Substrand leader : Prof C Nel ​ 

Substrand Members: Prof A Oduaran, Prof C Botha, Dr M Meyer, Prof K Kaiser, Dr S Romylos, Prof E Marais, Dr C van der Vyver, Dr C Nel, Mr M Uys, Ms C Bansen, Mr K Noosi, Ms P Paulse, Mr D Ruiters, Mr J Moloi,  



The focus of this strand is on quality teacher preparation within the domains of language/literature and literacy (specifically reading). Research consistently shows that teachers and teaching are a crucial factor in making the difference to student outcomes in language/literature and literacy performance. Better prepared teachers who are competent to teach language/literature and literacy are essential if national goals are to be achieved.  The aim of the strand is to contribute to the basic and applied evidence-based research scholarship on challenges teachers face in the becoming quality teachers of language/literature/literacy by collaboratiing with all educational stakeholders  and communities 



  • WILWorks: Prof C Botha

An interdisciplinary project focusing on a holistic view of Work Integrated learning at the Faculty of Education. Several colleagues are collaborating to explore various concepts of WIL through different research methodologies and approaches.

The overall aims of the project are to:

  • Develop a research-informed teaching practicum platform for initial teacher education.
  • Contribute to the scholarship of national and international practices-based teaching practicum literature.

The objectives contribute towards the above-mentioned aims in the following way:

  • Develop a flexible, adaptable and sustainable practices-based teaching practicum curriculum, focused on language and structured literacy, which is aligned with DHET policy, SACE Professional Teaching Standards, the National teaching practicum protocol as well as the knowledge and practice standards for language and literacy.
  • Develop and maintain a synergistic partnership between key stakeholders responsible for Teaching Practicum at macro- (e.g., DHET, DBE, SACE, EDTP-SETA), meso- (e.g., universities and provinces – Department of Education) and micro-level (e.g., universities, districts and professional practice schools);
  • Initiate the establishment of a sustainable educational technology platform for the teaching practicum.

The specific section of the project, lead by Dr Carolina Botha, that focuses on Action Research and Community-based research in teaching and learning will explore the following questions:

Socio-emotional Development

  • What are the expectations and experiences of pre-service teachers before, during and after TP?
  • How are concepts like emotional readiness, reality shock and theory-practice divide experienced by pre-service and beginner teachers?
  • How does personal and professional identity develop among pre-service and beginner teachers?
  • Initiate a viable support, supervision, monitoring, mentoring and facilitation platform for key teaching practicum stakeholders (e.g., students, university lecturers and mentor teachers).
  • Develop teaching practice teaching and learning tools and resources.
  • Develop valid and reliable teaching practicum assessments.
  • Develop resilient pre-service student teachers.
  • A collaborative action research to develop a socially inclusive place-based teaching strategy to enhance learner engagement in multigrade, under-resourced learning environments: Dr T Malebese 

How can a collaborative action research approach be used to develop a socially inclusive place-based teaching strategy to enhance learner engagement in multigrade, under-resourced learning environments?

A socially inclusive teaching strategy is an appropriate strategy to use within a place-based learning approach for developing instructional practices that are culturally responsive, engaging, and sensitive to learners’ well-being (Gay, 2010; Hattam & Zipin, 2009; Malebese, 2016). A socially inclusive teaching strategy uses a step-by-step approach (Malebese, 2016), teaching in small segments, with much practice and repetition, reinforcing abstract concepts with concrete examples (Hattam & Sipin, 2009; Smyth, Down & Mclnerney, 2014). This strategy aims at bringing together different skills, knowledge, and expertise in a classroom environment in order to enhance learners’ subject competency (Boud, 2013; Cleovoulou, 2008). The strategies associated with a socially inclusive teaching and learning environment allow learners and all stakeholders to be equally trusted, respected and valued as they interact with one another (McCombs & Miller, 2007; Mclnerney, Smyth & Down, 2011), thereby bringing out the richness of such a strategy. This ensures that the learning expected from a student at a given time is closely aligned to the use of available resources and promotion of current learning skills. To this end, this project explores the possibilities and affordability of learning opportunities with and from the context where the school is placed.

