Why is the pre-school space taken up by professionals other than teachers?
We need to rethink how we approach ECD. As ECD practitioners and trained pre-school teachers we need to take back our power as professionals equal in knowledge and understanding and special expertise to all the other professionals who have taken over this space without fully understanding what a good pre-school is. They have their place of course – but should recognise, respect and take on our expertise as well in the work they do in this space. I know that this is starting but we need to reclaim our professional space in this area.
This power dynamic probably comes from the fact that so many women in ECD in SA come from a low educational base – not from choice, inclination or lack of intellect but from lack of opportunity. This has led to the university trained professionals with no expertise in ECD becoming far too powerful in this area. Grassroots understanding and worth needs to be re-asserted, supported and ECD practitioners need their trainers to seriously interrogate the way that they teach ECD. The curriculums may be adequate but the way this information is imparted often isn’t. And all too often the new knowledge is not implemented at all in the ECD centres.
Here are some real problems we have in intersecting with other disciplines.
It is very cold now. Just a month ago a very young social worker came to one of the schools we support. He told the teachers that unless they took all the carpets out and broke the cupboards and made high shelves the school would be shut down. They did this. Now the children must sit on freezing cold tiles and wait for teacher to bring toys and activities down to them. When before the children were comfortable and had toys and activities at hand so that most of their day was spent in free play in a setting designed to allow learning through play.
Then we have the double sink problem: when a centre is pretty much ready to go for registration some new and costly requirement is placed in their way, like that a single sink is no longer good enough, there needs to be a double sink. Then we have social workers who demand that all trees must be cut down, grass removed because ‘they bring snakes’. Or the requirement that fences and gates be covered so that no-one can look in – but more importantly that children cannot look out. Or that nothing should be on the floor so that owners can be allowed to fit more children in. On the other hand, and amazingly, tiny table cloth sized outdoor spaces are fully tolerated.
The problem is that these other professionals who seem to have all the power don’t know that there are good educational reasons for mats, seeing out into the world, having a well set out playroom with play areas that fits the children’s learning needs. And places where children can run, explore, climb and feel free.
What does matter is that we should not allow too many children in one property – in fact 20 -25 children are more than enough on an RDP sized property. The reason for owners taking so many children is that the registration requirements are so onerous that to meet them far too many children are admitted. Also the owner principal often needs to study expensively to get level 4 or 5. She leaves the school to completely untrained women and the children are made to sit against walls, sleep all morning, watch far too much TV and get fed in large clumps where it is not uncommon for a child’s foot to get into someone else’s food…(By the way this also happens in far too many Grade R’s too.) And if we really are worried about dirty carpets, get children to take their shoes off at the door…
I am not against reasonable hygiene and clean, attractive and comfortable play spaces but at the same time we know that children actually benefit from a bit of dirt – in fact the rise of asthma is partly owing to the desperate need to keep all germs at bay. Humans are designed to develop good immune systems!
We need to think differently. Above all we need to get the stakeholders in and those who actually spend time in the communities working with teachers in their centres. Not to be lectured about what they should be doing but rather finding out what the challenges are and use the insights people have gained by hard, dedicated work in this field to make changes that would really support ECD.