Launch of new NMMU building expected to boost early childhood education

MARCH 31, 2016
Launch of new NMMU building expected to boost early childhood education

Monday, the 4th of April, sees the launch of a brand new building tailor-made for budding Foundation Phase (Grade R to 3) teachers, studying towards their BEd degrees at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The building has been designed around a brand new curriculum and teaching philosophy – as part of NMMU’s bold efforts to grow more teachers in this critical first phase of a child’s schooling.

The university’s re-curriculated BEd Foundation Phase programme is a benchmark approach in South Africa’s Foundation Phase education.

“We have deliberately chosen Missionvale Campus as the location for the re-curriculated Foundation Phase programme, as it is situated close to a large number of primary schools in Zwide, Missionvale and New Brighton,” says Dr Tulsi Morar, Operations Manager of the Faculty of Education, who is committed to professional teacher development in disadvantaged communities.

“Its situation complements the Foundation Phase programme’s practice of partnering with schools that provide the challenges we need to address in South Africa if education and teacher education is to make a real difference.”

The hope is that graduates will take up posts in the surrounding areas, in the schools where they are needed most, and where they can make the most difference. 

The new R56m building, which was completed in January after a year-long construction process, has been custom-designed to accommodate the BEd Foundation Phase’s new curriculum, and the Reggio Emilia philosophy of child development behind it. This philosophy, with its metaphor of “the hundred languages of children”, draws on drama, music, art and languages to help teachers tap into the full potential of the children they are teaching. 

The new building’s inviting, versatile learning spaces with movable furniture can be used for lectures, music, drama and meeting rooms. They can also be utilised for afterschool programmes, such as literacy development.

“The building has been designed to accommodate 400 students,” said NMMU Construction Manager: Infrastructure Bill McLachlan. From this year, 200 third and fourth-year students are attending lectures in the new building on Missionvale Campus, but all Foundation Phase students will shift there in 2017.

Postgraduate facilities have been included to encourage greater numbers of students to conduct postgraduate research in Foundation Phase education. Several Masters and PhD students are already enrolled.

Huge glass windows and doors allow for interaction with the outside. “The students are not separated from their surroundings,” said McLachlan.

Expected to meet the needs of today’s “digital generation”, each lecture venue is equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment and Wi-Fi. The main lecture venue, seating 100 students, has a “hearing loop” to accommodate students that are hearing impaired.

The new building has its own Resource Centre on the lower floor, which includes 10 computer stations, brightly-coloured couches and a library of books and classroom resources (including educational games) – although students will still need to get many of their books from Missionvale Campus’s well-equipped library. The Resource Centre includes an exhibition space to showcase the work the students have produced.

Right next door, are colourful chairs and tables, where students can relax or work. The upper level houses a 50-seater “discussion pit”, enclosed by low walls covered in bright mosaics, where students can also share ideas.

The concrete and steel building is minimalistic for low maintenance. However, large red and blue vertical banners, and the discussion pit’s striking mosaics, breathe colour into the building while the massive windows and doors allow for the vibrant outside hues to enter the space. Children’s art will soon adorn the grey walls in the entrance of the building.

Air conditioners on timers are in the bigger lecture venues, but the rest of the building mostly relies on natural ventilation.

A raised concrete walkway  links the main building to the admin block, where the feeling of airiness continues with 10 open-plan offices, and nine others separated by glazed glass.

“It is through good quality Foundation Phase teaching that we can have hope of developing the young to become critical problem solvers of the future. Our Foundation Phase complex on Missionvale Campus allows us to do just that,” said Dean of Education Dr Muki Moeng.

Image: State of the art - Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s brand new education building, tailor-made for students studying towards BEd Foundation Phase (Grade R to 3) degrees.