Vocational training teams give kids an edge
Top: Vocational training teams from districts 7980 and 9400 meet in Rustenburg, South Africa. Bottom: Bertha Mohube and Elaine Serekwane of the South African vocational training team speak with children at the Housatonic Community College Laboratory School about a book they presented, written in their heart language of Setswana. Photos courtesy of Laurie Noe
Vocational training teams from Rustenburg, South Africa (District 9400), and Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (District 7980), have discovered that their communities share surprisingly similar challenges when it comes to early childhood education.
“Both areas face similar hardships of poverty, disintegrating families, poor health, and low parental and childhood literacy,” says Barbara Welles-Nystrom, associate professor of early childhood education at Fairfield University in Connecticut, who led the U.S. team’s visit to South Africa in January. The South African team traveled to the United States in March.
The teams of early childhood educators, both sponsored by Future Vision pilot districts, learned firsthand about the challenges of teaching young children in rural villages near Rustenburg and in urban Bridgeport, and shared best practices in areas including preschool curriculum, facilities, and community support. Funded by a US$35,625 Rotary Foundation Global Grant, the project will also include online teacher training. It supports the basic education and literacy area of focus.
The U.S. team visited seven preschools run by the Royal Bafokeng Institute, which was established by the Royal Bafokeng Nation to support early childhood education in its ethnic homeland.
“With our South African colleagues, we had many exchanges of ideas [on] how to develop better leadership and management of early childhood education programs that will benefit children and their families, including children at risk, so that all children will be better prepared for formal education,” says Welles-Nystrom, a member of the Rotary Club of Fairfield, outside Bridgeport. “We have learned about the challenges facing our colleagues in respect to HIV/AIDS and the difficult situations regarding substandard housing and hygiene, as well as the general poverty of families in the area.”
Enlisting the help of grandparents
During its trip to Connecticut, the South African team visited preschools, child care centers, workshops, and parent programs. Team member Bertha Mohube, a Bafokeng preschool supervisor, is accustomed to teaching classes, helping to prepare meals for students, and overseeing the maintenance of her school building — broader responsibilities than those of her U.S. counterparts. She says the 40 children in her care would benefit from more adult help at school, but most of their parents are in their teens.
Fellow team member Sean Tunmer, program manager for the Royal Bafokeng Institute, agrees with the need, adding, “We have a very strong community of grandparents who are willing to help out in the schools.” He calls that generation an “untapped source.”
Tunmer says quality teacher training is also essential, which is why Bafokeng teachers attend weekly professional development workshops. During their visit to Bridgeport, the South Africans tried out teacher training modules at Housatonic Community College. Educators in both countries will use the online courses to become certified in early childhood education.
Reflecting on the exchange, Welles-Nystrom says, “We are committed to continuing this important collaboration and have begun to plan for future training and research projects.”
Adds fellow U.S. team member Laurie Noe, associate professor of early childhood education at Housatonic, “We are all looking forward to a long relationship that will benefit the children in both communities.”
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