Original Research

The disempowerment of early childhood practitioners in impoverished and marginalised communities

Tilana Knafo, Brigitte Smit, Petro Marais
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a590 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.590 | © 2019 Tilana Knafo, Brigitte Smit, Petro Marais | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 September 2017 | Published: 19 June 2019

About the author(s)

Tilana Knafo, Department Foundation Phase Education, AROS Private Higher Institution, Pretoria, South Africa
Brigitte Smit, Department of Educational Leadership and Management, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Petro Marais, Department of Early Childhood Education, College of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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Background: Quality early childhood programmes have proven to be highly cost-effective in reversing the detrimental consequences of poverty on children’s development. However, these programmes can only influence developmental outcomes of poor children if their needs are considered.

Aim: The purpose of this article was to inquire into the experiences of two early childhood development (ECD) practitioners working and living in impoverished and marginalised predominantly white communities where the involvement of volunteers from charity organisations was prominent. The researchers argued that the practitioners’ experiences regarding their work should inform the kind of complementary volunteer aid and support sought for.

Setting: The research sites were two informal predominantly white settlements where unemployed residents lived in makeshift housing.

Methods: A narrative inquiry, nested in the social constructivist paradigm, was employed to explore the experiences of two practitioners. Data were collected from narrative interviews, observations, documents, photographs and artefacts.

Results: Both participants knew well that the needs of the children in their care differed significantly from those of their more affluent peers and believed that training would equip them better for their task. Although both centres (and communities) benefitted from volunteer support, this well-intended aid was often misguided as the volunteers were not qualified educators and did not understand the context.

Conclusion: The volunteers did not empower the practitioners to use their insight and experience to deliver a quality programme fit for context. Instead, they left the practitioners with a sense of disempowerment by dictating the programmes and practices to be followed in the respective ECD centres, even though they were not qualified to do so.


early childhood development practitioners; impoverished and marginalised communities; informal settlements; narrative inquiry; volunteer support


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