A new dawn in education for children of the Cape Winelands

by | Aug 16, 2021 | Article, News

Vulnerable children of the Cape Winelands facing potentially bleak early education prospects now have reason to hope – thanks to a pioneering new training campaign.

With the support of the wine industry, commercial agriculture, government and a wide range of partners, the Indaba Institute, just outside Stellenbosch, aims to train thousands of ECD teachers – mostly women – in communities of the Cape Winelands, and ultimately across South Africa.

Sadly, the Winelands, contrary to the more glamorous side seen by visitors and tourists, is often mired in dire poverty and violence. These women, in turn, will enhance the educational outcomes of more than 30 000 children across the region by 2025.

This intervention into impressionable young lives across the famously picturesque valleys, is driven by Andre Shearer, founder and chairman of the Indaba Institute, who has witnessed first-hand the alarmingly low levels of access to quality early care and Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes.

While pockets of quality ECD do exist, hundreds of ECD centres offer childcare which is woefully below quality standards.

“We believe the majority of South African children may never reach their full potential as a direct result of poverty and lack of adequate nutrition, health and education,” explains Shearer, who strongly believes that high-quality ECD can break the cycle – a view now shared by the South African government, which has prioritised quality ECD in the National Development Plan and successive national budgets.

CoRE learning

The Indaba Institute provides quality training of teachers based in the Winelands’ communities.  The teaching curriculum is based on the 110-year-old Montessorian education principles, and this is Southern Africa’s only teacher training centre accredited by the Association Montessori International (AMI).  AMI was founded by Maria Montessori and is the global steward of the Montessori educational approach developed over 100 years ago.

Over the past three months a group of teachers from Kayamandi in Stellenbosch have participated in this pioneering pilot programme – called “Community Rooted Education” (CoRE). These newly-trained women have now gone back out into their community to apply their newly acquired specialist knowledge in Montessori-based Early Childhood Development to the children from this low-income area.

“Our training enables teachers to become true observers of the child – to train their minds to understand the needs of the child and prepare an environment that serves children’s development,” says Shearer.

Shearer, who began importing virtually unknown South African wines into the United States of America in 1991 and has since built Cape Classics into the largest importer of SA wines in the US, has now turned his sights to the future of the people that live in the Cape Winelands region, as a re-investment in the society of the region.

“Over three decades in the wine industry, I have seen the social ills which plague so many of the communities in the Cape Winelands.  These include dire poverty, malnutrition, and gender-based violence.

“A focus on, and an investment in, Early Childhood Development is the greatest investment South Africa, Africa and the world can make in our future, and it is for this reason that I decided to create the Indaba Institute – to empower teachers to provide the best ECD education possible to the next generations, thereby helping to ultimately break the cycle of poverty.”

Women who have completed pioneering training by the Indaba Institute, are seen nurturing children in their care, at Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, in the Cape Winelands.

Proven Benefits of ECD

Shearer is supported in his passionate beliefs on the benefits of ECD by James Heckman, University of Chicago Professor and Nobel Laureate for the Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, who wrote that those seeking to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy should make significant investments in early childhood education.

Heckman’s most recent research analyzed high-quality, birth-to-five-year-old early childhood programmes for disadvantaged children, which yielded a 13% return on investment per child per annum through better education, economic, health, and social outcomes.

Internationally, a focus on Early Childhood Development is fast gaining traction and the Duchess of Cambridge recently launched her own Centre for Early Childhood, saying that “the centre hopes to raise awareness of why the first five years of life are just so important for our future life outcomes, and what we can do as a society to create a happier, more mentally healthy, more nurturing society”.  The Canadian government recently announced that they will be committing $30 billion in funding for early learning and childcare programs across Canada with the vision of providing a national childcare program for all Canadians as part of their federal budget.

“The profound positive impacts and knock-on effects of ECD are beyond any doubt. I believe a new future for our people begins in the earliest years of a child’s life. It’s crucial for South Africa to invest more in early childhood development.  Without this we will struggle to meet Sustainable Development Goals and will continue to fail too many of our children.  It is for this reason that the Indaba Institute was founded, and we are excited to work with the teachers of the Cape Winelands, and eventually elsewhere, so that they can make a difference to the young children in their care, and in turn make a difference to their communities as a whole,” concludes Shearer.

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