Introduction – the Rationale for and Development of this Collaboration
Despite lip service to the inclusion of local childrearing knowledge and practices in South African ECD programming and a growing focus on diversity, most local models and curriculum guidelines privilege Western child development theory and models of ECD provision. While local and global knowledge will necessarily exist side by side, a recent assessment of local curricula and programmes indicated that local knowledge was conspicuously absent (Biersteker, 2008). Existing local and indigenous knowledge and care and support arrangements are often overlooked by programmers and practitioners, resulting in the negation of parents’/caregivers’ and communities’ own beliefs and practices.
A further concern is that in South Africa, there has been little formal recording of the ways that families and communities in different circumstances view child rearing and development, of what their priorities are, how early development was and is promoted, and of how current ECD and early schooling supports these or not.
There is a growing awareness within the ECD sector of the need and desire for interventions to respect and build on local and indigenous knowledge, practices and efforts of poor caregivers and families, as well as to record accounts and stories before they disappear.
This was the context within which the ECD Learning Community (ECDLC) expressed interest in developing a research project to investigate the use of local and indigenous knowledge within ECD programming. The Early Learning Resource Unit led this process with input from other members with research capacity.
The main objective of this project was to strengthen the care environment for young children by affirming and building on caregivers’ and communities’ local and indigenous knowledge and practices. The vehicle was a series of action based participatory research undertakings to enable critical reflection on those practices and reinforce and build upon those that have positive outcomes for children and their caregivers.
At the outset we recognised that this was not and could not be a Research project in the conventional sense – research capacity was too patchy among partners and one of the aims of this initiative was to transform ways of engaging with communities to inform programming for the care environment.
This involved building the will and capacity of diverse partners within the ECDLC to embrace a participatory approach in which they and their partner communities would investigate the indigenous and local strategies within the care environment for young children. It was important that the studies would potentially impact on further programming. They were therefore sited in communities where ECDLC partners had on-going programmes, and it was stressed that the topics should be of local interest and relevance. While many of the topics were similar, this was a multi-method study with each ECDLC partner focusing on different questions, interacting with different groups of informants, and using various methods. Community stakeholder groups who participated varied from site to site but included older children, caregivers, grandmothers and grandfathers, local leadership, and ECD service providers and traditional healers. This report will present some of the findings from the different studies and reflect on their implications for ECD interventions.
The Research Process
NGOs and CBOs who were part of the ECD Learning Community undertook studies in the following provinces of South Africa: Eastern Cape (2 organisations), Free State (4 organisations), Limpopo (3 organisations), and KwaZulu-Natal (2 organisations). The approach was appreciative and participatory as a useful methodology for recognising positive existing knowledge and strengths and also for discussion of knowledge and practices that might need to be changed. The intention was not only to ensure a credible research process and findings, but to introduce and strengthen a participatory approach to programming for young children and their carers which includes reflection on local and indigenous practices and the use (or adaptation) of those which are appropriate for current circumstances to bepromoted, and advocated for more broadly. The process therefore aimed not only at documenting the practices, but included an interrogation of the reasons for such practices and the inherent values. It facilitated discussion with communities to decide what needed to be taken forward.
In keeping with the participatory approach each organisation worked on a research topic of importance in their current project. The methods used were mainly PRA based, with individual interviews, focus groups, games and demonstrations of dances, transect walks, mapping and drawings. In some sites there were community dialogues.
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