postheadericon The Early Learning Foundation (ELF) Montessori Teacher Training Project

South Africa

The ABSA/Sowetan Award is a prestigious accolade awarded to Early Childhood programs serving disadvantaged communities in South Africa.  The competition was launched in October 2007 and is sponsored by South Africa’s biggest bank and one of the country’s most influential newspapers.  Two of the ten finalists in the category of Training Oganizations are Montessori based.  The Early Learning Foundation took second place at the National finals in August this year. elf

Image:  Hawa Tayob Receiving the ABSA Sowetan Award on behalf of ELF

The Early Learning Foundation Montessori Training Project (ELF MTTP) is a small, not for profit women’s organization. As a training provider (accredited by the ETDP-Seta, the South African accrediting authority) the project focuses on training women from previously disadvantaged communities in Montessori Early Childhood Education. Our vision is to bring quality ECD Programmes to children previously denied access to such programmes. The Project is located in, Shireen’s Montessori Preschool Centre in Salt River, Cape town, South Africa.

Salt River can be described as a historically disadvantaged community. The preschool centre was established in the early 1970’s by a non-profit organization which recognized the need for daycare and preschool education in this working class community. Unemployment and poverty are not uncommon to this neighbourhood, nor are the related problems of drugs and crime. In 1994, I was invited by the Board of Directors of IELF to evaluate the centre and its programme. This led to the formation of ELF MTTP. The Board was concerned that the quality of pre-school education offered at the centre was inadequate and a number of children at the centre was decreasing. The school was also facing financial difficulties and was struggling to meet its expenses and maintain such a large staff. At that time the centre had eight teachers and 60 children. My recommendations included an adapted implementation of the Montessori programme which would respect the culture of the community. The Board supported this proposal and since the beginning of 1995 the ELF introduced the Montessori Method of pre-school education at Shireen's Play Centre in Salt River.

ELF MTT began by training the unqualified staff working in the preschool in Salt River in the Montessori method. The pilot programme showed that:

  • The Montessori programme was financially viable
  • Qualified staff contributed more positively to the schools programme and the level of professionalism improved.
  • The ambiance and décor increased parents’ enthusiasm about the programme.
  • The attendance at parent workshops increased
  • The Grade 1 teachers in the schools to which these children transferred commented on the level of independence of the Montessori children compared to the rest of the class.
  • The teachers found that these children were able to well on their own.
  • These teachers also commented positively on the literacy levels of the Montessori children in particular the number of children who entered grade 1 reading.

After a successful pilot the programme in 1995 the project now offers a two year part-time Montessori Early Childhood  Programme to women.  This progamme is accredited in South Africa at Level 4 and 5.  We also offer workshops on a wide range of topics including
•    Hands-On Mathematics in the Foundation Phase  
•    HIV/AIDS with particular impact on the young (0-9 yr old child)
•    School Management
•    Nutrition
•    Special Needs
•    Art
•    Music
•    Science for young children
•    First Aid
•    Inclusive education
Many of these workshops are open to the broader community and parents .

Profiles of Individuals the Programme Supports  (names have been changed to protect identity)


Katie is a victim of urban violence in the Western Cape. Whilst burying her husband’s brother five family members, including her husband, were gunned down in the front garden of their home. Her children were witness to this horrific act. Her children still have nightmares, sleep with her and are anxious when she is away from them.

Katie had never worked outside the home. She had no professional training or experience. Left without a breadwinner and with two children to raise, she had to find work. She was persuaded by a friend to enrol for the course. In the beginning she was very shy and insecure. She rarely spoke to other members in the class and never volunteered for any activities. Eight weeks down the line, she emerged as a creative, confident person. She worked well with her group members, providing support and doing her share of the assignments. She also spent many additional hours practising at the school with the Montessori didactic materials.

This paid off in more ways than one. She was offered the position of Directress in the 2-3 year class at the school. In addition, Katie feels the course has helped her deal with her own children more positively. She says the children are much happier now that they can see she is happy. She also felt in the beginning that children (3-6 year olds) were not capable of working on their own with so little supervision, or even work with higher number ranges. After having observed at the school where there are 60 children in the class with a directress and assistant she was most impressed.


When Jasmin joined the training programme, she had done community work with children in the Cape Flats. She had also worked as a part- time trainer for an organisation called the Early Learning Resource Unit.

She found the course very useful in her own work with and introduced many of the concepts to her own adult students. She had them try the Silence Game with their classes and said they were amazed at how it works.

At the end of the course Jasmin emigrated to New-Zealand and was able to find employment at a Montessori Center there.


ELF offers many women the opportunity to upgrade their skills. It empowers women as teachers and helps them to see themselves as professionals. This intensive course goes beyond Montessori concepts, teaching diverse life skills including how to write notes, make mind maps, do research and write a bibliography.  It enables participants to develop abilities to work on group tasks and make presentations to the group.  Rather than merely learning how to present materials they come to understand the rationale behind the lessons. A result of the training is that the women themselves have expressed feelings of being energised and empowered:

“I feel empowered, I feel like a professional.” {Trainee from Gugulethu}

“Being on the course has helped tremendously. It has given me back my self- confidence, motivation, self respect and boosted my self worth. Thanks for your confidence in me.” {Teacher in training from Mitchel’s Plain}

“When Montessori came in my whole life changed and the program in my centre also changed. Montessori changed everything. The children are more relaxed and the noise level is low. The children can work on their own and if they need help they help one another. They can sort out their own problem.”  {Trainee from Silvertown, Athlone}

“The course has changed my whole lifestyle. I have gained a lot of courage. I can speak more freely now. I can teach my own children at home also, especially my Down syndrome child.”{ Mother from Salt river}

ELF Montessori is headed by Hawa Tayob and supported by a board of Directors.

Hawa Tayob is a South African who completed her  Montessori training in the United States in 1987 where she worked until her return to South Africa in 1989. Her educational background includes a B.Ed (Hons) in Educational Psychology and Psychometry at UCT, a Masters diploma in Early Childhood Education.  She is currently completing my Masters in Educational Psychology.

In 1989 Hawa found she was one of only a handful of black qualified Montessori preschool teacher in South Africa and discovered that Montessori schools in South Africa at that time were only in “white” neighbourhoods serving white, upper class communities.  She became determined to bring Montessori and its benefits to disadvantaged communities.
As the director of ELF she is  involved in everything from material development and planning to lecturing and mentoring the students. She is deeply grateful for the opportunity to be able to combine her personal passion and interest with a her commitment to uplifting of the community.

Last Updated (Thursday, 22 July 2010 09:01)