Original Research

Data practices and inequality in South African early childhood development policy: Technocratic management versus social transformation

Norma Rudolph, Zsuzsanna Millei, Maarit Alasuutari
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a756 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.756 | © 2019 Norma Rudolph, Zsuzsanna Millei, Maarit Alasuutari | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 March 2019 | Published: 17 October 2019

About the author(s)

Norma Rudolph, Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Zsuzsanna Millei, Faculty of Education, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
Maarit Alasuutari, Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland


Background: In 1994, the African National Congress identified early childhood development as a potential strategy to redress the inequalities of apartheid, however, two and a half decades later, poverty still persists, and South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Aim: This article explores how policy texts based on and with the use of certain data practices establish ‘truths’ about childhoods and society, construct families and communities, and determine forms of provision to address inequality.

Setting: In 2015, the South African government published the National Integrated Early Childhood Policy (NIECDP) to continue to address poverty and inequality. Its implementation increasingly draws on data practices that measure and inform solutions. The use of data practices, while also providing needed information, prioritises solutions that proceed in technocratic ways instead of facilitating social change.

Methods: With a critical discourse analysis of policy texts and the introduction of alternatives, the analysis seeks to highlight the power and knowledge hierarchies that construct the policies of NIECDP.

Results: This article demonstrates how discourses and data practices prioritise ‘the government of poverty’ instead of helping to eliminate it and silence the voices of those living with poverty. This form of government through data also undermines the policy’s potential to respond to the different life chances resulting from the diverse conditions in which young children live in South Africa.

Conclusion: This article seeks to re-open a debate that the NIECDP successfully silenced, specifically who benefits, who speaks and who is silenced.


data practices; policy analysis; South Africa; early childhood; social justice


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