Preschool Education for Black South African Children: A Descriptive Study of 32 Educare Centers

Article excerpt

The education of young African children in South Africa was ignored during apartheid. In response, groups of African women, many lacking formal education or knowledge of early childhood education (ECE) practices, established private preschools called Educare centers in urban areas, townships, and rural homelands. In 1995, nongovernment organizations with assistance from USAID began training Educare teachers. An evaluation of 32 Educare facilities was conducted to assess the relationship of this training to improved ECE practices. Overall, the training was found to improve Educare teachers' ability to provide a healthy, safe environment and appropriate learning experiences for children. This article reports on that study, describing the deprived conditions found at most centers but also highlighting the incredible dedication of Educare teachers and staff.

In most industrialized nations, the care and welfare of young children is seen as a basic social right (Lubeck, 1991). Throughout the industrialized world, preschool services are provided in a variety of settings including home-based care, public and private child care centers, worksite centers, and public schools. In new or developing nations, however, early childhood education-indeed, education generally-typically is provided to only a privileged few, not the masses. According to Pollitt (1984), explicit literacy-nurturing activities are not part of the early childhood experience of most poor children in developing countries. As these nations move toward more widespread empowerment of their populations, they usually experience the need to become more inclusive in their educational policies. At that point, policymakers in these nations, and the nations that support them, require information on how best, given limited resources, to implement and sustain educational programs for citizens ranging from the youngest toddlers to the oldest adult learners.

One major educational policy issue facing new and developing nations involves early childhood education (ECE). As these nations move to establish stable social and economic environments, their policymakers must consider the impact of ECE on national progress. In effect, they must determine the educational as well as societal and economic benefits for the nation when very young children are afforded meaningful learning experiences. Myers (1991) cautions that the schools, families, and social institutions in nonindustrialized, Third World countries differ from those in industrialized, Western nations in significant ways. The causal mechanisms that seem to work in the United States or Europe, he notes, may or may not work in nations where large classes, an inadequate number of school places, scanty instructional resources, and minimally trained teachers are the norm. Nonetheless, research indicates that the quality of early schooling has a significant effect on poor children's primary school progress and performance (Haddad, 1979; Heyneman & Loxey, 1983; Schiefelbein & Farrell, 1978).

For example, McKey, Condelli, Ganson, McConkey, and Plantz (1985) and Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikert (1993) report that children attending Head Start, an ECE program for poor children in the United States, showed both immediate and continual improvement in their intellectual and socioemotional performance and health. Zill, Collins, West, and Hausken's (1995) research links attending Head Start, prekindergarten, or other centerbased preschool programs to higher emerging literacy scores. They further contend that the benefit of preschool attendance accrues to children from both high-risk and low-risk family backgrounds. Reporting empirical evidence about the effects of the School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP) for four-year-old African American and Hispanic children, Champagne (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990) notes that these preschool students' performance improved significantly on all subtests of the Cooperative Primary Preschool Inventory. …


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