The Pre-School Association and its problems
Wednesday 7th September
On Wednesday morning I arrived early at the CLTG office to find Thoko already sweeping the floor in readiness for the meeting. I was able to talk to her about the Pre-School Association and its current problems so that I would have a better understanding. From what I understand changes in the school curriculum instituted by the government education department have caused a lot of complex difficulties for the teachers. On the one hand the inclusion of Grade R children in the primary schools and the training of grade R teachers is progress but the way in which it has been implemented has had a negative impact on the Pre-Schools.
Early Years Education in KwaZulu-Natal
Ten of the current Pre-School Teachers have been trained to teach the Grade R curriculum for children aged five and six. (Pre-Schools traditionally cater for children between three and six years old.) Out of each Pre-School where there are two teachers, one is responsible for the R grade pupils and is trained and therefore has a salary of about 300 Rand a month. The other teacher has no salary and works with the younger children. The education department has categorically stated that the salary must go to the teacher who is qualified and not be split in any way to benefit the school or the other teacher. The pre-schools struggle to collect any money from parents. They have very little equipment and the training the teachers have received is often paid for by the teachers themselves. The aim of the Grade R teacher training is ultimately to include the Grade R class in the primary schools and this appears to be happening faster than anyone expected.
Next week the ten grade R teachers will be visited by the inspectors and their work assessed. When the grade R pupils are integrated there are many pre-schools which will struggle to remain open and there are many fears and anxieties about the welfare of the younger children who will miss out on that very important grounding. In many of the rural areas there is a lot of illiteracy and the training which pre-school teachers get at present helps the community as a whole to appreciate education and begin to see the importance of learning through play and the parental role in education in an informal way from an early age. Just bringing a child to a pre-school and involving the family in a sharing nurturing community has a positive effect but without it many children will be deprived. There are already more children out of pre-school than in it and although the curriculum for grade R’s is good it is vital not to lose the foothold gained by Pre-Schools under the training of organisations such as TREE (Training and Resources for Early Education.)
Registration with Social Services
Another problem which the Pre-school Association has encountered is the fact that some of Pre-Schools the have failed to become registered. If they meet certain basic criteria such as training, very basic equipment and safety standards they can become registered by the Department of Welfare. Registered schools are paid a small amount, maybe 2 Rand for each child attending school whose parent is not in employment. The money is paid in retrospect after inspections of attendance registers and is allocated for the cost of providing food for the children. The registration process had failed because despite meetings with a social worker and letters to the department no progress has been made. One of the problems the community here always struggles with is the fact that they are a very rural and relatively inaccessible community and easily left out of local government action.
I was disappointed to see that there were so many problems but there are so many dedicated pre-school teachers still working hard for no money and a new cohort of teachers are being trained by TREE at the moment. (This is the basic Pre-School training not the government grade R training.) When I left there were eighteen schools on the Committee and although sadly some of the schools no longer operate for various reasons there are now twenty six schools on the committee.
Time was getting on and the meeting, due to start at ten o’clock was late. Only Mr Zulu, the chairman of the Pre-school Association, Thoko, myself, Fi and one Pre-school teacher was there. Fi had been a teacher at the Centocow, St. Apollinaris Pre-school but, although she is still involved in the welfare of the pre-school, she rarely teaches there as the teacher Sylvia’s daughter works there now and Fi is busy with her Masters degree and music teaching in the Creighton School.
It transpired that the grade R teachers had suddenly been notified of their inspection and they were panicking to get their work together and even in some cases painting their pre-schools. Apart from this it was a desperately cold day and we sat shivering whilst we waited. I have learnt that when it is cold in Kwa-Zulu-Natal it is can be bitterly cold and people retreat indoors under blankets. Things can grind to a halt here the way they do in England when we get a fall of snow. Remember the distances these teachers a re willing to walk or travel to attend a meeting are quite impressive.
We decided to begin the meeting and I was pleased to meet Mr Zulu who seemed as much of a motivator and encourager in local affairs as Thoko is. We discussed the current problems of the pre-schools and proposed ways to overcome the problems. One thing I was particularly concerned with was the provision of food as this was the first thing the teachers had all identified as the biggest need of their schools when I was here last. Having read the community report I was aware that poor nutrition is still a huge problem in the area. I was told this was still a problem but the community gardens which Thoko had talked about would eventually be able to provide food for the pre-schools.
One of the other points raised was the possibility of forming partnerships in some way with the school which seemed more viable now that the schools were benefiting more directly from the pre-school teachers’ training. I suggested writing an outline proposal for such a partnership which we could discuss when we held the re-scheduled meeting next week.
After the meeting I interviewed Mr Zulu and was really pleased to learn that in his role as a local government worker he is involved in the planning of a reservoir which will be built in the hills above the Mzimkhulu River and provide water for the area. Because of his active role in community affairs he is pressing the relevant department not only to employ local people on the building of the reservoir but to provide engineering training for ten or so local boys who are just finishing their schooling. This is just what the area needs, so many young people are doing well at school but have no opportunities to further their studies or find a job.
These Photos were from a later meeting