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iMobiMaMa: Tackling early childhood development early

Dr. Carol Thomas with the iMobiMaMa mKitPregnancy is the starting point for early childhood development (ECD) intervention. Before a child is born, both the opportunities and risks for its development, and capacity for early learning, are numerous. Quality antenatal care is therefore an important component of a comprehensive package of ECD services. The World Health Organisation sees antenatal care as, “an opportunity to promote the use of skilled attendance at birth and healthy  behaviours such as breastfeeding, early postnatal care, and planning for  optimal pregnancy spacing”.

In South Africa, access to quality antenatal care is not available to all women. Cost, inconvenience, stigma (sometimes related to teenage pregnancy or pregnancy out of wedlock) and inefficiency serve as hindrances to pregnant women’s desire and ability to access antenatal care. iMobiMaMa, the brain child of Dr. Carol Thomas, intends to mitigate these factors, increase access to quality antenatal care and, as a result provide, the ideal foundation for a child’s early learning. It also provides an opportunity for job creation.

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Mapping Southern-Africa's word-gap (3 November 2016)

babywearinglenavestWe learn to walk by watching others walk. We learn to talk in a similar manner. When it comes to the opportunities to do the latter, however, the odds are sometimes stacked against us. Specifically, research suggests that children raised in poorer socioeconomic areas are also raised in poorer linguistic environments, and this has implications for their ability to understand, speak and make sense of their world.

 However, we have little or no evidence of this “word gap” in Africa. A new technology, allows us to address this gap by analyzing children’s linguistic environments.

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On Learning from Failure (1 November 2016)

image of 9Needs“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” – Bill Gates, 1995

The greatest opportunity for learning comes from the instances where things do not go as planned. Our unsuccessful attempt to use crowdsourcing as a means of identifying and mapping community-based ECD services is a case in point.

In partnership with Code for South Africa, the Innovation Edge worked to find a method of locating ECD centres that are not currently known to the Department of Social Development (the Department responsible for registering, supporting and monitoring ECD), with the ultimate aim of keeping children safe and improving the quality of service provision.

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hearScreen: A case study in repurposing ideas (12 Aug 2016)

hearScreen

This year, at the South African Innovation Summit, we will be challenging innovators to adapt their existing ideas so that they benefit children under age 6.  For example, a mobile application game can be used to teach the basics of early development to parents; or a data geo-mapping programme can be adapted to track the services provided to children. From our own work, a successful adaptation of an innovative idea to an early learning application is our project (and SAIS 2015 pitching den winner) hearScreen.  Here’s how it happened.  

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Nominate Africa's next ECD leader

We are excited to announce that we are taking nominations for the next cohort of Global Leaders for Young Children Africa run by the World Forum Foundation and in collaboration with the African Early Childhood Network (AfECN).  The Innovation Edge will be sponsoring two Global Leaders to participate in the 2016-2018 cohort.

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9Needs

9Needs

9Needs

In Her Words: Ncumisa tells us about ECD in her community (3rd Oct 2016)

We believe that an important part of how we discuss our work is not only presenting technology and process, but the insights into the lives of the real people behind the innovation. This is the story of ECD centre owner Ncumisa. Some insights into her life, and her thoughts on early childhood development (ECD) centres, add immense value to our thinking around innovations to better her life, her centre and hence the lives of the children in her care. 

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Why we are innovating to safeguard children's identities

(By Lyndsey Petro, 26 August 2016) 

Have you ever asked someone what makes up their identity or thought about what makes up yours?  Some of the things that may come to mind are family, community, personality and occupation. And what is it exactly that makes you a person? Perhaps it’s your ability to interact with others, to learn, to love. As people, we think of our identities as very personal and subjective configurations of who we are. And ownership of that identity, is most definitely with us, the individual.

If we think in more practical terms, there are a number of things that give us ‘recognised’ identities. Birth certificates and identity documents register us legitimate people in the eyes of governments and a host of other organisations. Various manifestations of these types of documents grant us access to privileges and services; access to social grants, ability to open up a bank account etc. There are certain things we simply cannot do without proof of our identities.

As we navigate life and various institutions, we also build up these identities; like our identity CVs, and various links are made to construct a picture of this identity. For example, our identity number is associated with our credit record and our credit record impacts our ability to access credit in the future. 

Importantly, when it comes to ownership of these documents, it is the issuing authorities, not the individual themselves, who can claim ownership.

The importance of identity management becomes particularly evident when it comes to young children in marginalised communities.  

