Today, we were honoured to welcome the South Africa Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and Chief Director for Foundations for Learning, Kulula Manona, to Bulungula. This visit was an exciting opportunity to showcase our holistic Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme, which addresses the serious and critical gap in early childhood education across South Africa.

Research starkly highlights the disparities in ECD, with 1.3 million children aged between three and five still not attending any form of early learning in South Africa. 66% of the poorest children are not in early learning programmes (ELPs), compared to 36% of the wealthiest. Given that the early years from birth to nine are crucial for setting the foundations for lifelong health, nutrition, and cognitive development, the need for focused interventions is both urgent and essential.

Located in one of the country’s most remote and poorest municipalities, our community has been developing a unique, holistic ECD programme since 2009 that specifically addresses the needs of our area. Here’s how we do it:

Holistic ECD in Practice at Bulungula

Our approach to ECD is holistic to ensure that children and their families are healthy, well-nourished, cared for and ready for lifelong learning and academic success. Here is an overview of our comprehensive strategy:

  • Healthy Pregnancy and Early Care: Our programme begins with prenatal and postnatal care provided by ooNomakhaya (Community Health Workers). This includes health monitoring, vitamin provision, nutritional advice, breastfeeding training, and alcohol harms screening. We also link mothers to social services to apply for Child Support Grants, and ensure mother and child have IDs. 
  • Child Growth and Health Monitoring: After birth, ooNomakhaya conduct regular home visits for child growth monitoring, administering vitamin A and deworming as per the Road to Health guidelines. They ensure children stay up-to-date with immunisations at the Bulungula Health Point, and through our outreach events and services.
  • Early Social and Educational Development: From birth until age three, our programme engages children in playgroups to foster early learning through play, as well as one-on-one home-based ECD@Home sessions with ooNomakhaya. These sessions also provide a support network for mothers and serve as an extension for health education and social services linkage.
  • Formal Early Childhood Education: Once a child is three, they transition to our centre-based ECDs. These centres operate on a zero-fee basis, supported by Department of Basic Education subsidies and Bulungula Incubator funding so every child can attend school. All of our teachers are NQF level 4 qualified. The curriculum is enriched with regular teacher and parent training workshops to create positive learning environments at school and at home. 
  • Nutritional Support: Two nutritious, hot-cooked meals are provided daily. 
  • Continuous Health Checks: Our professional nurse and ooNomakhaya provide bi-annual growth monitoring, deworming and vitamin A provision, and we organise annual hearing and eye exams—all at school. 
  • Developmental Assessments: We conduct annual ELOM and bi-annual GROW assessments.
  • Supplemental Government School Mathematics and Literacy Support: After our learners graduate from our ECD Centres, we continue to support their academic success as part of our Preconception to Career programme. We partner with local government schools to integrate 2 extra hours of maths and 2 extra hours of literacy each week for each learner.
  • Empowerment Through Education: Our Job Skills and Entrepreneurship Programme offers accredited Early Childhood Development and Community Health Work courses, including a year-long paid internships at our preschools and community health work project for hands-on experience.
  • In-House Data Monitoring and Evaluation: An “in-house” data management system to track child development, attendance, and curriculum adherence 

Our work demonstrates that comprehensive and integrative Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes can significantly enhance educational readiness and overall childhood development outcomes, even in the most remote and under-resourced areas of our country. Our strong partnership with our community, other NGOs, researchers, and government departments drives our success. Together, we are committed to walking the last mile so that all of our children have the opportunity to realise their full potential and contribute to a thriving South Africa.

Namkelekile nonke eBulungula Incubator!
Touring our Centre-based ECD.
Visiting our playgroup.
Kulula Manona, Chief Director for Foundations for Learning, giving sweet and high praise to our wonderful ooNomakhaya and parents.
Visiting iiTablet Tshomiz, reading with the Minister.
Showing off our Maths skills!
Always a warm welcome from Bulungula College.
Minister Motshekga with Muthandwa Sincuba, Bulungula College Principal.
Minister Motshekga signing our visitor book 🙂