The critical components and principles of place-based learning are similar to those of a socially inclusive teaching strategy (Gale, Mills & Cross, 2017; Malebese, 2016) in the sense that they both emphasise hands-on and real-life learning experiences, as well as encouraging critical thinking. Place-based learning refers to a pedagogical approach that uses local knowledge as a foundation for learning across disciplines (Goodlad & Leonard, 2018); thus, the focus is to integrate local knowledge into teaching. The community provides the context for learning, and community members serve as resources and partners in teaching and learning (Smith & Sobel, 2014). Using placed-based learning enables learners to connect learning to their real-life experiences. Place-based teaching and learning can address the isolation that teachers in rural schools face, and the lack of resources and facilities as they learn to use what is readily available (Smith, 2002; Smith & Sobel, 2014). This approach can create a conducive space for community members who possess expertise to be invited to share their knowledge and skills with learners. Place-based learning is “authentic and enhances learners’ commitment and ownership of learning as well as contributing to the growth of their community”, as it “connects learning to own environment such as stories, land marks of the place and many different things” (Sarkar & Frazier, 2008:29). 

These approaches to education increase academic achievement and help learners to develop stronger connections to their community (Sobel, 2004), especially those in the multigrade classrooms as learners of different age, grades and abilities in the same group are learning from one another. A multigrade classroom refers to a class that one teacher has to teach two or more grade levels of children in one classroom during one time-tabled period (Casserly & Padden, 2018). Multigrade classrooms are not new and are frequently used in less densely populated regions in both developed and underdeveloped countries, where there are not enough pupils enrolled for each grade level. Multigrade classes are traditionally associated with small rural schools where pupil numbers are too small to be taught as separate classes. The number of multigrade classes at primary school level is usually dependent on enrolment numbers, particularly in rural areas on an under-resourced learning environment. Under-resourced learning environments continue to frustrate learners and teachers, not only in South Africa but also internationally (Donohue & Bornman, 2014). Some of the consequences of poor quality education for learners include the inability to complete prescribed schoolwork, poor learner performance and lack of technical and computer literacy, so essential in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution (Howley, Wood & Hough, 2011; Shahroom & Hussin, 2018). 

Yet, under-resourced schools are essentially situated in a context and community that potentially has multiple strengths, namely culturally responsive, appropriate, compatible and relevant (Yosso, 2005) and provide opportunities to learn; therefore, building on the conceptual and cultural knowledge that learners carry with them to the classroom. Herrington and Herrington (2007) are also of the opinion that the benefits of integrating the curriculum into learners’ authentic life experiences, facilitate comprehension of abstract aspects of learning matter and motivates learners to learn, identify and solve (social) problems (Vegas & Umansky, 2005). The challenge is that schools tend to ignore such strengths, mainly because of perceived difficulties that community collaboration brings. Rural 'farm' schools continue to experience multiple and interrelated challenges associated with dwindling learner enrolments, poor quality of education, and lack of accessibility to resources and facilities (Schwartzbeck, 2003). One possible solution to improve education in these contexts is place-based learning (Gruenewald & Smith, 2014). Place-based learning will be used to assist to integrate learners’ real life experiences into the curriculum to make learning more engaging and fun. 

  • Community-based Teaching

​Exploring Action Research: YouTube channel

Have you ever wondered what the difference between PAR and PALAR is?
How to choose the correct paradigm for your study?
How to guide a student towards constructing good AR research questions?

How the cycles in a PALAR study should work?

and more....

To find out visit Exploring Action Research on YouTube

Please subscribe to the channel when you visit. 


Future projects

  • SETA funding application
  • GULL – in partnership with Training for Transformation – exploring possibilities
  • Knowledge for Change Hub (UNESCO chairs/NWU/UFS)



Have you ever wondered what the difference between PAR and PALAR is?
How to choose the correct paradigm for your study?
How to guide a student towards constructing good AR research questions?

How the cycles in a PALAR study should work?

and more....


To find out visit Exploring Action Research on YouTube or use the link

Please subscribe to the channel when you visit. 



Substrand leader : Prof T Makhalemele

Substrand Members: Prof P Engelbrecht, Prof J Hay, Dr C Joubert, Dr I Payne-van staden, Dr A Masunungure, Dr P Jama, Ms R Modiba


* Teacher efficacy within inclusive education

* Perspectives of learners about inclusive education

* District- and School-based support teams

* Lay counselling for communities - via NWU BEd Hons and BEd alumni

Book on Education Support Services

  • Currently in production at AOSIS: Reconceptualising Education Support Services in South Africa


  • Perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contribution and role of NWU BEd Hons Learner Support alumni in their school communities – and possible intervention strategies to extend this contribution.

