Smart Townships are built from the ground up in more ways than one. In the first instance, in order to be created and progress from strength to strength, Smart Townships are built by the people, for the people. In this way they meet people’s needs. In the second instance, down the line, the Smart Townships of tomorrow will be sustained and improved upon by the Smart Kids of today. Today’s Smart Kids are tomorrow’s Smart Citizens and Leaders. Are we paying enough attention to ensuring all South African children are Smart?
Learning starts long before children go to school, and academic studies show that the most important period in a learner’s educational development is not at secondary or tertiary education level, when completing high school or university, but rather from birth to the age of eight, which includes pre-primary and primary education. An academic paper titled Early STEM Learning and the Roles of Technologies (produced by Education Development Center, Inc.,MA, USA) states:
“While each child’s learning experiences are unique, many important experiences are not universal. The skills gap that emerges and grows exponentially during children’s first years of schooling exposes these inequities in experience, and is particularly evident in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content areas where economically disadvantaged children are substantially outperformed by their peers… The potential for technological tools (software and apps, for example) is often called out as a cost-effective way to address some of the questions and challenges that are identified by educators and others.”
When it comes to digital skills, it is widely understood that the future success of young people as self-sufficient citizens who contribute to South Africa’s economy depends on their ability to understand and use technology in their work and personal lives. This begs the question: At what stage of their education should South African children start to be exposed and become conversant with digital technology?
CDF believes that the answer to this question is, “At the early learning stage”. The Foundation believes that it is essential that South African pre-school children and their teachers have access to reliable, low-cost Wifi connectivity at Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres.
What are Early Development Centres?
Early Childhood Development Centres are certificated care centres, or crèches, where children between the ages of 0 – 6 years old get care and support along with training that is appropriate for their age and stage of development. More than providing a safe environment for children with constant adult supervision, the benefits of enrolling children at a registered ECD facility include the provision of registered learning programmes for different age groups that are taught by qualified ECD practitioners.
The importance of Wifi for educators and children within ECD centres
Low-cost connectivity in ECD centres is of great importance for teachers and practitioners in a township environment. When affordable Wifi is available these educators, most of whom own a smart phone, are able to make use of numerous online programmes to up-skill themselves. Organisations such as Innovation Edge and The Reach Trust, whose practical mission it is to inspire a lifelong love of learning through online content , are passionate about ensuring that educators in the historically most underserved communities have high-quality educational material at their disposal – from which to skill themselves and to educate their children in innovative ways. Accessing this content requires being connected.
ECD teachers are leaders who equip future leaders
“ECD teachers are leaders”, says Dumisani Mahlutshana, Chief of Staff at TooMuchWifi. “We recognise the important role they play in equipping children as future leaders. But we put teachers at a disadvantage if, through a lack of infrastructure and high data costs, they are not enabled to use technology to up-skill themselves, or as a teaching tool in ECD centres in the townships. I see township kids buying data. It makes my heart glad to see kids as young as eight using Wifi outside of an ECD space as a result of having been exposed to technology at preschool. I see a wealth of ideas coming from young township children. Digital skills help kids to take their ideas further – as they are enabled to leverage technology as a platform to realise their goals and dreams.”
“Wifi is my most important tool” – Lydia Mkiva
MmaLydia Mkiva, who founded Sunflower Educare Center in Langa, Cape Town in 2009, wants all the ECD centres in Langa to have affordable Wifi. Lydia says, “I am so grateful that I came across TooMuchWifi and am connected via my smartphone. As an educator in early childhood development Wifi is my most important tool. There is so much for me to learn online. I restarted the ECD Forum in Langa. It is important for us to communicate and share ideas between educators in our community – and even globally via the Internet. Lydia and her educators use online programmes from WordWorks, geared to early language literacy development in the first eight years of children’s lives and PlaySA that provide educational tools through games and play that cater for every stage of a child’s development. Lydia says, Kids are so interested and take to technology so quickly. I would love the children to be able to partake as well. Right now our limited digital resources stunt the opportunity for our children to learn how to use technology. I would like them to be able to get involved and engage with technology via tablets and digital devices.
The success of the South African economy will be impacted in no small measure by preparing Smart Citizens of tomorrow through equipping Smart Kids today. The current lack of readily available, low-cost Wifi in townships and informal settlements is currently preventing children from gaining exposure to important tools for learning and skill growth. Focusing on providing connectivity within all ECD centres in South Africa would be a significant step in changing this scenario for the better.