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Renewable energy: a resource for early childhood development

REIPP blog9Needs is innovating smarter ways to connect children to education, health services and social benefits, using mobile decentralised applications (mDApps). Through this innovative technology, incentives can also be offered for caregivers to ensure that their children participate in developmental opportunities, such as community playgroups and pre-school programmes.

At the same time, mDApps are a revolutionary way of collecting information about how the services are being delivered and what results these are achieving. This provides proof for the benefits of socio-economic development investments. The data can then inform further development and can be used by social impact investors and service providers to plan and manage for development results.

Children in the communities around Renewable Energy projects, such as solar and wind farms, live in some of the most remote and under-serviced locations in the country. These children should now be given a much better start in life because they can benefit from the companies who operate these projects, through the Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP).

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Digital wallets put the power of personal information in your hands

ID IOWhen it comes to accessing health and education services for children, identity documents and personal information are important. Registering a child’s birth and giving them a name establishes a child’s right to their identity. This becomes an assertion of his or her existence in society. It also determines what other rights, privileges and opportunities the person gets to enjoy, or to be excluded from. This includes being allowed to access and participate in the range of services and benefits that they will need to construct their life and their future. For instance, being registered to attend educational services that are appropriate to their age and stage of learning.

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Giving little minds the Innovation Edge

9Needs is one of the first recipients of an innovation grant from The Innovation Edge. We will use this grant to demonstrate how Decentralised Applications (DApps), built using new computing technology, can help organise, replicate and scale up interventions for Early Childhood Development (ECD).

The Innovation Edge offers a platform for testing the feasibility and effectiveness of Bold Ideas that can fundamentally change early life experiences for children - to give them the best possible start, right from the start.

The 2015 World Development Report describes how children in poor families differ dramatically from children in richer families with regards to their cognitive abilities. The differences have powerful and enduring consequences for these children’s future health, well-being, education and survival, often resulting in an enormous loss of loss of human potential.

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ABFAB

ABFAB

ABFAB

Social Impact Bond

Social Impact Bond

Bertha

The impact fund secures government procurement! (Dec 15, 2015)

Mom_and_baby_social-impact_bondsBy Dr Susan De Witt, Programme Co-ordinator

We are ending the year on a positive note - after many delays the Departments of Health (DoH) and Social Development(DSD) have decided to split the procurement for the Impact Bond Innovation Fund. Under this agreement, DOH will contract community health workers focusing on the first 1000 days. Read more ...

Evaluating the model (June 22, 2015)

IBheaderThe Impact Bond Innovation Fund (IBIF) design is in the process of being evaluated by the political and bureaucratic decision makers in the province before any further work is done on the model. Those decision-making bodies include the Provincial Cabinet, the Adexco responsible for Provincial Strategic Goal 3, and the Provincial Treasury. If approval is granted for funds to be released from the DSD and DOH budgets then the next steps will entail designing the procurement and M&E processes and raising private funding to match that granted by the state.

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Collaborative design key for Innovation Fund

Betha 1

The Innovative Finance Initiative recently hosted a service provider workshop for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Impact Bond Innovation Fund that gathered about 35 representatives from a range of ECD organizations and the Western Province Departments of Health and Social Development. Items on the agenda included discussing fund progress to date, exploring how service providers can prepare themselves to participate in the fund and collecting feedback to inform the design process.

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Outcomes for Impact Bond Innovation Fund

The key question that we continually return to when evaluating the inclusion of outcomes on the ratecard concerns the ultimate impact we are trying to achieve.

We have chosen a long list of potential outcomes according to a number of criteria and numerous public and private sector consultations. The criteria include government priorities, availability of existing baselines, measurability, achievability by service providers within timeframes and evidence around future impact.

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Impact Bond Innovation Fund update

The year has started with a number of key meetings and breakthroughs with regards to the ongoing design of the Impact Bond Innovation Fund. We held our 3rd steering committee meeting at the Public Policy Unit in Dorp Street this week and generated a fruitful discussion amongst the Departments of Health (DOH) and Social Development (DSD) representatives attending the process.

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hearScreen

hearScreen

hearScreen

Testing hearScreen in Mamelodi, Pretoria (22 March 2016)

By Lelanie Steyn, NEA Foundation 

Charles and Caroline hearScreen has been working with the NEA Foundation and the Mamelodi community, outside Pretoria, to do the initial round of testing of the hearScreen mobile application. The project kicked off at the start of the year and its success has been in large due to the help and support we have received from the Mamelodi community.  

We came into Mamelodi with the full understanding that the people living and working there have a much richer and nuanced understanding of what is needed and what are the best ways to get things done.  Our first priority was to connect with role players to guide us on how to communicate the goals of the project to the community. 