What are the perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contribution and role of NWU BEd Hons Learner Support alumni in their school communities – and possible intervention strategies to extend this contribution?

The North-West University has been training post-graduate teaching students at BEd Hons level in various programmes. One being Learner Support (currently called Special Needs Education) with modules being taught to equip students to provide psychosocial and educational wellness to diverse communities. The following modules are provided in the first year and second year of this programme: CEPS (Community Educational Psychology); FLCE (Facilitation and Lay Counselling in Education); IELS (Inclusive Education) and APLS (Applied Learner Support). In the second year of study a research project must also be sucessfully completed to ensure graduation. CEPS and FLCE are aimed at providing knowledge and skills to students to enable them to support diverse communities on a psychosocial level, while IELS and APLS are focused on supporting learners with special needs and barriers to learning – and thus  focusing on supporting learners within an Inclusive Education Context and in collaboration with School Based Support team members. According to the Education White paper 6 (DoE, 2001), inclusive education aims to provide equal access to all learners irrespective of differences in regard to abilities or disabilities, gender, race or culture.  For post-graduate students in the South African school context the skills taught in modules such as the ones referred to above mean that teachers might have some capacity to provide special needs learners with basic supportive psychosocial lay counselling and educational guidance that includes, for example, help with study methods, qualitative and informal career guidance, overcoming barriers to learning, inter- and intra-personal skills, conflict and stress management. However teachers are also expected to work collaboratively within an ecosystemic approach to provide the necessary psychosocial and educational support to learners or to facilitate learners’ access to the applicable support needed. As such, I conclude that teachers who fulfill a learner support role in their school community are tasked with developing learners’ full educational, personal and social potential (Davis, 2010; DoDEA, 2006). Referral represents a large component of such support. According to the Professional Board of Psychology (2007), registered counsellors need to refer their clients to psychologists, social workers or any other professional when a problem is beyond the scope of their practice. The same applies to teachers fulfilling a learner support function, perhaps even more so than for registered counsellors, who have formal counselling training: teachers fulfilling a learner support role are thus duty bound to refer to applicable professionals when they are unable to deal with a particular problem (Professional Board of Psychology, 2007; Van Niekerk & Hay, 2009) and are specifically trained to understand and respect this imperative (Kitching, 2012). However, referral might prove to be difficult because of a lack of professionals such as registered counsellors, psychologists or social workers (Hay, 2018). Other reasons might be because of limited finance, poverty, HIV/AIDS, political agendas or a non-functional SBST and DBST (Pillay, 2007). Researching the different perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contributions Learner Support alumni are currently making to school communities (and finding possible intervention strategies) could be valuable resources if teachers are working in a context that offers no or a very limited referral network (Visser, 2007). In such instances it is Learner Support almuni’s ethical duty to provide the best possible care, but without going beyond the scope of their training, much like the ethical duty of trained counsellors to provide quality care without going beyond what they are trained to do (Prilleltensky, 2002; Visser, 2007). In summary, offering psychosocial lay counselling and providing educational guidance are core learner support tasks that could be challenging. The challenges are likely to increase if Learner Support alumni are under-trained or without professional referral networks.


  • Improving psychosocial and educational support, rendered by designated education support structures, to learners and teachers in various schools of the nine provinces of South Africa

How do (and how can) District-based and School-based Support Teams, Full-service Schools and Special Schools Resource Centres of the nine provinces (be empowered to) render psychosocial and educational support to learners and teachers?

Secondly how can they be capacitated to align with the envisaged services as articulated by the Department of (Basic) Education’s policy documents on education support?

Building on an earlier NWU Faculty of Education project, the first phase of this project is specifically to support an approved NWU AOSIS Book Project called: Reconceptualising Education Support Services in South Africa – to be published early in 2021. This phase mainly deals with collecting survey-type data. The second phase focuses on action research interventions within a number of designated education support service structures, aiming at improving support to learners and teachers.

