Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

The Bulungula Incubator

Three tips for running a successful preschool in rural communities

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Comprehensive ECD package | 26 June, 2013 - 06:00


Project context

The remote village of Nqileni has a population of approximately 800 people. The closest clinic is a 2-hour walk away, there is no potable drinking water, electricity, or toilets, and until recently, school lessons took place under the trees. School dropout rates are high, and illiteracy is prevalent amongst most adults. The people of Nqileni are reliant on subsistence farming, government grants, and wage remittances from migrant workers. Over half the village population is under 21 years of age and 10% of the adults work outside the village in migrant positions.

Thus, Nqileni village epitomises the most acute poverty challenges of the country: a legacy of poor education provision, a limited subsistence economy that forces people out of the village into migrant labour, and an absence of basic government services. Despite this, the village has other immense richness. There is a strong sense of community and history amongst the inhabitants, the land is incredibly fertile and beautiful, there are pockets of excellence in subsistence farming, and the people have a strong desire to work towards improving their situation.

In 2004 the community saw the establishment of the Bulungula Lodge – a joint ownership venture. The Bulungula Lodge is now a Fair Trade, accredited eco-lodge popular with international tourists. It provides an income to half the households in Nqileni village and has paid a profit dividend to the community every year since being established. A few years later, in 2007 the Bulungula Incubator was formed. The Bulungula Incubator builds on the developmental success of the Lodge by engaging in a range of projects focused on education, basic services, sustainable livelihoods, and health and nutrition. The Incubator was established to address the challenges of rural poverty while promoting and preserving the positive effects of traditional African lifestyle and culture.

The Bulungula Incubator

The Bulungula Incubator is a Not-For-Profit Association with the vision to be an innovative agent in the creation of vibrant, sustainable rural communities. It has now expanded its outreach into the 4 villages of the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area, serving a population of over 6000 people. Since 2007, some of the main achievements of the Bulungula Incubator have been to establish the Jujurha Education Centre, build two community preschools, develop and grow an After School Programme for primary school learners, launch an income generating lemongrass and essential oils cooperative, establish two permaculture gardens, protect current natural drinking water springs, drill four boreholes for drinking, to name but a few.

Education is a central focus of the integrated rural development strategy of the Bulungula Incubator. The Jujurha Education Centre (JEC), comprising the Jujurha Preschool and a community library, was established in mid 2009, and provides 60 children with a high quality ECD programme.

For this learning brief we would like to offer lessons from our experiences working in this remote rural community where we collaborate with parents and caregivers to successfully implement our ECD programme to babies. The focus is on preforming with excellence in ECD care.

Our programme is successful because:

  1. We leverage local human resources to find ways to stimulate early brain development in the children.
  2. We emphasise the continuing education of our ECD practitioners by helping them to broaden their horizons and be exposed to excellence and innovation in ECD pre-schooling.
  3. We conduct school readiness assessments of all our Grade R children in the Jujurha preschool.


1) Involving the community in Early Childhood Development

Many of the children in Nqileni live in small, dark homes that have few pictures, books, toys or brightly coloured furnishings and they spend many hours tied on to their mother’s back. To address this low level of visual and tactile stimulation in infants in a practical and cost-effective way, we designed and made padded baby mats for use in the community, and comfortable cushions for our classroom. We invited parents and elderly women from the local community to help us with this task.

First, we hosted a child development workshop and taught mothers how to make practical baby mats. The mothers and caregivers from the community attended an ECD workshop where we discussed the importance of brain development in infants, and the important role parents and caregivers play in this developmental process. The participants then used a variety of high contrast fabrics, to which toys and scraps of wool had been attached, to sew and decorate mats for their child. The decorations were made with toys, scraps of foil, and wool. A simple, overhead structure was then attached to the mat, from which a mobile could be suspended. The babies are placed face down on these mats and then on their backs. In both positions the patterns, the toys, and the mobile stimulate their eyes.

Second, we invited ladies from the local village sewing group to help us sew bright cushions for the playgroup. The women used donated material to make the cushion covers, which were then stuffed and sewn up by the parents.  Each child’s name was sewn onto his/her cushion and the children at Jujurha Preschool are now welcomed every morning by a circle of colourful cushions on the grass mats in their classrooms.


2) Continuing education for ECD practitioners

As part of their on-going Early Childhood Development training, we sent all our preschool practitioners to Cape Town where they met with other preschool practitioners to share best practices. They observed how other excellent, best-case schools function, and the experience exposed them to new thoughts, beliefs and ideas about ECD. Government and independent schools, such as the Anglican and a Hebrew school, hosted them. The Jujurha teachers watched, participated, photographed and talked with their Cape Town colleagues. They collected good ideas to translate and implement in their own preschool. The Cape Town school leaders shared their policy documents and codes of practice, lessons on how to involve parents, and examples of teaching materials and resources.

Other activities:

  • Observed a professional puppet show;
  • Went on a Grade R fieldtrip;
  • Observed daily class preparation, planning, implementation and methods of assessment.
  • Took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain
  • Saw Robben Island
  • Visited the Two Oceans Aquarium


3) Conducting school readiness assessments of Grade R children

In 2010 we had each Grade R child at Jujurha Preschool professionally assessed for school readiness and promotion to Grade 1. The assessment was conducted by a registered psychometrist from Culture Fair Assessments, which is supported by Mindmuzik Media in Pretoria. The assessment was conducted in the child’s mother tongue, using a recognised Assessment Battery that included the Aptitude Tests for School Beginners (ASB), Beery and other instruments. The individual reports on each child were intended to provide information and insight into his/her cognitive functioning and learning potential, emotional status and functional personality, numerical and verbal literacy levels, as well as general and specific skills and competencies related to his/her maturity for school.

We found that despite their poor home situations and backgrounds children spending at least 1½ years at our Jujurha Preschool were exposed to the very best ECD education, nutrition and health care, and as a result twelve children in the Grade R class were deemed School Ready. Four of them showed potential to excel academically. It was this last finding which was the catalyst in the establishment of the Vulindlela (Open the Road) Scholarship Programme, which we are continuing to rollout.


In this learning brief we have shown that our preschool programmes is successful because we engage and recruit parents and local community members help create a stimulating environment for early brain development in the children. Next, we emphasise the continuing education of ECD practitioners by helping them to broaden their horizons and by exposing them to excellence and innovation in ECD pre-schooling. And finally, we measure our programme’s success by conducting formal assessments to determine if the Grade R preschool children are ready for primary school.

Farm 37, Xhora Mouth, Elliotdale district 

 (047) 577 8908

In Short

In this learning brief, leaders from the Bulungula Incubator share lessons on three best practices for rolling out an ECD preschool in a remote rural community.  The focus is on engaging parents in a practical way, providing continuing education for ECD practitioners, and assessing Grade R children to determine their school readiness. Other organizations engaged in ECD can use these lessons in their own settings to improve programme sustainability and implementation.

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