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Testing for hearing loss goes mobile with hearScreen

HearscreenHearing loss in young children can easily go undetected – especially if the children in question don’t have access to medical screening, which is frequently the case for children living in remote or marginalised communities. Now imagine if testing hearing loss was as easy as holding a phone up to your ear and the results were as reliable as the tests conducted by audiologists in a medical facilities. The opportunities for early detection of hearing difficulties make us very excited!

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Mothers Matter

Mothers Matter

Mothers Matter

Engaging waiting spaces (3rd October 2016)

Together from the Beginning is a 13-minute video card intended to promote ‘equipped waiting’ for pregnant women in clinics. The dual aim of the card is to make the waiting experience more pleasant, but most importantly to impart knowledge on the first 1000 days of life.

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Workflow Boards

Workflow
Boards 

NAG Project

Taking the boards to KZN's uMkhayakude district (22 March 2016)

uMKhanyakude activation

By: Thembi Sikobi

“I supposed it is tempting if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” -Abraham Maslow

The initial training on the workflow board for ECD massification in Umkhanyakude was held over two days in November 2015 and the success of that initial round of training provided just the right amount of momentum and anticipation and needed to return to the district in 2016 on a positive note.

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The boards inspire action in KZN (7 January 2015)

Jamboree in uMzinyatiIn our last update about the workflow board training in KZN's uMzinyathi district, we were happy to report that the social workers were pretty enthusiastic about the prospect of working with the boards. Well, just over a month later and we are even happier to report that that initial burst of enthusiasm has been followed by a burst of activity! 

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The boards are moving! (3 Nov 2015)

uMzinyathi WorkshopWe can't impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.” -Donella H. Meadows

We recently trained social workers in KZN's uMzinyathi district to use the work flow boards and the level of interest and commitment shown by all levels blew us away! The Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) were also there for both training days, which was unique to uMzinyathi training. The EHPs are a key part of the partial care registration process because they are responsible for the health and safety check - often a blockage in the registration process! The EHP's attendance brought about quick solutions to challenges experienced by social workers. 

One of the observations that prompted quite a bit of discussion was that the work flow board clearly distinguishes in each step with whom responsibility lies. As opposed to social workers shouldering the burden of the entire partial care registration process. 

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One common goal (Oct 6, 2015)

Workflow update 1(By Thembi Sikobi)

All parties involved in the workflow boards project share a common goal: to provide the marginalized in society with adequate and acceptable early childhood learning. We live in South Africa’s second most populous province. And while KZN has the second highest general population, it has the largest population of children aged between 0 and 4. Furthermore, with regards to rural-urban distribution, in 2012, 62% of children in KZN lived in rural areas. The interest and the need for intervention to improve efficiciency for registering ECD centres is high.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly (Aug 24, 2015)

Nag blogThe workflow boards project’s introduction phase consisted mostly of initial visits to service offices where we were able to observe the nuances involved in everyday working lives for social workers.

One thing we are sure of is that each Department of Social Development (DSD) service office across the KwaZulu-Natal province provides the same services. But at some offices there are greater challenges.

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Neuro

Neuro

Neuro

Building better brains: what the science says (Aug 21, 2015)

NeuronsThe human brain is an immensely complex organ with a blueprint that includes 86 billion neurons and around one quadrillion synapses. While our genes provide the blueprint for brain development, the environment shapes it.

Neuroscientific research has shed light on the importance of the first few years for brain development, which happens shortly after conception and progresses rapidly in the first few years of life, where neurons form new connections at a rate of 700-1000 per second. That’s faster than a viral tweet from the Oscars spreading through the twitterverse!

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Building the brain game (June 29, 2015)

brain game

A child’s early years are the most important for brain development. During the first 1,000 days, enduring stress on children is particularly damaging and leaves its mark for life. Children need the correct care and support during this period, which sets them up to grow into healthy adults who are able to cope with life pressures like social tension, physical challenges, and school or job-related stress. Developments in neuroscience illustrate the importance of the first 1,000 days for brain development. But there is a need for ways to explain these findings in a way that is accessible to policymakers, parents, teachers, and anyone who is interested in Early Childhood Development.

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Development of a South African Developmental Neuroscience Research Translation Initiative

Neuroscience has fundamentally changed the way we understand ECD. These changes entail a new appreciation of:

  • Early childhood as a critically formative period of brain development.
  • The extent to which early social conditions, especially social adversity (poverty), become biologically embedded in the developing brain with profound lifelong consequences for individuals and society alike.
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MomConnect

MomConnect ECD

MomConnect

Extending MomConnect for ECD: where it began (12 April 2016)

By Lauren Kotze, Programme Manager, Praekelt Foundation

  

Praekelt Foundation is one of the key technology partners in MomConnect, a groundbreaking National Department of Health initiative. This project supports maternal health through the use of cell phone based technologies and was launched as the official national maternal mHealth service in South Africa in August 2014. Since then over 750,000 mothers have been registered on the platform, and it continues to grow.

