Students and researchers from Monash University are working alongside community partners to improve the quality of care and facilities available to children in local communities in South Africa.

Dr Marianne Hicks, from the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) at Monash University, conducted research on 27 preschools and day care centres in the informal settlement of Zandspruit, assessing the various needs and vulnerabilities of local childcare facilities that were noted by the community.

The Play-with-a-Purpose teacher training program was then introduced to the Zandspruit community, aiming to have a preschool within the reach of every child, with well-resourced and equipped teachers.

The program gained further support through its partnership with the Community Engagement Office at Monash South Africa and the students of the Bachelor of Social Science Child and Youth Development, providing a very hands-on approach for both the MSA students and pre-school teachers. The Criminology Society of Monash has also provided much needed support.

“Play-with-a-Purpose provides education to pre-school teachers, enabling them to be the best they can be. To further assist their plight, the students from MSA’s Student Volunteer Program developed the Renovate a Crèche strategy,” Dr Hicks said.

Students from MSA began to volunteer at local crèches in the Zandspruit area, improving facilities through renovations such as painting, roofing and fencing. The first Renovate a Crèche session was attended by over 600 students, providing an excursion for students into the local community.

“This is a long term partnership, as there are still many crèches to renovate. The Play-with-a-Purpose program will also provide continuous training to preschool teachers,” Dr Hicks said.

“When teachers are ill-equipped to teach and the facilities provided lack imagination, many children will struggle in their later years. Both of these projects are improving the chances of local children to gain a proper education.”

In 2013 children from the local pre-schools will be invited to the MSA campus for an interactive day with the students. MSA students will be assessed on the planning and implementation of the day as part of one of their Child and Youth Development units.

When the Monash students are in the final year of their degree, they will spend time working within the crèches in internship roles, providing them with real life service learning opportunities.

“Our global vision is to develop the capacity for these children to learn in these vital early years. We hope to see these children return to Monash South Africa as students in the future,” Dr Hicks said.

Founder of the program, Robyn Wienand, said Play-with-a-Purpose is a ground-breaking neuro-scientific child development program aimed at ensuring our children have a solid foundation for future learning.

“I have a vision to have a pre-school within walking distance of every child,” Ms Wienand said.

“The contribution by Monash and the students is invaluable in helping us change the future of our children one pre-school at a time.”