Africa A+ Schools project ignites creativity in early education

Three pre-schools in Cape Town have become the first sites for the roll out of the Africa A+ Schools network, an exciting Early Childhood Development (ECD) project that nurtures creativity in schools as one way of responding to South Africa’s social and economic challenges.

The network is a partnership between the Cape Craft and Design Institute and Oklahoma A+ Schools (OKA+) and is funded by Standard Bank and the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT). It is geared at nurturing children differently and creating a new stream of individuals who are more creative, with greater capacity for innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, to become future leaders and pioneers. Because the development of entrepreneurs and innovators needs to start from an early age, the Africa A+ Schools network is beginning at the preschool level.

The first three Africa A+ member schools – ABC Pre-primary in Lansdowne, iThemba in Capricorn and Chameleon Campus in Sybrand Park – have begun to receive support to prepare teachers to think more creatively about how to present their curriculum in collaborative and hands-on ways that will get the learners excited about learning.

The Africa A+ Schools network offers member schools professional development and ongoing on-site support that enables the schools to think, plan and facilitate so that children can develop the skills that prepare them for lifelong success. Research shows that A+ member schools achieve better academically, teachers are more motivated, learning is facilitated in collaborative and hands-on ways, and the children are excited about coming to school.

“To alleviate unemployment, poverty and social injustice the country needs people with an entrepreneurial and problem-solving mindset who have individual agency and can come up with innovative solutions,” explains project director, Anya Morris.

“An entrepreneur is a person who can see and create opportunities where others mostly only see a problem. For children to grow up to be entrepreneurs, innovators and opportunity makers, they need to be taught from an early age to develop their creativity and imagination so that they can become active citizens who contribute to solving problems and creating new value.”

“When we look ahead to our children’s future, we actually don’t know what’s in store for them in 15 years’ time when they leave school and prepare for adulthood. But it’s generally agreed upon that innovative thinking, problem-solving, collaborating with others, using the imagination and being able to sift through information and deciding on what is relevant and how to apply it in an imaginative way – are the key skills that will be needed.”

The three pre-schools are receiving the support through a group of project Fellows – arts practitioners from a range of disciplines and ECD specialists. These Fellows were orientated in the A+ philosophy by facilitators from OKA+ over the past several months, which enabled the project to access the immense experience and success of the US A+ model to help conceptualise the local support.

Visual Arts Fellow, Karen Stewart and Morris kicked off the schools support with a workshop with the teachers and staff at Chameleon in March. The teachers were first taught about space, rhythm, contrast and balance in art. After this they got to play with their creative side, and used recycled materials to collaboratively create an artwork. They then went through a curriculum mapping activity in which they discussed how this can be linked to the curriculum.

“Everyone got quite into the process and some amazing discoveries were made along the way,” says Karen. “What I found rewarding about the day was the way in which the teachers have started finding their feet with analysing images. They are now also able to talk about how the works made them feel. I felt that this demonstrated both a deeper understanding of the activity they engaged with and more importantly, their growing confidence about their own ideas.”

At ABC Pre-Primary in April, teachers and staff were treated to an afternoon workshop on using the imagination to make a story come alive, and giving the teachers new ideas for storytelling and how to make telling stories more exciting for the teachers and for the children. Dance and movement Fellow, Shumi Chimombe first took them on an ‘adventure into the magic forest where anything can happen’ using music and creative movement. This experience allowed the participants to work together using their imagination and bodies to create new scenarios and act them out while inspired by the music. This was followed by storytelling exercises using the imagination with Anya and ECD specialist and Fellow Veronica Nicholas, and then finding ways to link all the experiences and new ideas to the curriculum, in particular, how to use stories as a learning tool

ABC Pre-Primary school principal, Faadiela Ryklief said about the workshop: “Through the creative workshop we were able to discover the true power of imagination and the capacity of how much a simple story conveyed through creativity could holistically benefit the child.”

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