A water programme targeting pre-schools situated in formerly disadvantaged communities in Mpumalanga has changed the national curriculum approach to water awareness.

The availability of fresh water is a great challenge for South Africa. Many of our water resources are polluted by industrial effluents, domestic and commercial sewage, acid mine drainage, agricultural runoff and litter, making the water unfit for human consumption. “The greatest challenge facing the country is to ensure that water is managed carefully. The continuous pollution of rivers and streams, as well as the growing future demands for water, calls for all citizens to re-assess their attitudes towards this vital resource,” says the Provincial Water Programme Coordinator, Nomathemba Makam. “Being a water-scarce country and one of the 30 driest countries on earth, we all have a responsibility to conserve our water resources.”

The government therefore embarked on an education programme aimed at creating this change in South Africans’ attitudes, starting with pre-school learners. In 2008, the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (DEDET) initiated a water programme that targeted pre-schools situated in formerly disadvantaged communities in the Mpumalanga province. The rationale was based on the premise that early childhood environmental education plays a critical role in shaping a child’s attitudes and behaviour towards the environment, and focussed on increasing water awareness among pre-school learners, encouraging them to use water responsibly in their everyday lives.

The pre-schools were used to reach communities and families to bring about positive changes in attitudes and values, and the platform for education about water conservation was conducted through appropriate modes of communication such as rhymes, songs, and colouring-in of pictures. In addition to the traditional educational elements, practical, creative and affordable real-world solutions were initiated in the schools. Environmentally-friendly methods to preserve water were used in the school gardens, including mulching, the use of natural pest repellents, and a pyramid food garden for the reduction of frequent watering and seepage. Self-made watering cans and cups for drinking water were introduced.

“The water programme was designed in such a way that it links up with the revised National Curriculum,” explains Makam. “Access to the programme was made by maximising service delivery to all areas, including deep rural areas and learners with special education needs. The participating schools were encouraged and motivated through a competition phase that was initiated by the department.”

This programme won the 2010 CPSI award for Innovative Service Delivery Institutions, and has since been the foundation for a change in the national curriculum. The Department of Education has adapted and aligned the resource material from the project so that it can be used in Grades R to 7, and Matla coal mine had also aligned the resource material for Grade 7 use.

Gert Sibande district municipality and the Department of Education joined forces to launch a Water Quality Programme, where a water audit was conducted in 23 schools around the Gert Sibande district. The target groups were Grade 6 and 7 learners, and the original resource material was used to assist the Gert Sibande district municipality in the implementation of its programme.

While the water programme was one of the approved programmes funded out of the DEDET’s budget, it was not properly implemented due to budgetary constraints in 2011/2012. “Environmental officers ensure that the progress of the programme is being monitored, and continuous consultation, participation and the involvement of various stakeholders sustain the project,” says Makam.