Improving Early Childhood Development

By Nandi Majola

She might be in a leadership position but there is nothing intimidating about Guilietta Harrison’s presence. As Director at the Centre for Social Development (CSD) she exudes warmth when she invites me into her office. Harrison, also a PhD student, recently submitted her thesis and as a newly appointed staff member, provides her insights on teacher-training and the initiatives of the CSD.

Harrison was a teacher in Early Childhood Development (ECD) for 27 years. There is a motherliness about her that is complemented by a genuine understanding of what young children need. Her passion for ECD has seen her hold management positions at various schools and also run her own school for a few years.

Harrison has practical experience in teaching but also comes from a strong research background. For her Masters she focused on how children learn and emotional intelligence (EQ). Her aim was to understand how teachers become more emotionally intelligent and how children’s EQ can be developed. Before Harrison joined the CSD, she held a part-time lecturing position at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The CSD was established in Grahamstown 32 years ago to create ECD centres as a way of uplifting the community. The CSD has expanded its focus and now provides training to ECD practitioners in Grahamstown. For Harrison, an important goal of the CSD is to help local teachers learn how to be efficient in their practise.

“It is all fine and well to qualify teachers, but if you don’t provide mentorship and ongoing support and stimulation, a lot of training goes to waste because they don’t feel sufficiently enthusiastic or supported,” says Harrison.

One of the ways in which the CSD provides support to the community is through in-service training. This means that teachers who are already practising at ECD centres are provided with formal training to get the help that they need. The CSD is also instrumental in organising community development training, bringing the roles of the ECD practitioners and the community development practitioner together to work together.

CSD’s other successful initiative has been the toy library at the Joza Youth Hub, where teacher training is also provided. The toy library has provided opportunities for ECD practitioners to bring their children and run activities, while gaining new ideas for their schools. The CSD is involved in running workshops for parents so they can understand their role in relation to their child’s school and learning.

As an EQ advocate, Harrison emphasises its potential in transforming the relationship between children and their teachers. Having an understanding of EQ means that teachers adopt a different approach to the way in which they teach.

“You help them to explore their feelings and you recognise that they have feelings – and that you as an educator have feelings. It feeds into one’s approach in the classroom that instead of it being this

negative punishing perspective, it is about recognising the qualities of the learner as an individual and celebrating those and feeding those so that they can realise their potential,” says Harrison.

Harrison is determined to rid society of the notion that ECD is not important. “Sadly, the attitude in society is that working in ECD is a glorified babysitting job; that essentially, it is just nannies looking after little ones,” says Harrison. However, she stresses the importance of its influence on a child’s development. “Those are the most important years in terms of the child’s growth of brain, their stimulation and their language development. If you … provide the right stimulation, you are setting the child on the road to realising their potential,” says Harrison.

According to Harrison, two main problems facing ECD centres in South Africa are inadequate training and a lack of mentorship opportunities for teachers to receive support.

“Contrary to popular belief, it is not about resources. You can equip a school with everything that is sparkly and shiny but that is not going to equal a good education. Good education comes with intelligence and understanding how children learn,” she says.

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