The field of ECE is currently highly fragmented, comprising of small interest groups without a unified voice or vision. There is also a dearth of research in the field to inform both ECE and the education of teachers for ECE. Universities work in isolation from each other. Teacher education programmes are often criticized for not being fully responsive to the need for teachers to work in multiple, diverse South African education contexts. There is an urgent need for an inclusive association with a strong research base and focus that will be able to lead and to represent the field in a purposeful manner.
The birth of an idea for a research association
The intention to establish an association for research, training and development began at an international ECD conference held by the Foundation Phase subject group in the Faculty of Education Sciences at North West University in February 2011. The session was attended by representatives of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), who recognised the potential for synergies to be created between the proposal put forward at the conference, and the DHET's "Strengthening Foundation Phase Teacher Education" programme supported by funding from the European Union. The conference delegates strongly supported the idea of establishing such an association, and it was proposed that the DHET call a national workshop to which a representative from each of the universities involved in teacher education would be invited.
The meeting was held on 11th May 2011 in Johannesburg and 16 representatives from Education Faculties in South Africa attended the meeting. The idea to establish a research association for the ECE sector was again unanimously and strongly supported.
The following resolutions were adopted by the delegates present:
- To nominate a task team to explore the preliminary ideas, processes and documents for the formal establishment of such an association. Dr O Janse van Rensburg from North West University (NWU) was nominated to coordinate the activities of the task team from seven universities.
- To establish a research association that focuses specifically on ECE.
- To develop concrete links with the South African Journal of Childhood Education (SAJCE), the establishment of which is being funded through the DHET programme. It is envisaged that SAJCE becomes the primary vehicle through which research promoted by the association can be published and disseminated.
The task team was given the brief to utilise the ideas that were generated in the national workshop to:
- develop this concept document that discusses the need for and the nature and role of the envisaged association.
- develop a draft constitution for the association.
- consult the representatives that attended the meeting on 17 May as the task team works towards finalising the concept paper and constitution. .
- submit the two documents mentioned above to the organisers of the Literacy Education Winter School (LEWS) for distribution to the LEWS attendees in order to facilitate engagement with the documents prior to LEWS.
The documents were presented, discussed and refined at LEWS 2011.
A committee to lead the association for the first three years was elected at LEWS . This committee led the association until the national launch conference in February 2014.