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Project Enable

Project Enable

Project Enable

What we learnt during our week in a start-up incubator (22 March 2016)

By Basheera Surty, Founder: Diketo Inclusive Education 

Our paper-based mobisite

A group of motivated problem solvers with an interest in disability met at a hackathon and hit it off! What started as a two-day mission to solve a problem resulted in an effort to come together as a team to realise the vision of inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood learning. That’s the back story to Project Enable.   

 

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FARR

FARR

FARR

Gaming for good (4 July 2016)

PC game vector  By: Jaco Louw, Team Leader 

Computer games have come a long way from arcade machines and basic home computers. These days it is a multi-billion dollar industry going head to head with blockbuster movies in terms of revenue and public appeal. Games can however be much more than mere entertainment. More and more people are realising the enormous potential games have to help with learning.

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What they don't tell you about game development... (10 Feb 2016)

The lesser talked about part of an exciting project like ours is the neuro science research behind it. Yes, we agree that “I am building a computer game for children with foetal alcohol syndrome” probably makes a slightly bigger splash when casually dropped into a conversation than “Have you heard about the new repositioning of executive functions of the frontal lobe?”.  It may not be fair, but there you go.

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Finally we can see the scaffolding

Game DesignerThe development of the pilot for our game is proceeding at a fast pace. Too fast sometimes to be honest! We are forcing ourselves to reign in our enthusiasm and not push out the final version of the game.  To truly have a theory-based game, it is necessary to test our assumptions before we cement changes in place. Hence the piloting phase.

After a significant amount of further research (including an article about ferrets...) into the different areas of disability and how we can exercise them, the game now has a preliminary structure and tasks of increasing difficulty. It's been tricky to translate different tasks into one control scheme and these design choices still have to be validated. Conceptually though, everything appears to be ready for piloting.

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Coding starting soon

Coding FARR(By Jaco Louw, Aug 17, 2015)

The computer game I am developing, which will be used to improve the intellectual functioning of children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is starting to take shape. At the moment it is still a mock-up made with clip art, but the coding will be starting soon. The different stages and tasks are falling into place and there is a lot of interest in the project from outside of FARR (Foundation for Alcohol Related Research) and the project’s funders.

I was fortunate enough to attend training at Maastricht University in the Netherlands in July, and had the opportunity to discuss my ideas with a PhD student there who is also working on cognitive training. The exchange of ideas has brought a lot of valuable information and helped me to refine the set-up of the game.

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Hitting the books

Hitting the booksOver the past weeks, project lead Jaco Louw has had his nose in the books. He is doing an extensive review of the available literature on neuroplasticity -- the brain’s ability to change and form new neural connections -- and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which is caused when mothers drink during pregnancy.

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Engaging Spaces

Waiting Spaces

supermarkets

Language in Clinics (11 Feb 2016)

By Carol Cashion, South Africa Partners 

clinicposter

The plan for the Sifunda Ngokuthetha project is to introduce talking points in all public waiting spaces - turning them into engaging spaces. We dubbed our first phase of action as Language in the Supermarket and phase two saw us morphing into Language in the Clinic.

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Language in the Supermarket: more lessons (24 November, 2015)

By Mpho Plaatjie, Education Programme Officer, Masibumbane Development Organisation

After looking at results from our first impact assessment, the Sifunda Ngokuthetha project team made some adjustments to our approach and asked the evaluators to return for a second round of observations.  We identified challenges around language use and the selection of items featured in the signage.  Signs were redesigned to feature both isiXhosa and English, and items such as porridge and white meal/flour were added in addition to the fruit, vegetable, and bakery sections. 

In round one we found that our signage faced competition from a “store birthday” campaign that may have created too many distractions to allow the conversation-prompting signs to be noticed, and the observations were done during an extremely busy time in the store.

The second round took off well and with lot of enthusiasm from the observers.  The environment and atmosphere was more relaxed, and continued negotiations with the store manager helped with this.

When the team arrived, the store was a bit quiet, but the store manager had forewarned us about that and we were not disappointed.  On the positive side the observers had a chance to see and hear more fully what was going on between caregivers and children. The observers were scattered around the store in the areas where we had placed the signs, and changed their observing positions in intervals, making customers less curious or suspicious about their presence in the store. Children up to age 9 were observed and we began to see children initiating conversation in response to the signs prompts.

