On the 16th of June, 1991, a beautiful baby boy was born to a 16-year old mother in a township. His upbringing was tough; some days he didn’t know if he would have anything to eat, his bed was made of pillows laid on the floor and there were times he didn’t have shoes to wear. While his friends had toy cars, he had a brick to play with.
An abundance of research shows that this start to life does not predict a promising future. The first 1000 days of life, starting from conception, are critical to brain development, societal integration and overall wellbeing. This means that circumstances such as a lack of nutrition, protection and stimulation in the early years may cause a child to fall behind developmentally, having long-term negative consequences on their future success.
However, research also shows that loving and supportive relationships, and opportunities to engage with the world through problem-solving, making mistakes and receiving helpful feedback can help children to rise above otherwise dire circumstances. The plasticity of the brain helps with this, whereby the brain has the capacity to re-wire itself and possibly overwrite negative learnings with helpful and constructive beliefs. Early childhood and adolescence are two developmental periods when plasticity is at its peak. Investing in relational development and educational stimulation during these phases is key to helping children who may be “behind”, due to their circumstances, embark on a more promising trajectory.
STEAM education presents an approach to investing in children in a way that harnesses the plasticity of the brain. Not only can it be adapted to working with children from their early years and into adolescence, but it emphasises building positive relationships between peers, educators and community members. Its hands-on nature also gives learners the opportunity to problem-solve, think critically and creatively, and learn from their interactions with others. This approach can contribute to helping children rise above tough circumstances.
The boy mentioned in our introduction is testament to this. He received consistent love and support from his grandmother and other key people in his life, including mentors. He was exposed to rugby from a young age and embraced it with everything he had. This afforded him a scholarship at Grey College in Port Elizabeth when he was just going into Grade 7. Here, his talent was recognised and he was given the opportunity to hone his rugby skills.
Today, he is the Springbok Rugby Captain. Not only is Siya Kolisi the first black Captain of South Africa’s rugby team, but he recently made history by leading the team to victory in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He has not forgotten his upbringing and makes sure to consistently visit the community he grew up in and invest in their development. Not only has Kolisi become a success, but he inspires children across South Africa to pursue their dreams and rise above their circumstances. South Africa is full of children who have the potential to be the next “Siya Kolisis”, it’s as simple as seeing them, loving them and giving them access to simple learning opportunities. ❤️ 🌿_______________________________________________
- Early means Early: Mapping the gaps between expert, stakeholder, and public understanding of ECD in South Africa. A FrameWorks Research Report. 2016.
- Ibid; Switch on Your Brain: Leaf, C. The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health. 2017. Brilliance Audio.