The advent of inclusive education in South Africa brought with it substantial changes to the thinking about and structuring of Education Support Services (ESS)(Donald, Lazarus & Moolla, 2014). Some of the far-reaching changes were that ESS staff should work towards retaining learners within inclusive classes (as opposed to referring them to specialised settings), also support the school system and adults in the learner’s life (as opposed to only focus on an individual learner’s problems) and bring educational and psychosocial support in better balance (as opposed to the domination of psychology in the special education system)(Hay, 2003).

Some of the fundamental pillars/structures upon which ESS (and psycho-socio-educational support) are built, are School-based Support Teams (SBST), District-based Support Teams (DBST), Full-service Schools (FSS) and Special Schools Resources Centres (SSRC)(SIAS, 2014). Each school is supposed to have an SBST to support teachers and learners where in-class strategies have failed. Each district also should have at least one DBST consisting of a multi-disciplinary team that can intervene where SBSTs are not successful. FSS and SSRCs are furthermore the natural spaces where learners experiencing moderate to severe barriers should be supported. The challenge 19 years after the publication of White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System (DoE, 2001), is that it appears as if schools and provinces have implemented the ESS component of inclusive education in an inconsistent and erratic manner. This research primarily aims at determining how provinces and schools have established SBSTs, DBSTs, FSS and SSRCs – and how these are contributing to psycho-social and educational support of learners and teachers, the findings of which will be published in an AOSIS Book: Reconceptualising Education Support Services in South Africa. Following on the book publication, the second phase will be about empowering SBSTs, DBSTs, FSS and SSRCs in the different provinces through an action research design to improve their psycho-social and educational service rendering.    

The first aim of this 3½ year-long research project is to obtain detailed information in order to analyse how District-based and School-based Support Teams, and Full-service Schools and Special Schools Resource Centres are rendering psychosocial and educational support to learners and teachers in the nine provinces of South Africa. The research objectives linked to this primary aim are to determine:

1) the current status, composition and distribution of the multi-disciplinary teams of the SBSTs and DBSTs in the nine provinces; 2) the staff member: learner ratios under which the SBST/DBST members are rendering services; 3) the type of psychosocial services to learners and teachers that SBSTs and DBSTs are rendering at the moment; 4) the type of educational services to learners and teachers that SBSTs and DBSTs are delivering currently; 5) the successes and challenges that SBSTs and DBSTs are experiencing in terms of psychosocial and educational support; 6) the preparedness of FSS and SSRCs to support learners experiencing moderate to severe barriers to learning, and 7) successes and challenges of FSS and SSRCs in delivering appropriate psychosocial and educational support.

A second aim is to capacitate selected SBSTs, DBSTs, FSS and SSRCs via an action research approach to improve their service rendering. This second phase will roll out subsequent to the publication of the book. Here it is envisaged that some researchers will approach willing institutions that are open to reconsider their processes/procedures of service rendering, join with the institution and start to engage in an action research process to improve operations.


  • Adding perspectives of learners about inclusive education to improve practice 

Inclusion of learner voice in the creation of an enabling environment for teaching and learning is encouraged by policy. However, in South African schools, learners' voices are mostly unrecognised, specifically regarding the implementation of inclusive education. The main research question for this project is therefore:

How can perspectives of learners contribute to make schools more inclusive spaces?

The following secondary research questions will be explored:

  • How is inclusive education understood by learners?
  • How do teachers interpret the learners’ understanding of inclusion?

How can all role-players  use this knowledge to enhance inclusive practices in schools?

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africa has been developing legislation and policies on inclusive education that place a strong emphasis on equality and human rights, as defined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Engelbrecht & Savolainen, 2018). As a result, the White Paper 6, Special Needs Education, Building an Inclusive Education and Training System was ratified in 2001. This policy promotes education for all and fosters the development of inclusive and supportive centres of learning that enable all learners to participate actively in the education process (DoE, 2001). The policy document states that inclusive education is about recognising and respecting learner and learning diversity within mainstream schools (Engelbrecht & Muthukrishna, 2019:115) and further maximising the participation of all learners in the culture and the curriculum of educational institutions (DoE, 2011). This could be achieved through strategies and interventions to assist teachers to cope with a diversity of learning and teaching needs to ensure that transitory learning difficulties are ameliorated (DoE, 2001). The strategies require all the role players involved, including learners, to take up the responsibility to implement the values associated with inclusion to ensure that all learners pursue their learning potential to the fullest.

