THE ROLE OF THE PRACTITIONER IN DEVELOPING AGENCY THROUGH LEARNING FOR WELL-BEING

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CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW

It takes a whole village to raise a child – Igbo proverb

 INTRODUCTION

In Chapter 1 I contextualised the study, explained the rationale and presented the problem statement, aims, objectives and the research questions. I briefly introduced the methodology. In Chapter 1 the primary objective of the study is presented which is to investigate the various ways in which practitioners’ roles manifest in inner-city early childhood centres (ICECCs) in terms of the development of pre-schoolers’ agency through learning for well-being. In this study agency is linked to pre-schoolers’ well-being. Learning happens in the everyday lives of pre-schoolers and their well-being is created in the context where they live, love, learn and play. I argue that when pre-schoolers are afforded an opportunity to express their viewpoints, perspectives and theories about matters which concern or interest them, they contribute to their own well-being, that of others, and the environment.
Chapter 2 expands on the contextual framework presented in Chapter 1 by focusing on the discussion about the overarching and interconnected theoretical frameworks, namely the Learning for Well-being Framework (see 2.3.1) and the Reggio educational approach (see 2.3.2), with further reference to the Framework of Indigenous Well-being (see 2.3.3). This chapter starts with providing various meanings of the concept of agency (see 2.1.1), the importance of listening to the voice of pre-schoolers (see 2.2.1), and makes a case that pre-schoolers are not too young to express agency (see 2.2.1.1). It mentions four models which can inform the development of pre-schoolers’ agency (2.2.1.2). Thereafter the concept of well-being (2.2.2) and how it relates to the Framework for Learning for Well-being and to the South African National Qualifications Framework Birth to Four Years is briefly explained. An introduction to the process of learning for well-being follows (See 2.2.3). The chapter makes a case for researching the roles which practitioners play in developing pre-schoolers’ agency and subsequent well-being from both a Western and African perspective (see 2.2.4). Then follows a discussion on the two frameworks and the learning approach (see 2.3) and the two discourses, namely the discourse on rights and meaning-making (see 2.4) against the modernist backdrop of a discourse of quality.
Next the roles of practitioners (as listeners, as cultivators of core capacities and as creators of the classroom atmosphere of ubuntu (see 2.5) in terms pre-schoolers’ agency and well-being are explained. Society’s present and past conceptualisations of pre-schoolers follow the discussion on practitioners’ roles (see 2.6). Three learning approaches to develop agency: Vygotsky’s co-constructivist learning (see 2.7.1), the tool of pedagogical documentation (see 2.7.2) and the learning for well-being process are explored. Finally two ways in which the early childhood centre and the city can be envisioned, namely the early childhood centre as a forum in civil society (see 2.8.1) and the city as a child-friendly space (see 2.8.2), are discussed in order to indicate that an early childhood centre can be more than just a place of teaching and learning. It can be a place where agency is developed and subsequent well-being is enhanced.
In summation, an exploration of the manifestation of practitioners’ roles; various factors in early childhood contexts; and the knowledge and attitudes of practitioners and what they do in their practices to impact the development of pre-schoolers’ agency are investigated. Finally evidence of pre-schoolers’ agency is explored to support my argument that pre-schoolers do have agency and that it needs to be developed by practitioners in inner-city early childhood contexts. The literature review thus aims to support my argument that pre-schoolers are not empty vessels that have to be filled with pre-determined knowledge from outside experts, but are capable of contributing to their own well-being, those of others and the environment through expressing and sharing their ideas, perspectives and theories about their world. Various researchers commented on young children’s agency in literature.
James and Prout (1990:8) state that children are not just passive bystanders of social structures and processes. They [pre-schoolers] can be envisioned as constructors of their own lives, the lives of those around them and of the societies in which they live. Such perspectives of children are in line with my argument that pre-schoolers have agentive capabilities. As a point of departure it is of utmost importance to introduce the concepts of agency, well-being and the process of learning for well-being.

