Constructions of childhood for and by children in two early childhood centres in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Ebrahim, Hasina Banu.
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This thesis examines the constructions of childhood by seven early childhood teachers and twenty young children (ten boys and ten girls) in two private early childhood centres catering for children below Grade R in urban KwaZulu-Natal. An ethnographic approach is used to present childhood as a complex socially constructed process. On the methodological front, this study argues for the practice of responsive researching to engage with moment by moment realities that are sensitive to the particularities of young children and their circumstances when they are positioned as participants in research. In the analysis of teachers’ constructions of childhood for young children, the findings of this study suggest that the lack of public funding in early childhood education, for children below Grade R, sets the conditions for early childhood centres to operate as commercial enterprises trading commodities in a free market. Given this context, teachers position themselves in the dominant market discourse. The study suggests that the focus on the purchasing power of parents determines the type of childhood young children experience at the centres. Teachers access normalising images of young children as property and essentialised adults-in-the-making to support the processing of children as human capital for a fee. As such, the social project of early childhood, as space for democratic practices for public good, is weakened. The focus on the doings of childhood by young children (boys and girls) contrasts the normalising images presented by teachers. The findings of this study suggest that the complex struggles within the temporal zones of growing up and relations in race and gender, present young children as powerful social actors who actively construct their childhoods. The study illuminates how young children use the limiting discourses freely available to them to constitute themselves in familiar ways, and also how they find spaces to loosen the power of these discourses. In concentrating on the lived realities of childhood, this study enters some unfamiliar spaces that provide a base to ask more questions about early childhood centres, teachers, and young children in early childhood education.