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Archive | hantam diary 2012

HCET strategy against FASD

THE HCET’s three-pronged strategy for combating Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) was outlined at a national conference in Cape Town recently.

FASD encompasses a range of mental and physical birth disorders caused by excessive alcohol consumption by pregnant women. It damages many children in disadvantaged communities, especially in rural areas.

A FASD Task Team – previously a FAS working group – has been active in the Western Cape since 2001. Its spreads the message that FASD is 100 per cent irreversible, but also 100 per cent preventable (when pregnant women do not drink). It also promotes the message that pregnant women should not drink at all.

The Task Team held a national conference in Cape Town in September, aimed at exploring practical approaches to FASD interventions. It was attended by Lesley Osler, the HCET’s project co-ordinator, and Estelle Jacobs, its project manager.

Community workshops

Spelling out the HCET’s school-family-community approach, Estelle said FAS formed part of the Life Orientation curriculum for grade 6–9 learners. FAS field workers visited farm workers in their homes and also staged community workshops where both men and women were alerted to the dangers of alcohol abuse by pregnant women.

Learners affected by FASD attended special classes where they received intensive individual attention from trainers utilising specialised techniques, and were allowed to develop at their own pace.

They were eventually steered towards a youth development programme aimed at giving them the skills they needed to enter into employment, and become responsible adults.

HCET contributes to Carnegie 3

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).

hcet at carnegie 3

Les Osler with the conference director, Prof Francis Wilson.

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.

Key factors

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’.

Trust plays key role in supporting its graduates

hcet at think tank
A SENIOR HCET manager has highlighted the vital role played by the Trust in guiding its graduates through tertiary education and advanced skills training up to the start of their working careers.

Addressing a think-tank on youth skills development, job creation and unemployment, Estelle Jacobs, the HCET’s project manager, said this was essential in order to help graduates choose a career and deal with unfamiliar challenges and pressures.

The think-tank was organised by the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, and held in Cape Town in July. It was attended by education experts, development practitioners and representatives of funding agencies.

Introducing the think-tank, Rhoda Kadalie, Impumelelo’s executive director, said there was cause for great concern about South Africa’s youth. The education system was deteriorating. About three million youths were unemployed, poorly educated and poorly skilled. Impumelelo wanted to hear from organisations which had achieved some success in getting youths into employment, and could therefore provide pointers to how these trends could be reversed.

Estelle said the Trust placed learners in three broad groups. The first comprised learners who were capable of getting good matric passes and advancing to tertiary education or advanced skills training. The Trust took them to Bloemfontein for aptitude tests – which state schools no longer offered – and helped them decide on a field of study. Many of them were given bursaries.

Peer pressure

Following this, their progress was tracked on a monthly basis. ‘So we retain close ties with these students. When they have a problem we encourage them to phone us. Among other things, peer pressure is a major problem for children from the rural areas in particular. We motivate them, support them, counsel them, and try to give them the life skills they did not necessarily get at home.’

The second group comprised children with poor matrics who could not get into an FET college or tertiary institutions. These youths were directed to skills a programme, currently comprising auxiliary social worker course and a one-year hospitality services course at a dedicated Trust facility in Colesberg.

Some Grade 9 graduates were taken on as ECD interns, and sent for formal training. After completing their courses, the Trust sought to place them in other ECD centres.

The third group comprised children with learning barriers, often because of foetal alcohol syndrome and other family problems. Placing them in jobs they were capable of doing required an intimate knowledge of these learners and their abilities. Some did shadow work on farms. Many lacked self-confidence, and needed to be guided and mentored.