 Various meanings of the concept of agency in early childhood education

According to Giddens (1984:14), agency does not refer primarily to the intentions which people have to do things, but to their ability to take action, which includes their ability to influence their own lifeworld and those of others to make a difference. The role which individuals [i.e. children] play in constructing their experiences of the world implies that they are “agents of experiences rather than simply partakers of experiences” (Bandura, 2001:4). Pufall and Unsworth (2004:8) refer to agency as voice, understood as children’s expressions of intentions, hopes, grievances and expectations. The concept of agency is further explained by Morrow (2011:10) as “the capacity to act”. Malaguzzi (1993:10), founder of the Reggio educational approach, which further informs this study, offers an apt description of children’s agency by stating children are « rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent and, most of all, connected to adults and other children ». These statements suggest that children should be conceptualised as agents of change and not merely as silent observers of events or experiences. Edwards, Gandini and Forman (2012:150) states that children – even young children – can act as protagonists [i.e. change makers] in society. They are rights-bearers who need to be listened to and afforded opportunities to participate with adults and peers, and take action alongside them on the basis of their unique experiences and development.
Such perspectives of children are in contrast to some common images of children as being deficit, passive, adult-driven, or who have to follow a predetermined path set out by adults and/or determined by children’s biological development (Dahlberg et al., 2013:49). This study shares the Reggio perspective that children seek meaning of the world and are co-constructors of identity, knowledge and culture in relationship with others (Dahlberg et al., 2013:53). The above descriptions of children’s capacities to act as agents of their own well-being summarises how practitioners should envision pre-schoolers and thus develop their agency through learning for well-being.
The argument which may be put forward that pre-schoolers are too young to act as agents is contradicted by the frameworks and educational approach which informs this study. The Learning for Well-being Framework (see 2.3.1) illustrates in Figure 2.3 that pre-schoolers influence and express themselves in relation to self, others and the environment. The Reggio educational approach deems pre-schoolers capable of agency (see 2.3.2) when practitioners listens to their perspectives and ideas. The Framework of Indigenous Well-being (see 2.3.3) further underscores that pre-schoolers’ sense of agency is informed by who they are through their relationships and experiences with others

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FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPTS OF THIS STUDY

The importance of listening to the voice of pre-schoolers

To listen to pre-schoolers’ voice implies, first, that practitioners need to move beyond their conceptualisation of pre-schoolers as weak, dependent and immature to envisioning them as strong and capable agents in society. If pre-schoolers are regarded as voiceless it perpetuates the stereotypical power imbalances between practitioners and pre-schoolers. In disregarding pre-schoolers, it implies that they are not worthy of being listened to by adults (James, 2007:262). When practitioners deem pre-schoolers to be empty vessels in need of being filled with predetermined knowledge, the multiple ways in which pre-schoolers can share their perspectives and theories about the world around them and take part in making decisions about matters which affect their well-being are ignored. Practitioners may then ignore the various ways in which children express, and act upon, their ideas and perspectives through creative and imaginative means (e.g. drawings of their school, route maps about their city or expressions through making clay statues), as evidenced in this study. Such lack of attention may perpetuate the silencing of pre-schoolers and thus hinder the development of their agency and well-being. This study thus envisions the encouragement of practitioners to reconsider their roles in terms of the development of pre-schoolers’ agency.
Bae (2009:395) states that if the right of children to participate on their own terms is to become evident in practice, they need responsive practitioners who recognise their competencies and encourage them to develop and learn, and simultaneously be aware of their vulnerabilities and dependence. The Learning for Well-being Framework (which is discussed in 2.3) looks at children from a competency and strength-based perspective (Kickbusch et al., 2012:100), hence its central place in this thesis. The Reggio educational approach (see 2.3.2) further underscores the multiple ways in which pre-schoolers can express themselves and how practitioners, by listening to them, can make their agency visible through the tool of pedagogical documentation (see 2.7.2) (Dahlberg et al., 2013:156). The Framework of Indigenous Well-being indicates that pre-schoolers are holistic beings who live and learn in relationship with others (see 2.3.3)

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Indicators of pre-schoolers’ agency

