Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief


Skills development for early childhood development practitioners

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Test population-based models of provision | 14 August, 2013 - 16:00


ITEC is a non-profit organisation working in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa with a mission to create opportunities for learning and development by empowering change agents for children. Our organisation facilitates connections between people who share a commitment of strengthening skills, knowledge and resources, and actively builds partnerships that promote a safe and caring society.  

During 2009/10, ITEC’s work in Pefferville and Duncan Village revealed that many unqualified practitioners were working in Early Childhood Development centres in the area. Subsequently, twenty of these practitioners were selected for inclusion in our accredited Masibakhuseleni Further Education and Training Certificate in Early Childhood Development (FETC: ECD), launched in 2011.

The ECD certificate is pitched at Level 4 on the National Qualifications Framework, the equivalent of completing Grade 12. Obtaining a grade 12 high school diploma, or a FETC Level 4 certificate is the minimum qualification required for practitioners who want to specialise and work in Early Childhood Development. However, after the first implementation round we were forced to acknowledge a number of serious limitations facing our training program and to adopt changes for the future.

The challenges in conducting a Level 4 FET certificate for ECD practitioners are outlined below. They include difficulties in recruiting individuals at the appropriate education level to enrol in our ECD level-4 course; challenges training individuals who lack the reading, writing and comprehension skills to absorb the material effectively; and the need to help individuals overcome their negative views of formal education in order to help them get through the program on time. After discussing the challenges, we provide some solutions for how to tackle these challenges in the future, and improve the training program overall.


Too many under qualified ECD practitioners
Despite many years of practical experience and a deep love of children, far too many ECD practitioners are under qualified for the work they do. In order to provide a purposeful and thoughtful ECD programme, where children can learn actively in a safe and stimulating environment, the practitioners in the program need to be able to read, plan, reflect critically, and keep good records. This helps them not only with the successful management of the program’s administrative aspects, but it helps them better educate the children under their care. Moreover, children whose adult role-models demonstrate the value of reading, writing, and good organisation are more likely to grow up to read and write with ease. Our training program is targeted at these under qualified practitioners, and offers them the opportunity to improve their skills.

Low enrolment levels

We have low enrolment levels for our Level 4 ECD training course. This is because in the Eastern Cape where we work, more than 50% of the women between the ages of 25 and 50 (the typical age of ECD practitioners) have completed no more than Grade 10 and are therefore not eligible for the Level 4 qualification.

Practitioners with Grade 11 (Level 3) are excluded from entering the Level 4 qualification, even though they have the required formal education levels. This means that that 63% of 25-50 year old women in the Eastern Cape cannot enrol for a Level 4 qualification program.

Poor reading and writing skills

Our Level 4 training certificate is geared towards ECD practitioners who want to improve their skills. To be eligible for the Level 4 course, practitioners must have the equivalent of at least Grade 11 (Standard 9 or Level 3) in communication and mathematical literacy. They should already have the foundations to deal with the requirements of the course, which includes a strong focus on training in communication. However, the entering cohorts of practitioners usually struggle with the reading and writing required to learn effectively at Level 4.

Poor comprehension skills and lack of critical thought

Although many of the practitioners in our course are able to learn through practical activities and oral discussions, they have struggled to develop a theoretical and reflective understanding of what to do with children, and why they should do it. In addition, they struggle with comprehension of the course material (reading and writing for meaning). We acknowledge that this is the result of many years of poor quality education but unless we address this shortfall amongst the adults teaching our children we will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.

Negative association with formal education and learning

Many of the practitioners entering our Level 4 training program are adults who have been out of school for at least 10 or 20 years. Formal learning techniques are a distant memory for them, and many of them carry unhappy memories of ridicule and failure from their school days. We work patiently with them to encourage again a love for learning. If they can enjoy what they learn they will absorb more, and they will pass on this value to the children they work with.

Negative association with the use of English

Not only do the practitioners entering our Level 4 training program already carry the burden of a poor education, low social status, and low pay for the important work they do, but their negative association with formal learning is exacerbated by the unquestioning use of English – a language that few use in their everyday or professional lives.


Addressing the above challenges has required a number of changes to our training program. In our future certificate courses we will take the following steps to help learners to complete the qualification requirements:

1.      Offer more ‘academic’ support. Although written assignments are based on the practitioner’s own experiences, they need patient and supportive coaching to understand exactly what is required of each assignment, and how to improve on each effort. We should not assume that practitioners find it easy to translate their experience into writing.

2.      Allow more time to complete the qualification. We initially imagined the FETC: ECD would take 18 months to complete. We now know that 24 months is far more realistic, given the degree of support our practitioners need and deserve. Increased learner support over an extended time period raises further questions about the cost-benefit ratio.

3.      Provide non-formal or accredited ECD skills programmes at lower levels for practitioners who are not able to meet the entry requirements for the Level 4 FETC in ECD but who still want to improve their professional capacity as ECD practitioners.

4.      We will encourage those practitioners who do not initially meet the entry requirements for the Level 4 FETC in ECD to first enrol at ABET centres and improve their reading, writing and comprehension skills.

5.      We must use the highest quality materials, but we will ensure they are user-friendlier, without compromising quality. This qualification program should not allow the rigidity of the curricula’s administrative and assessment requirements to add unnecessary burden on the participants. This is due to firm, but context-inappropriate course material, and in the future we will be more flexible regarding how to adopt the material for our participating students.

In addition to the above-suggested specific changes, we also support efforts at a broader policy level to help improve the qualifications and skills of ECD practitioners.

6.      We support the drive for teaching and learning in local languages throughout the education system, including in ECD qualifications. Although English is a high status language, and dominates education and the economy, we believe that people learn far more efficiently in their mother language.

7.      We support the development of Level 1 – 3 ECD qualifications. The South African Qualifications Authority is currently reviewing the ECD standards because large numbers of practitioners are unable to access Level 4, which is necessary for practicing in the field of ECD. Thus, Level 4 needs to be made more accessible, by improving the access to, and standard of, lower level qualifications.


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In Short

This learning brief discusses ITEC’s experience in conducting a Level 4 FET certificate for early childhood development practitioners. It highlights the potential challenges in training older, rural women at FET Level 4, and suggests practical and useful solutions for other implementers.

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