Women Are The Stars Of Early Learning



More than 42% of South African households are supported by women, according to research company Statista. This percentage grows in provinces with large rural areas, such as the Eastern Cape, where it sits at over 50%. Despite this, women still earn up to 35% less than men in certain jobs.






To highlight the potential for the early childhood development (ECD) sector to close this gap, early learning non-profit SmartStart, hosted its annual Day of the Stars conference in Sandton, Johannesburg on the 29 and 30 August.

Grace Matlhape, CEO of SmartStart, opened the event with a review of early learning in 2022; “This event is a celebration of the women that drive development in the early learning sector, and a reminder of the work we still need to do. Many women face the challenge of filling the dual role of breadwinner and child caregiver – but, by addressing gaps in the ECD sector, we can alleviate some of that pressure and allow more women to participate in the South African workforce.”

The event was attended by over 200 people, including representatives from the Department of Basic Education, Department of Social Development and Department of Corporate Governance, executives from SmartStart’s partners, and early learning professionals from across the country. SmartStart ambassador and local celebrity, Olwethu Leshabane, directed the event’s proceedings.

Women represent the majority of the country’s unemployed population – sitting at 36% overall, and climbing to 41% among women of colour. As part of the event, early learning experts hosted workshops to explore strategies for increasing funding to the sector, which is primarily driven by women, in order to train more practitioners and create additional job opportunities.

An estimated one-million three- to five-year-olds do not have access to any form of early learning; “This highlights the scale of the opportunity to provide women with direct employment. By supporting micro-enterprises that provide access to affordable and convenient childcare, we can ensure women receive appropriate compensation for care work, which is often taken for granted, as well as create safe childcare for women who want to seek employment in other sectors,” says Matlhape.

“Most of the communities that we work with have high rates of unemployment, so parents are unable to send their children to ECD centres. This means, due to lack of funds, children do not receive any kind of stimulation. The SmartStart programmes have created an opportunity for people within these communities to access affordable early education, which allows women to go out and find work,” says Unathi Madubedube, a SmartStart franchisor from the Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU) in Cape Town, who attended Day of the Stars.

The event shone a spotlight on the success of the almost 10 000 early learning practitioners trained by SmartStart since 2015. The conference was supported by SmartStart’s implementing partners, including Little Elephant Training Centre for Early Education (LETCEE), Training and Resources in Early Education (TREE), Khululeka, Diaconia,

The Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU), Lima Rural Development Foundation, 3L Development, The Knysna Education Trust, Penreach, Siyakholwa, Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy, and Lesedi Educare.

Using a social franchise model, SmartStart builds on the experience of existing civil society organisations who recruit, train, and license women to launch and run early learning social enterprises, for children aged three to five. To date, SmartStart has trained just under 10 000 people to provide early learning services, to the benefit of over 100 000 children across the country. By 2030, SmartStart aims to reach 1-million children between the ages of three and five annually. For more information, visit www.smartstart.org.za.







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