In light of the above-mentioned perspectives, I thus argue that pre-schoolers are not too young to express their opinions or share their perspectives, especially in terms of matters which concern them. Corsaro (2005:24) states that even very young children, alongside their parents, participate in cultural routines such as learning to talk and playing children’s games. They are social actors right from the start, but as they develop they begin to strive to interpret and to make sense of their culture, and to participate in it. Emberly and Davhula (2016:439), for instance, showed how young children use musical arts to share their views and perspectives. A study from western Kenya revealed that young children acting as carers for their ailing or ageing guardians affected by HIV/AIDS mobilised social support, engaged in income generating activities and constructed positive social identities around their caring roles. This study concluded that young children’s ability to cope was determined by the extent to which they were afforded the opportunity to participate in their community and harness support from it (Skovdal, Ogutu, Aorob & Campbell, 2009:587). Conceptualised in such an agentive way, I postulate that pre-schoolers do exhibit agency.
However, despite evidence from research that pre-schoolers can participate with others to take action, Lansdown (2005:v) states that although thinking about and providing activities for participation is increasing, the focus has mostly been on school-aged children. She mentions that children younger than eight years have not been afforded many opportunities. Thus in terms of participation they are the most marginalised. Their capacity for participation and agency is underestimated and remains unrecognised. Lansdown (2001:3-4) goes so far as to say that adults have failed children in various ways by abusing their power over children; not always acting in the child’s best interest; protecting parents’ rights over children; and disregarding children’s interests in policy. She states that it is therefore imperative that adults reconsider their roles and conceptualisation of children and the nature of their relationships with them. Children’s own experiences, views and concerns should be valued and recognised. Such a shift in thinking requires researchers and practitioners to question how their responsibilities towards children hinder or develop their agency (Lansdown, 2001:1). This study thus brings to the forefront the important role practitioners play in the development of pre-schoolers’ agency in early learning environments as there are numerous benefits for pre-schoolers’ well-being (see 1.3).
There are various ways in which agency can be expressed. I refer to four models in which agency was realised in terms of children’s participation about matters which affected their well-being. These models were consulted when a recommendation for a training programme framework for practitioners to develop pre-schoolers’ agency was conceptualised at the end of this study.

CHAPTER 1  CONCEPTUALISATION AND ORIENTATION OF THE STUDY
1.1 INTRODUCTORY ORIENTATION
1.2 RATIONALE FOR THIS STUDY
1.3 BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
1.4 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.5 THE RESEARCH AIM AND OBJECTIVES
1.6 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.7 RESEARCH PARADIGM, DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
1.8 DATA COLLECTION TECHNIQUES
1.9 SELECTION OF THE RESEARCH SITE
1.10 SELECTION OF PARTICIPANTS
1.11 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1.12 DATA ANALYSES
1.13 CLARIFICATION OF CONCEPTS
1.14 CHAPTER DIVISIONS
1.15 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 2  LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPTS OF THIS STUDY
2.3 THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK IN THIS STUDY
2.4 TWO DISCOURSES WHICH UNDERSCORE AGENCY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD CONTEXTS
2.5 THE ROLE OF THE PRACTITIONER IN DEVELOPING AGENCY THROUGH LEARNING FOR WELL-BEING
2.6 HISTORICAL AND PRESENT CONCEPTUALISATIONS OF CHILDREN
2.7 THREE LEARNING APPROACHES TO DEVELOP PRE-SCHOOLERS’ AGENCY
2.8 TWO PERSPECTIVES OF THE INNER-CITY EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTRE
2.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3  RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 METHODOLOGICAL APPROACH
3.3 SELECTION OF PARTICIPANTS
3.4 DATA COLLECTION TOOLS
3.5 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
3.7 DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
3.8 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 4
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 THEME 1: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PRACTITIONERS AND PRE-SCHOOLERS
4.3 THEME 2: KNOWLEDGE AND ATTITUDES OF PRACTITIONERS ABOUT PRE-SCHOOLERS
4.4 THEME 3: FACTORS WHICH IMPACT THE DEVELOPMENT OF PRE-SCHOOLERS’ AGENCY
4.5 THEME 4: PRE-SCHOOLERS’ EXPRESSIONS OF AGENCY
4.6 THEME 5: IMPROVEMENT OF PRACTICE
4.7 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 5  FINDINGS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND SUMMARY
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 SUMMARY OF RESEARCH FINDINGS
5.3 A TRAINING PROGRAMME FRAMEWORK FOR PRACTITIONERS
5.4. LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
5.5 CONCLUDING REMARKS
REFERENCES
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