NPOs can position themselves on a much stronger and far more sustainable pathway by partnering with ICT professionals to take the critical work they do to the next level. And this is precisely what happened when Blue Pencil Creative and Cotlands worked together to propel the work that Cotlands does into the digital space.

Blue Pencil Creative was ideally suited for this project, with their methodology of combining robust learning theory with a variety of digital development methodologies, to impart knowledge and change behaviour. “What is so exciting about this partnership,” says Adrian Ziller, Managing Director of Blue Pencil Creative, “is that this is one of the first projects to pilot an entirely digital SETA-accredited training solution for an NPO.”

Cotlands is a Johannesburg-based NPO who, for some, may still be perceived as a home for abandoned babies. However, in 2012, Cotlands made the transition from solely a residential unit for babies and small children, to working with the next crises in the country – early learning education from birth to the year before starting school. Since then, Cotlands has successfully facilitated a comprehensive play-based early learning programme that includes 9 toy library depots; 8 mobile toy libraries and 87 play groups in all 9 provinces. The programme focuses on children in marginalised communities, empowering the next generation of children. “Cotlands are doing such innovative work to service their communities, which is congruent with our philosophy,” Adrian adds.

“There are approximately between 3 and 4 million children under the age of 6 who are not currently accessing early learning in the country, and part of the reasons are logistics and poverty,” says Bonnie Haack, Chief Learning Officer at Cotlands. “This is why we created the community-based learning groups – to empower both the children and an early learning facilitator (ELF) from that community.”

Each ELF is upskilled though Cotlands’ own in-service training and inducted into the Cotlands’ learning culture and educational philosophy. “However,” says Bonnie, “they should ideally have NQF Level 4 ECD (Early Childhood Development) practitioner training. Unfortunately, formal education is not accessible to most of the facilitators, which has an impact on the children that they are training.” Blue Pencil Creative’s solution was to design an entirely digital SETA/QCTOaccredited ECD and new venture creation toy library certified training programme for Cotlands.

This digital offering launches in July 2020, following an in-depth trial evaluation. The fully integrated end-to-end digital programme includes a learning component, is interactive and experiential, and allows students to work at their own pace and on any device – cell phone, laptop or tablet. The QCTO or Quality Council for Trades & Occupations model gives learners an excellent learning pathway as they gain real workplace learning and multiple entry points to achieve the highest possible level in their occupation.

“The programme offers a gateway into formal education based on workplace experience through recognition of prior learning (RPL),” explains Kerry Huggett, Executive and Training Administrator for Cotlands. This is what Cotlands envisages – to provide a career pathway for their facilitators to professionalise the services that they offer.

Cotlands will ultimately be making these digital courses available to everyone, as they will be far more affordable and accessible than existing classroom-based courses. “We have a dire need in the country for ECD trainers – they set the scene for everything that is to come. If you instil in children a love of learning, opportunities to succeed, and a love of trying new things with confidence … it is incalculable how much that will impact their lives,” says Adrian.