THE DEVELOPMENT of previously disadvantaged communities is a lengthy and complex process which could collapse at any point if participants waver in their commitment to any of its aspects, including the deployment of resources.
These were among the main points made by Lesley Osler, the HCET’s project co-ordinator, in a presentation to the conference starting off the third Carnegie inquiry into poverty and inequality in South Africa, held in Cape Town in June 2012.
She was one of four panelists at a session on Early Childhood Development. The others were Chris Desmond (HSRC), David Harris (D G Murray Trust), and Eric Atmore (Centre for Early Childhood Development).
Presenting lessons drawn from the 23 years of the HCET, Osler said the project began as a pre-school play group aimed at preparing farm workers’ children for Grade 1, based on the assumption that effective engagement with formal education would provide them with the best route out of poverty. This was confirmed by subsequent experience.
The project eventually grew into a multidimensional development programme as it became clear that schooling needed to be amplified by effective parenting, health care and education, and ongoing support for graduates.
Adult literacy classes, general skills training, and the training of teachers at state schools in suport of curriculum reform elsewhere in the region proved to be largely unsuccessful and unsustainable.
A careful scrutiny of the trajectories of HCET graduates who had passed through further education and training (FET) or higher education (HE) and started working careers showed that the following factors played a key role in their development, and therefore the success of the project:
- intensive early childhood education, aimed at preparing children for formal education;
- support for learners in their homes;
- high-quality primary and secondary schooling;
- ongoing coaching and professional development of teachers;
- community participation in school governance; and
- sustained support for and mentorship of HCET graduates moving on to FET and HE.
Another important factor, she added, was ‘sustained attention and commitment to personal and professional excellence among project staff’.