Early Years, Big Impact: Building Blocks of Brilliance through the Early Edge Empowerment Program

The ages of 0 – 6 years are much like a bustling construction site, not for buildings, but for young minds. Every interaction and every experience in the early years lays the foundation for a child’s future success. Sadly, in South Africa, many children face challenges that leave their foundations shaky. Poverty, limited access to quality education, and a lack of adequately trained Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners can hinder their potential. Early Childhood Development is a part of the education sector that has often been neglected, particularly in African contexts, until recent years. Given the crucial importance of foundational learning and our experience in developing Foundation Phase graduates, we decided it was time for us to walk the talk and design a program geared specifically towards ECD practitioners. They are educators after all, even if conventional nomenclature does not usually call them that. Enter our Early Edge Empowerment EduMentors.

The Blueprint: Addressing Critical Needs

Before we dive into the program’s magic, let’s paint a realistic picture of the South African ECD landscape. While progress has been made, it’s not enough. A 2021 ECD Census revealed only 34% of young children are enrolled in any ECD programming, highlighting a concerning access gap. Unequal funding and inconsistent quality, especially in rural areas, further complicate matters (World Bank, 2023).

These gaps translate into real consequences. Studies show that without quality ECD, children enter primary school with weaker language skills, limited social-emotional development, and higher risks of falling behind and never catching up. This can trap them in cycles of poverty and hinder their ability to reach their full potential into adulthood.

Empowering Hands, Building Strong Minds

The Early Edge Empowerment EduMentor program tackles these challenges with a two-pronged approach:

1. Building Skills and Knowledge: We’re identifying dedicated individuals and equipping them to become confident mentors for their peers. Think of them as future trainers, undergoing intensive 12-month training via the Upskill app and synchronous coaching sessions focused on developing adult instruction facilitation skills. They master essential areas like play-based learning, foundational literacy, effective observation and coaching techniques, delivery of practical PD, and data-driven classroom management. It’s like giving them a toolbox filled with knowledge to help shape and develop a powerful foundation for young minds.

2. Spreading the Knowledge: Once empowered, these mentors embark on their mission: supporting fellow practitioners en masse. They will deliver targeted Upskill-led training sessions, either in-person or online, focusing on implementing play-based learning and fostering strong literacy skills. Essentially multiplying that toolbox and paying it forward throughout the ECD practitioner ecosystem. This peer-to-peer approach creates a supportive community, ensuring the knowledge ripples outwards, impacting ECD practices across diverse contexts. It’s like building a network of knowledge that empowers not just individuals, but entire communities.

Our Edumentors have already started, with much excitement, collaboration, and brilliance among the inaugural cohort. In Johannesburg, we kicked off the program in our Braamfontein campus for Gauteng-based EduMentors. Our EduMentors based out of Gauteng experienced an online orientation. Both cohorts have experienced sessions on play-based learning, creating deliberate practice opportunities in PD sessions, and promoting executive functions in students. After only two sessions, I’ve been blown away by the ingenuity and innovation of the EduMentors and their ability to immediately apply lessons learned in sessions to their actual classroom experiences. 

Beyond Skills: Play, Literacy, and a Brighter Future

The program goes beyond just teaching new skills. It champions play-based learning, knowing it’s crucial for holistic child development. Imagine classrooms of 3-5 year olds, buzzing with creative exploration, problem-solving through play, and joyful learning – fertile ground for well-rounded individuals prepared for academic success.

Foundational Literacy is another core focus. With 81% of Grade 4 learners struggling with reading for meaning (PIRLS), the need for robust early literacy development is undeniable. Before children walk into Grade R classrooms. The program equips EduMentors with strategies to support practitioners in fostering early literacy skills through engaging activities, nurturing a love for language, and laying the foundation for lifelong learning. It’s like giving each child a key to unlock a world of knowledge and opportunity.

Building Lives, Not Just Statistics

The program’s impact transcends numbers. By empowering ECD practitioners and igniting a passion for play and literacy, it contributes to:

  • Breaking cycles of poverty: When children receive quality ECD, they’re better equipped to succeed in school and life, improving their chances of breaking free from poverty.
  • Promoting social mobility: Quality ECD levels the playing field, giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds a better chance to reach their full potential.
  • Building a brighter future: By investing in young minds, we invest in the future of South Africa, creating a generation of confident, resilient, and knowledgeable individuals.

It’s a testament to the power of education to transform lives and communities. It’s a call to action to join us in building a brighter future, one curious young mind at a time. 

We are deeply indebted to our partner, Innovation Edge, for helping us launch the Early Edge Empowerment Program. We are looking forward to more collaborative programming with them with a target of supporting 10,000 ECD practitioners in South Africa through programming powered by Upskill in 2024.