Focus on childhood development

Georgina Motha, a teacher at Happy Faces preschool, applying the Fonix Literacy training she received from the Knysna Education Trust. Photo: Stefan Goosen

KNYSNA NEWS - When visiting preschools with Veranique de la Fontaine who is the support to the director of the Knysna Education Trust (KET), it becomes extremely clear what the trust means to not only the children, but also to the teachers working in these preschools.
 
KET was started to support the protection, care, and development of young children. Currently the trust supports 56 affiliated preschools within the Greater Knysna, Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay communities, implementing the necessary programmes, skills development, on-site coaching and mentoring to capacitate educators to deliver quality preschool education, and ensure children achieve school readiness.
 
This is done in a safe and stimulating environment, and KET remains the only organisation in the area that focuses exclusively on early childhood development (ECD).
 
Changing the world
Director Nicola Goodall believes that together they are changing the world, one child at a time. This notion becomes crystal clear when visiting the preschools. The biggest smiles and brightest eyes greet you when you enter the classroom – and that’s just the teachers.
 
Children run up to De la Fontaine, faces beaming, giving her the biggest hug you could imagine. Even this journalist got hugged by these cute little monsters.
 
Something as simple as a tube of Pritt or a toothbrush, to KET organising a container for a new classroom and helping the school start a vegetable garden to provide the kids with at least one proper meal per day, KET seems set on making a real difference.
 
The trust further assists these schools via their Adopt a Child’s Education (Ace) programme, feeding schemes, teacher training, upgrading of buildings and finding partners to build new schools.
 
Growing a successful nation
Extensive research – more than 23 000 studies worldwide – has shown that a quality preschool education is one of the most significant factors ensuring the growth of a successful and productive nation.
 
It follows that the role of the teacher cannot be overemphasised. “A confident and competent teacher remains one of the key elements identified as a catalyst to ensuring children are exposed to the learning which they need to enter formal schooling – prepared and equipped to thrive and gain a lifelong love of learning,” says Goodall.
 
Training the trainers
In order for KET to prepare these teachers and learners for the future, the trust started providing local teachers with National Qualification Framework (NQF) ECD training and introduced the Numicon Mathematics and Fonix Literacy programmes at the schools.
 
“Previously, teachers had to travel to George or Oudtshoorn, making this formal training prohibitive and costly for them,” says Goodall.
 
All of the training done through the trust takes place in the newly refurbished state-of-the-art training centre at their offices in Market Street, Knysna. This is also where all the teachers are trained for the Numicon, Fonix, and skills development programmes.
 
New ways to learn
Numicon was developed to teach children new ways to learn about numbers and calculation. The programme uses methodologies suitable for young children and provides the hands-on experiences that enable young children to build concepts and gain knowledge through their senses.
 
According to Numicon co-developer Dr Tony Wing, the programme is aimed at helping children understand numbers through their natural ability and strengths when working with pattern. "The pattern plates provided represent different numbers in their number patterns.
 
The multisensory approach makes learning numbers ‘real’. Children can see the numbers, touch, feel and move them. In doing so, they gain confidence in their abilities and are more inclined to persist in their efforts when problem-solving. By getting to know numbers, it is felt that there will be a better understanding of them.”
 
Multi-language teaching
Formulated for learners aged six months to seven years, the Fonix programme uses all the senses and operates in an informal way making learning incidental and fun.
 
All of South Africa’s 11 languages use the same print symbols that, for the majority of the letters, represent the same sounds. The programme builds letter-sound associations, the first step to literacy and the bridge between languages.
 
One of KET’s happy stories, a school that has been with the trust since 2005, is the Judah Square Preschool. Here KET has, over the years, trained teachers, assisted with more classrooms and introduced the Ace initiative.
 
Principal Nancy Melville says she has seen the change in the children and in the community since KET’s involvement. “We would probably have closed our doors by now if it wasn’t for KET. They are a very big help to us,” Melville says.
 
More happy stories
Another success story is the Isiseko Educare Centre in Dam-se-Bos, Knysna. KET has supplied training for the teachers, helped the school set up a vegetable garden, introduced a feeding scheme, introduced the ACE initiative and supplied educational equipment for the Grade R class.
 
“They are completely uplifting and amazing,” said Brenda Somerset, principal of the school, with a smile from ear to ear. “To see how the children grow is just as amazing. Even the reports from the parents are extremely positive.
 
“The children are always happy when anyone from KET comes to visit – they are our people. We have come a long way with them,” Somerset added.
 
Happy Faces is a preschool that has completely changed since the trust became involved. When its original building burnt down in 2008, KET and other organisations helped them rebuild the school and the new facility has become a bragging point for the community.
 
“Their help means the world to me after 19 years of struggling. I can see the many changes they have made to the children’s and teacher’s lives,” says principal Elizabeth Swartz. “We need to get the Greater Knysna aware of, and involved in what KET is doing,” she adds.
 
Chalkey Talkey Playschool in Rykmanshoogte is the brainchild of Elinor Chalkey who originally started the school from her home. KET was able to organise two large shipping containers for the school when Chakley’s house became too small to accommodate all the children; they also introduced a feeding scheme and the Ace initiative.
 
“They have helped with absolutely everything we needed. Without Veranique and KET I wouldn’t have been able to continue with my school. When I ask, she’s there – she is my best one,” said Chalkey excitedly.
 
* Individuals and businesses who would like to get involved can contact KET on 044-382-4638, email admin@knysnaedutrust.co.za, or visit www.knysnaedutrust.co.za.
 
 
 
Lulama Dywili, teacher at Isiseko Educare Centre in Dam-se-Bos, with one of her classes. Dywili is excited about her opportunity to attend training through the Knysna Education Trust. Photo: Stefan Goosen  
 
ARTICLE & PHOTOS: STEFAN GOOSEN, KNYSNA-PLETT HERALD JOURNALIST 
 
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