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An inclusive learning environment in early childhood care and education: a participatory action learning and action research study.

dc.contributor.advisorHlalele, Dipane Joseph.
dc.contributor.authorMahadew, Ashnie.
dc.descriptionDoctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.en_US
dc.description.abstractThis study sought to explore an inclusive learning environment in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) using a participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) design. Situated in the ECCE context, the study attempts to address a significant gap in the literature by exploring inclusion in the under-researched ECCE sector. Using a PALAR design, this collaborative research also attempts to address a methodological gap by enabling the voice of and benefitting a marginalised sector in the education workforce. ECCE refers to the care and education of young children from birth to four years of age before formal schooling commences. In ECCE the learning environment has three components; the physical space where learning occurs, the temporal factors and the social factors. Firstly, the physical learning environment includes the various indoor and outdoor play areas. Secondly, the temporal learning environment comprises the timing and transitioning of the various activities. Thirdly, the social learning environment creates opportunities for socialisation between different role-players. With this in mind, the teacher skilfully tailors these three components to ensure that children have access to and are able to participate, achieve and are respected in the ECCE programme. Also significant is that this sector of education remains predominantly ‘unprofessionalised’ with little job security and low salaries. Thus, ECCE receives little government funding with vast discrepancies in the quality of education provision for the rich and the poor. Moreover, these ECCE centres are becoming increasingly diverse, and teachers grapple with the inclusion of children of diverse backgrounds and of varied identities, including gender, socio-economic status, language, ability and race, into the learning environment. With these varied identities in mind, this study adopts a broad view of inclusion that encompasses all diversities, not just disability or learning barriers. Additionally, there is no standardised or universal understanding of inclusion; hence many researchers concur that the concept of inclusion is broad and has varied meanings in varied contexts. Thus each ECCE centre would require a set of guidelines for inclusion that would apply to their unique context. Therefore, the focus of this study is to explore how a group of ECCE teachers and teacher trainers explore an inclusive learning environment in their unique context. The specific research objectives of the study are: • To explore the current situation regarding inclusive learning environments in ECCE • To explore how we create inclusive learning environments in ECCE • To explore why we need to create an inclusive learning environment in ECCE the way we do. Consequently, the above objectives provided an impetus for an eight-month-long, virtual learning participatory workshop held with six ECCE teachers and two ECCE teacher trainers. Using a PALAR methodology, data was gathered through a baseline checklist, purposeful conversations, photovoice, reflective drawings and reflective journals. PALAR research adopts a critical emancipatory research paradigm, which seeks to give voice and agency to practitioners in the field. The study is underpinned by critical theory and critical pedagogy that enables a ‘collective meaning-making’, resulting in greater epistemic justice throughout the research cycles. The generated data is interpreted and analysed using Critical Thematic Analysis (CTA) where data is interpreted using two levels of closed and open coding, to reveal emergent themes that are subsequently related to wider ideological issues. The research objectives inform three iterative cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. Data generated in cycle one reveals a misunderstanding of inclusion, a need for conscientisation or personal awareness of hegemony in the learning environment, traditional teaching methods and a lack of relationship-building within role-players in the respective ECCE centres. The second learning cycle is informed by the second research objective and attempts to address the challenges revealed in cycle one. Consequently, cycle two, therefore, allowed for praxis – a product of iterative, collaborative reflection and action, with the co-researchers in an attempt to effect change in the learning environment. Themes in this cycle emphasised the removal of dominant ideologies regarding the concept of inclusion, greater conscientisation resulting in the removal of stereotyping and welcoming of all diversities. Cycle two also revealed an inclusive play-based pedagogical approach and ways to build relationships between all role-players at ECCE centres. The third cycle served as feedback sessions to the groups that assisted with synthesising the findings with deeper ideological issues. The study outlines a context-specific understanding of inclusion that could be applied to the broader ECCE sector. Findings reveal that inclusion is an inner journey that begins within teachers, resulting from their own levels of awareness or conscientisation. Becoming inclusive means removing current ways of being and doing and revisiting false beliefs enmeshed unknowingly in the hidden curriculum. It is a process of continuous examination, of unlearning and relearning that leads to action in the form of pedagogical practices and relationship building. This authentic and deep level of inclusion is not governed by policies but is a result of an inner urge for social justice, democracy and human rights for all. Inclusion is thus useful in achieving a more socially just ECCE learning environment. Seeing that ECCE is a critical period to form attitudes and values for life, this study also offers a commitment to social justice and equality concerning the wider world. With a paucity of research in the South African ECCE sector; this study should form a springboard for further research.en_US
dc.subject.otherInclusive learning environment.en_US
dc.subject.otherEarly childhood care and education.en_US
dc.subject.otherPhysical learning environment.en_US
dc.subject.otherTemporal learning environment.en_US
dc.subject.otherSocial learning environment.en_US
dc.titleAn inclusive learning environment in early childhood care and education: a participatory action learning and action research study.en_US


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