Specific interventions or strategies are essential to overcome barriers to learning that exclude learners from the curriculum and education system (Nel, Nel & Lebeloane, 2017). Engelbrecht and Savolainen (2018) pointed out that teachers themselves are also expected to continuously develop strategies to provide quality educational opportunities for each learner in their classrooms. However, this has become a challenge for both the Department of Basic Education and teachers (DBE, 2015; Gina, 2017) since teachers struggle to integrate policy guidelines into their daily teaching. The practice of inclusive education has been widely embraced as an ideal model for education (Donohue & Bornman, 2014) and the Department of Education made available training to support teachers to implement inclusive education. Unfortunately, the reality is that new policies tend to evoke mixed feelings: excitement amongst advocates for change and uncertainty and even stress among those who are expected to implement (Ntombela, 2011). Mahlo (2017) found that changes in education policies have added an unreasonable amount of stress to teachers, resulting in the needs of learners being ignored. (Fransson & Frelin, 2016). Teachers are struggling to adequately respond socially and emotionally to the call for inclusive teaching (Harmsen, Helms-Lorenz, Maulana, & van Veen, 2018).

There are many publications which support this assertion (Thwala, 2015; Zwane & Malale, 2018; Ramaahlo, Tönsing & Bornman, 2018; Moberg, Muta, Korenaga, Kuorelahti & Savolainen, 2019 and Makoelle, 2020). Thus it is not surprising that most of the research to date has focussed on improving teacher competence to create inclusive classrooms by teaching them pedagogical skills and/or informing them of policy guidelines. In fact, the opinions, needs and ideas of learners, the group most affected by the various barriers to learning, have largely been ignored, in spite of the fact that the Education White Paper 6 recommends promoting the rights and responsibilities of learners (DoE, 2001).

The policy emphasises the inclusion of the learners’ voice in curriculum design. Learners are entitled to participate in decision-making in their education based on the idea that learners are citizens in their own right (Bron & Veuglers, 2014). Groundwater-Smith and Mockler (2016) argued that it was the democratic right of learners that educators involve them in decisions that affect their learning. Toshalis and Nakkula (2013) maintain that through consultation with learners and the inclusion of learner input, teachers can determine the connections needed to make their teaching and classroom experience more inclusive.

Listening to the voice of learners can help address dropout rates, increase engagement and achievement, and provide equitable learning opportunities (Bron & Veuglers, 2014; Lind 2007). Some of the benefits in this regard are that the learners’ voice creates an enabling space for conversations among stakeholders to take place, which may help to leverage change on a wider scale. Collaboration between different stakeholders such as teachers, school leadership, parents and government officials can influence policy changes, strengthen classroom and home relationships, and develop socio-emotional competency to prepare learners to participate in a democratic society (Voight, 2015).

The inclusion of learners’ voice in educational decisions aligns with collective leadership theory (Goldsmith, 2014; Wassenaar & Pearce, 2016), where the organization gives opportunities to lead to individuals that have expertise in a particular issue. We argue that, in terms of barriers to learning, the learners themselves have first-hand knowledge that they can use to raise awareness of the situation, as a basis for changes towards creating a more inclusive environment. Inclusion of learner voice may lead to a common vision shared between principals, teachers and learners to negate the current barriers to inclusion.

The aim is thus to create a space for all learners to influence the practice of inclusion in schools.

The objectives to reach this aim are:

  • to understand the inclusion experience as understood by learners;
  • to determine how teachers interpret the learners’ understanding of inclusion;
  • to determine how all role-players can use this knowledge to enhance inclusive practices in schools.

This research is guided by a transformative paradigm (Creswell, 2009; Mertens, 2010) placing it in an emancipatory framework of inclusion, voice and empowerment. The ontology associated with this paradigm emphasises that the agency for change rests with the research participants pursuing ‘the goal of social transformation’ with the researcher (Mertens, 2010:8). Furthermore, the central principle of this paradigm is that the concern of power differentials must be addressed at each stage of the research process (Mertens, 2007) to work towards attaining more socially just outcomes. Therefore, this paradigm framework is relevant since the research objectives deliberately sought to serve as a promoter for change; most particularly, a change in attitudes and practice with respect to including the voices of learners.  Learners are among the most silenced and disregarded groups in most schools. Marginalisation takes away their power, thus creating social inequalities or power differentials (Mertens, 2010). Mahlo (2017) warns us that the practice of inclusion tends to depend on the practitioner’s assumptions about how children feel or what they need. This is so because learners are a muted group who typically exist on the borders of society, thus they are disempowered to make themselves heard or pursue human rights.

