I had expected to see a lot more of the pre-schools during this visit but apart from meeting a few teachers at the meeting on Wednesday I had not had the opportunity. I was determined to make the most of the day and asked Fi if she could take me to several Pre-schools on the way to the area where Beauty Rose lived and worked, Ngwagwane. Beauty Rose had just qualified as a teacher when I was here last and I was very impressed with the Pre-School she ran, Sonyangwe. It was a brilliant example of a stimulating learning environment equipped with home made resources. Beauty Rose now works for TREE, (Training and Resources in Early Education,) visiting parents in their home and nurturing community pre-school learning.groups.
Finding the Pre-schools was not a problem; although we traveled quite a long way up into the hills. I remembered from my last visit exactly where to go. We left Centocow at nine thirty, well prepared with water bottles, hats and sun cream. There was a heat haze and the sun was already beating down with a vengeance. After traveling East away from the hospital we took a left turn towards the Newtonville area. Dryer than dry, the dusty road with deep cracks and gullies on either side cut its way across the most barren of landscapes. The patch of land outside the scattered homesteads on each side of the road looked no more capable of yielding vegetables than the Sahara desert and housing in the area was shoddy and dilapidated.
The first Pre-school we visited was Sphamandla. It was set a little way off the road; a small mud building on a wooden frame with a tin roof set in a rectangular fenced play area. Beauty the teacher had taken the children to a small area of shade outside the hut and was just dishing out a meal of egg and bread as we arrived. Three pre-schools in this area were lucky enough to be provided with food by a group of ladies in Creighton. This is a godsend to these schools but is an informal arrangement and they are not sure how long they will be able to depend on it.
I was really impressed with the improvements of this school. I remember this school well as a place where the children looked particularly needy and even when given toys and puzzles by the Creighton Primary school were unable to play. They learnt the days of the week etc. by rote and only really came alive when it was time for traditional Zulu dancing. Beauty had been trained as a grade R teacher, her confidence had increased no end and she had had plenty of enthusiasm and energy. The children in her care knew how to play and she encouraged lively individual performances and story telling. On that day she had 19 children, 11 of them grade R.
We continued along this dusty stretch of road towards our next turning off to Nkanyisweni, (shining star,) pre-school. In a large rectangular enclosure stood a tiny rectangular hut, freshly painted in brilliant white. This tiny building also housed about 19 children, most of them grade R. They had a large outside area with just a few tyres and a metal slide, (The thought of skidding down that red hot metal was quite painful.)
The teacher here, Pinkie was just beginning her grade R training and had enjoyed making items for the home corner in papier mache. The children repeatedly trooped up to me holding out plates or cups of various imaginary delicacies and drinks whilst I talked to her. She said she enjoyed telling traditional stories as well as reading to them and encouraged children to re-tell or act stories. The grade R’s of this school will be subsumed into the local primary school in January and the teacher will be employed there for that. The other teacher whom I was talking to the previous day is also grade R trained but in January will stay in the Pre-school with the younger children. She will not be paid. Grade R teachers get paid between R750 to R1000 per month.
One of the problems I was alerted to four years ago was the fact that pre-school buildings often belonged to individuals in the community who might at any time want them back for family members. This had in fact happened to the next three pre-schools we visited. In each case I was just looking out for the pre-school building when we noticed the teacher and children playing outside a building on the opposite side of the road from where we expected. The first of these was Siyazama at Bhobhoyi. The school had been in a large rondavel high up above the road. Now it was a minute mud building quite close to the road. It was a very poor substitute and this school for various reasons was not flourishing as before.
After leaving the dusty Newtonville area we crossed the river and headed up steep mountainous roads towards a more flourishing looking rural region where scattered homesteads climbed up towards broad sweeps of thick forest capped by craggy outcrops of rock. This was Ngwagwane adjoining the province of Eastern Cape.
Again the rondavel of the next school, Vulinquondo had been reclaimed but the children had the use of an old church hall. This was an old mud building in a state of disrepair, but spacious enough. Outside a large cast metal bell which must have once hung in a large church now embedded in the ground served as a climbing frame slide and hidey hole for the children.
Our last call was Sonyangwe. I remembered that Beauty Rose always wore flamboyant but well tailored clothes and carried herself magnificently. My memory was refreshed as she came tripping to the car to greet us, resplendent in a red hat and smiles. After showing us the new school building she told me about her new job with TREE. She visits about twenty families in the area a week in a new initiative to educate parents in Early Years play and learning. Families living near each other are linked up and run mini toddler or pre-schools. I am not sure how widespread the scheme is as I have not heard of it being done in different areas but in this area there are seven workers. At the moment Beauty Rose has to use taxis but she is hoping to take driving lessons. (One of the striking changes I have noticed since last time I visited is how many more women drivers there are. )
At Sonyangwe Pre-School the accommodation was a huge improvement; a substantial block built modern building with a tiled floor and plenty of windows. The community hall was too small so they decided to give it to the school and build a new one. Flora the teacher had finished her grade R training and the school was thriving. While we were there another teacher visited. She was also experiencing problems. Her school had been rebuilt but was not adequate. We had arrived at the end of the school day and the children grouped together to say their final prayer and goodbyes but with the arrival of two visitors they were reluctant to leave. Block building, imaginary play and puzzles began to start all over again so after taking a few photos we decided to leave giving the teachers a chance to pack up and go home.