UKZN’s Discipline of Early Childhood Education within the School of Education recently hosted the 2nd South African Research Association for Early Childhood Education (SARAECE) KZN Regional Conference.

The purpose of this conference, held at the Edgewood campus, was to share insights on how Early Childhood Education practices can be transformed to improve quality. Conference Chair, Professor Nontokozo Mashiya said the conference was meant to engage on issues that are critical to Early Childhood Education and to explore possibilities of collaboration. The theme of the conference was Transforming Early Childhood Education Practices for a Better Future.

The conference covered diverse issues that contribute to the holistic development of a child. These include curriculum to policy issues, pedagogies, inclusion, management issues, mathematics, languages and the integration of indigenous knowledge in early childhood education and even inclusion in early childhood education.

Opening the conference proceedings was the School’s Academic Leader: Research and Higher Degrees Dr Bheki Khoza who said, ‘To improve our practices in ECE, we have to consider three important education space concepts Personal/Individual Space, Community/Social Space and Professional Space that focuses on our engagement with students and knowing our own identity.’ He noted that the conference topics covered these spaces.

Taking into account concepts of spaces, one of the keynote speakers Dr Thabisa Dumisa, Chief Education Specialist in the KZN Department of Basic Education questioned whether the education system was falling, the quality of teaching in classrooms, qualified teachers and public schooling.

‘ECE is the strongest foundation on which learners build their lives,’ he said. Dumisa emphasised the importance of solid ECE in order for matric results to improve. He encouraged ECE teachers to bring quality to the classrooms to improve the standard of education.

‘Both practice and academic theory is needed. Use the classroom space effectively while integrating indigenous languages. Interact with learners, make them critical thinkers and help transfer knowledge from one space to another,’ said Dumisa.

Dr Audrey Msimanga, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, also delivered a keynote address at the conference. She said many international and local studies have shown that there is a persistent lack of meaningful student engagement with science concepts during discussion in science classrooms.

‘This is of particular concern in South Africa as primary school pupils and high school learners continue to perform at lower than expected levels. This has ripple effects at undergraduate levels resulting in high dropout rates for science students especially in the first year of tertiary education,’ said Msimanga.

She suggested that both teachers and learners take up strategies that allow for deep engagement in science if there is sustained school based support.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Albert Hirasen