According to Makoelle (2012) learners are often seen from a deficit-oriented paradigm that disregards their inherent strengths. Since a transformative paradigm focuses on social justice, human rights and cultural diversity, we regard learners as agents, active participants and equal individuals who are resourceful and can be active participants in the practice of inclusion. The transformative paradigm adopted in this study influenced our research ethics, our view of multiple realities, the nature of interactions between the participants and ourselves as researchers.



Substrand leader : Prof J Rens

Substrand Members: Prof M Malindi, Prof A, Kitching, Prof M Dube, Dr L Botha, Dr I Kok, Dr H Louw, Dr R Mayimele, Dr E Fouche, Ms N Nxumalo, Ms N Motaung


  • Teacher's aweness of wellbeing
  • Personal wellbeing
  • Wellbeing of beginner teachers
  • Teachers wellbeing implinentation of special curriculum

Capacity development 2020

  • Workshop
  • Students
  • Guests lectures
  • Scheduled writing sessions


Substrand leader : Prof L de Sousa

Substrand Members: Dr A Hay, Dr I Muller, Dr S Dlamini, Dr P Swarts, Mr A Fransman, Prof B Richter, Dr S Raath



NRF project - Capacitating teachers to integrate ESD into the primary school curriculum: an action research approach to develop learners as citizen scientists (2021-2023)

  • Dr Luiza de Sousa (project leader), Co-researchers: Prof Lesley Wood, Dr A Hay, Dr P Swarts, Dr I Muller, Mr A Fransman, Prof Barry Richter, Dr Schalk Raath

International collaborators: Prof M Brydon-Miller (University of Louisville, USA) and Prof Yutaka Nakamatsu (Kogakkan University, Japan)

Learning in theory about the impact of climate change on their lives is necessary to raise learner awareness about the issue, but often this theoretical knowledge does not result in learners applying it to promote environmental conservation. The implementation of education for sustainable development (ESD) into the formal curriculum remains problematic, since the focus has been on content rather than how to integrate it into different subjects in a way that encourages learners to actually translate their learning into actions to conserve the environment. Teachers need to become more innovative in their pedagogical approach to help build climate change resilience by using ESD as a cross curriculum approach where the local community becomes the locus of action. This project aims to enable teachers to teach learners to identify and research environmental issues within their own community, and ultimately take action to address them. Teachers will use the Japanese Lesson Study approach to improve their pedagogy in this regard. Three teachers of different subjects and three community members from one school in the North West province will guide 80 Grade 7 learners to follow an action research design to gather, analyse and interpret environmental data pertaining to the impact of climate change on the community, devise action plans to address the issues and evaluate how successful their actions to protect local resources have been. Both ecological and socio-economic data will be collected regarding the effects of climate change. By sharing their findings with peers in their own and other schools and with the local community, learners will become citizen scientists and ambassadors for Sustainable Development Goal 13. The knowledge generated by this research will also enable teachers to integrate ESD into their teaching across the curriculum in a way that is more likely to result in learners adopting environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviour.

Research Aims

  • Research and develop teachers’ sense of self-efficacy when teaching about climate change to enable them to integrate education for sustainable development and climate change issues across the curriculum.
  • • Develop teacher capacity to equip and engage learners as citizen scientists who understand the social, economic and biophysical aspects of climate change by involving learners in the identification of local environmental issues, generation and analysis of data and dissemination of knowledge.
  • • Influence lasting change regarding SDG13 (climate action) through changing attitudes and behaviour of learners regarding their actions, belief and management of natural resources in their school and community.


  • • To use action research (Lesson Study) to develop teacher self-efficacy and capacity for integrating education for sustainable development when teaching about
  • climate change in their respective subjects.
  • • To develop learners as citizen scientists to take action to address climate change issues in their communities.
  • • To collaborate with community members to ensure the relevance of the actions and to enhance the sustainability of any action taken.