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Lessons from the field (22 September, 2015)

Supermarket lead(By Glynnis Martin, director of the Psychological Services Centres at the University of Fort Hare, East London).

The evaluation team from the University of Fort Hare (Psychological Services Centre) has recently completed the first phase of evaluating  the “Sifunda Ngokuthetha” project. The study aims to evaluate the impact of a language intervention that encourages parent-child interaction, by placing signs that encourage dialogue between them, within a supermarket. It forms part of an overall evaluation of similar interventions in different settings within a low socio-economic context within South Africa. 

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Questions of scale: share your thoughts

supermarket spinachOur research partners from the University of Fort Hare recently conducted a baseline observational assessment of caregiver/child pairs at the pilot supermarket site in Duncan Village. After observing the interactions of over 50 pairs, our signs were mounted in the bakery and vegetable sections of the market, and the team then returned for the follow-up observations that will generate data to show us whether or not the presence of the conversation-prompting signs increases the number and quality of interactions.

While we await the analysis of this data and begin planning for the second phase of the project in local health clinics, we can’t help but look down the road and begin to ask a new set of questions. We invite readers to weigh in with responses, ideas and questions of their own! Please share your thoughts with us.

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We Learn by Talking Together (June 23, 2015)

SunWe are happy to announce that our project now has an official name, Sifunda Ngokuthetha (We Learn By Talking Together). Our task this month was to design the signage for Phase One, the supermarket. The kind of enriched caregiver/child interactions we hope to promote can – and should! – be initiated by either a child or an adult. We worked to design appealing signs that will catch the attention of both.

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ELOM

ELOM

ELOM

Piloting the ELOM (Aug 10, 2015)

ELOM resizeThe development of the Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM) has made good progress. In this primary phase of the project, the objective has been to prepare a content validated tool for age validation in a range of communities.

We have followed four steps in this process.

The first was to select Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS) and indicators for children eligible for entry to Grade R (turning 60 months prior to July in the year of admission).

Criteria for inclusion of a standard and indicator in a domain were:

1. It is represented with high frequency in South African regional and other international ELDS pertinent to the ages in question
2. It has a good fit with one of the selected domains (above)
3. It is aligned with the South African curriculum and standards approach
4. It is not in the South African ELDS but fills a gap in what is locally available and is necessary to assess for entry to Grade R without developmental disadvantage.

 

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Are SA’s children prepared for Grade R?

ELOMThere is much anticipation every year around the publication of the matric (Grade 12) results in South Africa. These determine how well young South Africans have done as they leave school. But matric outcomes are based in large part on the skills these young people developed (or didn’t develop) before they even started school.

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Ukonga Stokvels

Ukonga
Stokvels

Ukonga

The ECD Dream Team (10 February 2016)

By Lucy O'Keeffe, Director: Ubunye Foundation 

Training the ECD Champs - Our Dream Team

The start of 2016 saw Project Ukonga move from the drawing board to action.  We now have our dream team of ECD champions - 14 people from the Eastern Cape and Gauteng who have agreed to champion the ECD cause in the stokvels (or savings groups, for uninitiated).

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Insights into SA Parents' Hopes and Dreams for their Children

Focus Group Underway in ECAs part of the initial research phase of the project, we conducted five focus groups in the rural Eastern Cape and five in Gauteng province with savings group members who are also primary caregivers of children under the age of seven years.

Using an Appreciative Inquiry approach, we wanted to find out how participants think about childhood, parenting and the learning needs of their young children.  We plan on using the insights to build on existing strengths within communities and informing the development of the ECD messaging and activities to be delivered to savings groups at their monthly meetings.

It was interesting to note the different rural versus urban dynamics among the groups. The urban groups mostly had a 100% attendance rate and were more engaged in the discussions, whilst the rural groups tended to be unused to the workshop set-up and preferred to receive rather than to give information or opinions. Nevertheless our trained ECD practitioners managed to glean a lot of really valuable information.

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Stokvels: a valuable platform for ECD

Ukonga 1At first glance, stokvels (shared savings clubs) and early childhood development might seem like unusual partners. But due to their popularity in South Africa, stokvels offer a valuable social capital platform that can be leveraged to provide caregivers with valuable early learning practices and tools to share with their children.

South Africa’s stokvel market is big. In 2011, more than 800,000 stokvels were operating in the country with approximately 11.4 million members, according to a study by research company African Response. The 2014 figures from African Response indicate that stokvel membership is at 8.6 million members, which represents 23 percent of the country’s adult population.

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WAZI ECD

WAZI ECD

WAZI

WAZI

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