Early Education Policy: a Perspective from South Africa

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Caldwell, an international consultant and leader in Montessori education, living in South Africa. We discussed the issues of quality and access in early childhood education in her country as well as some of her professional goals and ideas. Below you will find the interview in its entirety:

Sharon Caldwell

What issues regarding quality and early childhood professionals are being discussed where you live and work?

ECD is a big issue in South Africa at present. I have been attending meetings (both national and provincial) where policies for a comprehensive “ECD package” are being discussed. Most children in South Africa live in conditions of extreme policy and ECD is seen as a panacea – if we can only get this sorted out then all other problems will be solved. Of course this is not realistic but there is a sense of desperation. A “complete package” entails not only education (i.e. developmental support) but also health care, food security etc.

Here is a link to a resource that can give the details of the conditions in SA http://www.ci.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1070&Itemid=492

One of the issues is that there are currently no real training requirements for people working with very young children. Theoretically you should have a qualification on our National Qualifications Framework (NQF) but in reality the need is so extreme that anyone can open an informal daycare. So the most burning requirement is to get training for EC professionals. There are quality requirements applied in terms of the regulations under the children’s act but in situations where people are living in shacks, where there is no running water or sewerage, these requirements are pie in the sky. 

Currently the real focus of discussion is how to balance the various needs of young children and how to integrate the regulatory framework – some legislation is written from the point of view of health, others from the point of view of development etc and these sometimes contradict. 

What opportunities and/or requirements for professional development exist?

I suppose there are really two worlds — for people who can afford it there are training programs, conferences etc. Very little exists in the townships and rural areas. There are some excellent programs, but they are  a drop in the ocean. Funding is sporadic and difficult to access. 

What are some of your professional goals? What are some of your professional hopes, dreams, and challenges?

My most immediate goal is to complete my MEd. 

I would like to work more directly with children, or training. Working mostly online, and most of my interaction is with people in the USA and Far East  –  and often feel quite out  of touch with the real world of South Africa. I don’t know how this would happen. I would love to be able to do Montessori elementary training in Bergamo. I’d like to design a Montessori professional development program based on an emergent curriculum / transformative paradigm rather than outcomes determined by external accreditation and certification requirements.

It is clear that many of the conversations regarding early childhood education are focused on the same topics in both South Africa and the United States. We struggle with the need to balance quality programming with the necessary volume of programming to ensure access for all families who need it. Our workforce faces challenges is getting formally educated as the financial barriers can be significant. I would like to see our global community work together more closely on sharing ideas and supporting one another in these early education initiatives being tackled throughout the world.

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~ by vegucationmama on December 15, 2013.

2 Responses to “Early Education Policy: a Perspective from South Africa”

  1. Thanks for sharing this information. It has helped me to understand that the issue of having access and equity in early childhood is something that is common to all other countries.

  2. WOW! That is so wonderful you were able to reach an international contact. It is interesting to know that there is no real requirements for people working with young children. Great information!

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