the next grade, that’s how we get kids in high school who can’t read,” she says.
“The child gets further behind every year and eventually drops out of school, usually joining violent gangs that trap them with drugs. These children become criminals who terrorise their communities,” she says. “This is a big problem for the child, our community and ultimately the whole country.”
60% drop out rate starts at ECD level
South Africa’s alarming reality is that 6 out of 10 children do not attend an ECD, and of those that do, more than half receive poor quality education at the centre they attend. Most centres serve only as places of safety while the parents are at work, a baby-sitting service with no education or stimulation provided. From that starting point, it is not surprising that South Africa is facing a national crisis with a school dropout rate of 60%, meaning 60% of first graders will drop out rather than complete Grade 12.
Jennifer used all her saving to buy an ECD centre.
“I was so proud to buy this place,” she said. However, with few resources at her disposal things became difficult. “There was no structure to the daily activities, the walls were dirty, it was untidy and there was no equipment,” she says. “The teachers were not qualified, I changed that, and I applied to the government for a curriculum, but the equipment was broken, puzzle pieces missing. It was frustrating,” she says.
“I brought a Grade R background with me, but I needed help. I had no equipment, no educational apparatus and no proper ECD curriculum.”
Joining GROW as a franchisee gave me the helping hand I needed
Then she saw a ‘GROW’ sign at a school nearby. “I saw that lovely sign and I went into that centre. The principal let me look around to see what they were doing. She told me how GROW can help me. I got into contact, they interviewed me and I was accepted.
GROW’s success is in its two-prong approach of ensuring quality education for the children and sustainable business for the principal. GROW empowers women who have a heart for children and a head for business, to run good businesses, pay their teachers well and ensure children get a quality education.
“GROW brought puzzles, games, equipment, outside play equipment, tables and chairs to my centre,” she said. “They brought a teacher’s guide (a curriculum), posters and they painted my centre. My teachers and I went to workshops and did lots of training with them. Everything a teacher needs, they provided. Everything we need to teach, it’s right here,” says Jennifer.
“From the business side, they taught me management skills, now I know how to run a business and my business is doing well. GROW also gave us personal finance training and it was like the blinds came off. I could see how I was wasting my money. Now I file and keep track of my expenses. I have savings.
“GROW assessed my area and my business and helped me increase my fees. I spoke to all the parents and told them what the increase would provide, and they agreed. They are seeing that their child is getting educated. My school is full and there is a waiting list,” she says.
“I am able to pay my teachers well and GROW provides ongoing training with workshops for my teachers. They have councillors to help teachers with personal problems and a GROW teachers WhatsApp group so they can ask each other for advice. There are mentors that come to the classes every week to make sure my teachers are teaching correctly and business mentors that help me run my business. I have had no change in teachers in five years. I am running a good business for myself and employing four women who are earning money for their families.”
Why is quality early learning so crucial?
The ECD phase is very important because this is when children develop in crucial areas like socially, their language, maths, physically with things like hand-eye coordination and arts & craft. We develop the whole child, laying the foundation for a good adult. Children learn to sit at a table, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, how to use different words to express emotions and how to contain emotions. When they go to Grade R they know how to behave. If a child knows how to behave from Grade R, they are more likely to get the full benefit from school and stay in school.”
Parents are always coming back, one child then their next child because their children are doing well at school. That’s why I called my school ‘GROW with Generations’. The Grade R teachers give the parents feedback saying our children are doing great. They are always asking our parents which ECD their children come from because they are so good.
Hope for the future: excelling in their lives
My hope for the children that attend my school is that they will further their education and excel in their lives. If you’re not academic start a business, find your talent and be goal orientated. In South Africa we need to provide jobs, so start something, bake something, make something. Don’t sit at home, no one is going to save you – you must save yourself.
For me, I am working to be a beacon of education in my community, that’s my goal. Quality, affordable education right here in our community, says Jennifer.