Advice Column, Baby, Parenting, Pregnancy & Baby, Recently, Toddler

Grace Matlhape’s SmartStart partners with Pampers to keep children learning

  • Pampers South Africa
  • Category Advice Column, Baby, Parenting, Pregnancy & Baby, Recently, Toddler

Access to early childhood learning has a lasting positive impact on educational and life outcomes for children

With more than 1 million preschool children from disadvantaged communities in South Africa not having access to quality early childhood learning opportunities, Pampers has committed to supporting access to early learning through its partnership with SmartStart, following its recent R1million donation. 

“With our focus on children from disadvantaged homes, SmartStart, with the support of partners such as Pampers, aims to address inequality in education from an early age,” said SmartStart’s CEO, Grace Matlhape.

Research has shown that the brain grows most rapidly during the first five years of childhood, together with other significant developmental changes.

As a result, learning capabilities are primarily formed during these years, which are critical in laying the foundation for a child’s future.

Like so many moms in South Africa, Mpho Zwane is currently an unemployed single mother, struggling to raise her three-year-old daughter, Mpilo, while job hunting and facing economic and social challenges. Being able to provide a good early-childhood education for her child with the help of a Pampers scholarship, means her child can have access to life-changing opportunities. 

“At a SmartStart centre, Mpilo is learning skills that are preparing her for future success at school,” said Mpho. “I’ve seen Mpilo develop so quickly since attending the lessons. She is curious and bubbly! At three-years-old she is already counting to 10, says her prayers confidently and knows the different colours. Not only is she learning, but she is in a safe and secure environment too and enjoys making new friends. There is not much support structurally for single mothers, so this Pampers scholarship has really been a godsend to us.”

40% of South African moms are single moms. The extent of the stringent lockdowns hit women badly as they saw an increase in roles and an extra burden of family care, but they fell disproportionately on single mothers, many of whom were already facing hidden challenges – such as unemployment or job stress. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), said parental stress and anxiety increased during the lockdown. The call volume of people seeking help doubled during the lockdown with up to 1 400 calls a day. About 85% of these calls came from women – single mothers making up the majority.

This very real stress and unequal share of childcare responsibilities was a crisis that affected almost half of the moms in South Africa is coupled with social stigma and discrimination that only increases the anxiety. Pampers believed that they must play a strong role in alleviating this parental stress and champion the healthy and happy development of South African children through early learning initiatives that support both child and mother.

“We are presented with a unique opportunity to come alongside parents to support the holistic development of children by creating greater access to the critical development resources they need to have a brighter future,” said Rajat Gupta, Pampers Senior Marketing Director.

Statistics South Africa General Household Survey for 2019 revealed that the proportion of children up to four years old attending an early childhood development programme declined between 2018 and 2019 from 43.9% to 40.7%. Having supported some 5500 playgroups and disadvantaged communities in South Africa since it started in 2015, SmartStart has some skin in the game when it comes to championing childhood learning. The organisation has enabled more than 120 000 preschool children to enjoy the benefits of high-quality early learning programmes, which they would otherwise not have had access to. In addition, it has provided opportunities to unemployed women and men across the country.

“Recognising this decline and the lack of access to ECDs, particularly among the poorest, expanding the availability of quality early learning is part of the South African Government’s National Development Plan Vision 2030. We, along with our partners, are keen and proud to be able to support the government in achieving this,” said Grace.

SmartStart playgroups and ECD centres follow a structured programme based on South Africa’s National Early Learning Standards (NELDS), and take a holistic approach to child development, covering emotional, social, cognitive, physical and language skills. Emphasis is also placed on partnering with parents and caregivers, providing guidance and the resources, for example reading material, for them to continue their child’s learning experience at home.

“We believe in providing a nurturing environment and playful learning opportunities to provide our pre-schoolers, not only with the skills, but also with the enthusiasm, for lifelong learning,” Grace concluded.

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