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Kids Collab: Reflections on our pathway to Open Education

07 May 2024

Navigating government channels: Our path to piloting a programme with the Gauteng Department of Education

In our recent blog series, we've delved into Kids Collab's journey towards understanding open educational resources (OER), followed by our transition into the social impact space alongside NBA. These significant milestones paved the way for an exciting new chapter: our collaboration on a six-month pilot project with the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE). Today, we're thrilled to share the extraordinary story behind this venture—an unconventional journey that we love to share.

In 2022, after numerous meetings and countless revisions, we had a proposal ready to share with the world about how we wanted our Kids Collab School Programme to become an OER that could be used in low-resourced Early Childhood Development (ECD) settings. The pilot project rationale read as follows: ‘The Kids Collab School Programme is currently being successfully implemented in a limited range of schooling setups in South Africa; however, the goal is to implement and test the model within low-resourced ECD centres to understand its application and effectiveness in various socio-economic settings. Using open licensing, the programme could reach a much larger local and international audience.’ With NBA's support and funding through its Hewlett Foundation grant, the most challenging part seemed sorted – or so we thought.

What we did not realize at the time was that to work in a selected range of ECD centres in South Africa, we would need government buy-in. Considering neither of us has any connections within the government, it left us asking ourselves, ‘Where on earth do we start!?’ Well, in true Rachel and Whitney style, we turned to our trusty friend, Linkedin, and typed ‘Gauteng Department of Education’ and clicked ‘Connect’ with anyone who had a title that slightly resembled one which could provide a way in. To our surprise, a few connections accepted, and we sent off a brief overview of our ambitious goal. Believe it or not, the Deputy Director-General responded positively, expressing interest in our initiative – a huge surprise, given the usual silence from ‘the higher ups’. As weeks passed, we eagerly awaited further developments. It was during a week of school site visits in Mpumalanga, still promoting a digital school solution, that we received an email: a slot to present to the GDE in three days’ time – in person! 

We were ushered into a classroom-style setting, where we faced district officials and the Chief Education Specialist. The nerves were palpable on our end, especially as this marked one of our first major in-person meetings since the onset of Covid-19. It was a significant moment to be thrust back into face-to-face interactions and there were certainly no virtual barriers to hide behind. As we presented, skepticism gradually turned into interest, with the GDE recognising the potential of our programme to enhance early years practitioners' skills in physical development and well-being – a timely realisation considering the GDE's recent emphasis on early childhood education.

In February 2019, during the State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa directed the migration of ECD centres from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education. This shift aligns with global trends, as many countries now prioritize ECD as an early learning function under national ministries of education. It seemed we had come along at the right time, and the GDE shared their vision of how our programme could help capacitate the practitioners in introducing and focusing of physical development and wellbeing. 

But challenges persisted. The GDE's emphasis on reaching the most marginalised ECD centres raised questions about the feasibility of our online solution. Undeterred, we swiftly told them, ‘We have considered this already and we will deliver handbooks and equipment packs’. Needless to say we left that meeting, high-fived each other, and said, ‘Best we get developing that handbook’. We had sparked interest and curiosity in the GDE, and, from that moment on, committed ourselves to making sure we would see this through.

As you can imagine, things do not move quickly in government. We were absolutely relentless over the coming months – the number of follow-up calls, emails, and reminders to keep us top of their minds must have driven them mad, but we were not going to slip through the cracks. External funding spared us a tender process, but we did have to do a demonstration at an ECD centre to get the buy-in from educators and social workers as well as deliver a condensed version of the programme for review. 

There were numerous meetings to ‘clarify’, ‘speak through’, and ‘align’ but one year later, our Kids Collab Programme finally launched in five ECD centres across three large informal settlements in Gauteng. Despite months of uncertainty, the process proved worthwhile. While the pilot's success awaits evaluation, we've achieved significant milestones: developing and sharing OER, securing a government partnership, and capacitating practitioners with vital knowledge around children’s fundamental movement skills and wellbeing practices.

Navigating the intricacies of working with government entities can be daunting, but our experience has taught us valuable lessons that we thought we would share here:

  • Don't hesitate to reach out and connect with the right people in government. Having a well-documented proposal at your fingertips can significantly enhance your credibility and streamline the initial engagement process. 
  • Be prepared to make yourself available for in-person meetings whenever necessary. Face-to-face interactions not only facilitate deeper connections but also help build trust – a vital component in any successful partnership. 
  • Persistence is key. Regular follow-ups are essential to staying top of mind amidst the myriad of responsibilities officials juggle. Don't be discouraged; even if it feels like you're being persistent, it's essential to maintain momentum. 
  • Listen attentively to their needs and concerns. By prioritising listening over talking, you demonstrate respect for their expertise and gain valuable insights into the landscape. 
  • Be open to adaptation if it could benefit the collaboration. Flexibility and willingness to adjust your approach can foster a more fruitful partnership.
  • Exercise patience. Working with government entities often involves lengthy processes, so it's crucial to remain patient and steadfast in your commitment. 

Our journey with the GDE has been a testament to these principles. Through perseverance, adaptability, and strategic engagement, we've overcome challenges and achieved significant milestones. None of this would have been possible without the invaluable support of our partners at NBA, the grant funding from the Hewlett Foundation, and our own unwavering determination to see this project through. As we continue on this journey, we're excited to see the impact of our collaboration unfold and to share our learnings with others navigating similar paths.