The nature of child participation in reception year (Grade R) in the Western Cape.
The aim of this thesis was to explore the nature of child participation in Grade R through focusing on five Grade R teachers and fifteen children (eight girls and seven boys) in three Grade R contexts in the urban area of the Western Cape, South Africa. The importance of this study is noted from the dimension of using early childhood education to address inequities of the past and shape a new citizenry through democratic practices. A qualitative approach was undertaken to study how child participation was understood and enacted by teachers in their practice. The children's voices and actions were also studied to make sense of child participation. A mix of theoretical ideas from Hart (1997), Lansdown (2004) and Vygotsky (1978) was used to study child participation whilst the ideas of Perry (1970) and Rokeach (1960) were used to study teacher beliefs. The agency view of the child stemming from the sociology of childhood helped with understanding child participation from child initiated learning spaces. Notions of power and voice which emanate from the works of Freire (1970; 1994) and Foucault (1977) helped to understand how participation can be realized through a social justice agenda in Grade R. In order to produce the data for this study, semi-structured interviews were used to examine teacher beliefs. Observations through videos were used to observe the teachers’ practices and the children's voices and actions. The findings of this study show that the nature of child participation is socially constructed and context bound. The tightly controlled curriculum reform environment restricts possibilities for organising Grade R as a space for democratic practices where high levels of child participation take place. The study showed that teachers’ beliefs are complex and that it is important for teachers to interrogate the images they hold of childhood, their training and how they define child participation and engage with categories of difference. These aspects complicate child participation. In focusing on the teachers' practice, it was evident that child participation was strongly influenced by the outcomes they were trying to achieve. The teachers positioning also affected child participation. Where teachers took strong control over shaping the learning outcomes by focusing on learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, children's participation as agents was compromised. In these instances teachers played the roles of tellers, instructors and transmitters of knowledge, skills and values. When they made attempts to create shared understandings, child participation became stronger. When children's voices and actions were examined, they displayed high levels of participation in order to make sense of the Grade R programme and beyond. As agents they were able to assert themselves in different ways to make their agendas matter. The arena of free play allowed the children to make decisions and to make their views and opinions matter. This escaped the teachers' attention as play was seen as a hands-off session on the timetable. This study fills the gap in literature for understanding the nature of child participation in Grade R as the entry point for formal schooling through South African examples. It shows how the Grade R system and the practices emanating from it goes against the need for democratic practices to shape a new citizenry through the early years. This study has implications for children’s learning, pedagogy, leadership and teacher education.