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Reflections on the Reggio journey

| March 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Tessa Browne

Who would have dreamed, in 2011, when the Africa Reggio Emilia Alliance (AREA)1 became part of the Reggio Children International Network,2 that by 2014 more than 1 800 people in South Africa would have attended four major international conferences on the Reggio approach to teaching and learning, and that two-thirds of these would be people from disadvantaged settings who were able to attend through generous sponsorships?

Those people familiar with the Reggio approach know that questions and the search for answers lie at the heart of it. The question posed above reflects the feelings voiced by members of AREA as they embarked on a journey of Reggio inspiration in South Africa as advocates for the defence of the rights and potential of all children. The Reggio approach has often breached the cultural and the socio-economic divide that polarises much of South African society. It vindicates Nelson Mandela’s belief that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.3

A deep social conscience

During his opening address at St Mary’s School, Waverley, in Johannesburg, at the June 2014 conference on the Reggio approach that focused on ‘Children and teachers as researchers; making creative thinking and collaboration visible’,4 former president Kgalema Motlanthe5 spoke of the deep social conscience of the people of Reggio Emilia6 and his admiration for the educational philosophy underpinning their schools. His expressed desire to see the Reggio approach being implemented in schools throughout South Africa affirmed the attendance of the nearly 500 delegates present.

Since 2011, people from well-resourced schools and those from schools with very little have built warm collaborative relationships as they have worked side by side during workshops arranged by AREA, developing a rich understanding together.

Seeing the very young in a new light

Such collaborations have meant that, in several childcare centres, preschools and schools, many more children are being encouraged to question, to discover, to investigate and to communicate their thoughts as they seek to make meaning of the world around them.

Children are being viewed as intelligent, competent and resourceful, and are being encouraged to be creative protagonists who are agents of their own learning.

This paradigm shift has happened in several schools in disadvantaged settings, whose teachers have seized opportunities to attend professional learning workshops on the Reggio approach organised by AREA at St Mary’s School. One such school is in Protea Glen, Soweto, and another in Kagiso in Mogale City.

Zakheni Early Learning Centre

Sifiso Thobakale of Zakheni Early Learning Centre in Protea Glen and Angie Kgosietsile of Twelelopele Educare in Kagiso both heard about the Reggio approach when they attended the 2012 AREA conference at St Mary’s School, which focused on ‘100 languages of children and the documentation of learning’.7

Thobakale was so motivated that she won the first prize of Reggio-inspired equipment.

Thobakale established her school in 1987 after buying a property with a dilapidated two-room structure on it. She developed it into a small preschool. All the school fees were channelled into servicing the bond, with no money left to pay the salaries of her staff. Thobakale had to find other employment to pay the salaries of her staff members and to ensure that all the children attending her school received three nutritious meals daily. Since those early days, she has managed to improve the premises of her school so that it now has four classrooms, three bathrooms, a large kitchen, an office with a toy library and a small computer centre, and a bedroom for her gardener-caretaker.

Caring, coordinating, collaborating

Thobakale encourages teachers to study further and attend conferences and workshops on the Reggio approach. The opportunities she creates for personal and professional development of her teachers are remarkable. On a visit to Zakheni recently, I met Khanyisile Mbatha, who was first employed as a cook but now loves working with the children as a qualified early childhood teacher at the centre.

In addition to managing her school, Thobakale is an involved, valued member on the AREA board, and represented it at the recent Reggio Children International Network meeting in Reggio Emilia in February 2014.8 Thobakale’s strong social conscience is reflected in the question she frequently asks of herself: “How can I, in a small way, make a difference?”

A leader in the field

Angie Kgosietsile is another person driven by a deep sense of social responsibility. She, too, built her school from nothing. The demand for places at her school was soon so great that she decided to open other schools in the community. She is now responsible for three excellent education centres with a total enrolment of 218 children, and she employs 21 members of staff. Inspired by the involvement of parents in the schools in Reggio Emilia, Kgosietsile has established a board consisting of 12 parents who support and advise her on many school-related matters.

Kgosietsile is also the chairperson of the local early childhood development forum, consisting of practitioners from early learning centres in the area. She is considered a leader in her field and many rely on her for advice and for arranging for them to attend conferences or workshops on the Reggio approach. Kgosietsile was deeply affected by what she learned at the 2012 conference and at workshops on the Reggio approach at St Mary’s, and immediately began implementing aspects in her centres She participated in a trip arranged by AREA to attend the Reggio Children International Study Group in Reggio Emilia in April 2014. When I asked her recently about how she had been influenced by the approach, she told me, “It was the first time I heard about the ‘100 languages of children’.9 I saw that nothing is impossible and that children are the same no matter what their culture or language may be.”

Make a difference There are many others from disadvantaged settings who have benefited from conferences and workshops on the Reggio approach. AREA is determined to continue to offer these opportunities for professional learning on the Reggio approach for these teachers at little or no cost, and is exploring avenues to raise funds for this work to continue.

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6. The Reggio approach derives its name from its place of origin, Reggio Emilia, a city located in Emilia Romagna in northern Italy. Shortly after World War II, Loris Malaguzzi, a young teacher and the founder of this unique system, joined forces with the parents of this region to provide childcare for young children. (Source:
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Category: Autumn 2015

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