Insight on indigenous knowledge in a Physics module in the BEd program

  • Dr I Muller (project leader)

Indigenous knowledge is regarded as the unique knowledge a student holds regarding scientific concepts as part of his or her culture. Awareness of cultural knowledge and the co-existence of indigenous – and scientific knowledge in Physical Science needs to be explicitly taught to pre-service teachers as infusion of indigenous knowledge in curriculum is displayed in curriculum documents of South African schools (DBE, 2011)  


  • The aim of the project is therefore to provide insight on how indigenous knowledge can provide a more enriching experience to student learning as it acknowledges the core values of individual experience and - culture on learning.


Completed project 2018-2019

NRF project: Lessons from Japan regarding indigenous knowledge related to the use of beneficial insects to enhance teacher professional development in South Africa



Substrand leader : Dr S Esterhuizen

Substrand Members: Prof M Koen, Dr C du Toit, Dr M Neethling, Dr E Wessels, Dr A Schoonen, Dr H Theron, Dr J Brits, Dr J Keating, Dr H Theron, Dr R Mayimele, Dr S Greyling, Ms S Pedro, Ms E Nkwe, Ms I Lesabe, Ms S Fourie, Ms P Matu, Ms B Taylor, Ms M Uys, Ms E Steyl



A collaborative appraoach between teachers, practitioners, caregivers, parents and NWU ECD researchers to support the holistic and sustainable development of children 0-9 years by means of play-based learning.



Dr Marinda Neethling and Dr Elsabe Wessels

Early Childhood Care and Education: building partnerships between teachers, caregivers and parents for the holistic development of young children

Members: Prof M Koen; Dr M Neethling; Dr S Esterhuizen;  and Ms Benita Taylor, gatekeeper, 3 teachers and 3 parents.


It is widely accepted that experiences and stimulating environments in the early years of a child’s life are critical for future personal and academic success (Amod & Heafield, 2013; Unicef, 2013). Excell (2016) supports this view by arguing that quality education is a key ingredient to improve the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of young children. The rationale behind holistic development lies in the idea that young children who grow up with poverty and neglect are more at risk of health problems, poor adjustment and poor performance at school (Fourie & Kgalenga, 2014). It is argued that while millions of children in South Africa do not reach the expected milestones, this situation could be avoided if provision for early intervention programmes is made a priority (Molosiwa & Phasa, 2017). The question arises: How can partnerships to enhance the holistic development of young children between a university and ECCE centres be developed?

The Government in South Africa acknowledges the importance of holistic development and has embarked on a national reform to raise the quality of early childhood education (Rala & Salami, 2019). National policies, for example the National Early Learning and Development Standards (NELDS, 2015), National Curriculum Framework (NCF, 2015) and White Paper 5, represent the Governmental vision, plans and visible strategies for Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Early Childhood and Care Education (ECCE) to enhance the well-being in the early years. Globally school readiness is regarded as an acceptable strategy to close the learning gap and to develop the full potential of all young children (Unicef, 2013). Psychologists point out that school readiness involves a range of skills in multi-dimensional domains (Rimms-Kaufman & Sandilos, 2017). While there is no single indicator to predict academic success, the NCF (2015) policy highlights that integrated development in the following six critical areas (Early Learning and Development Areas (ELDA’s) is vital in preparing young children for formal education, namely wellbeing, identity and belonging, creativity, communication, mathematics, knowledge and understanding. While the parent is in the best position to teach learners the above skills, many parents in South Africa experience challenges to support their children (Selepe & Moll, 2016). As a result, this role is often deputised to teachers or caregivers in early childhood centres (Shertiel, 2018:16). Research acknowledges that outcomes for children in the early years will be enhanced when effective partnerships are developed to support the children (Rouse, 2012). The overarching aim of this partnership is to collaboratively develop educational interventions to enhance the holistic development of young children. Participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) will be employed as a collaborative process where iterating cycles of action and reflection by teachers, caregivers and university partners will be used as a basis for the development of interventions to develop young children holistically (Worall & Harris, 2013:116).


Strengthening the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE through a collaborative approach between stakeholders

Project leader: Dr Stef Esterhuizen

Members: Prof M Koen; Mrs Marita Miller (DHET), 1 teacher and 2 practitioners

The alarming high rate of Grade 1 learners failing their first year of formal schooling, can be attributed to their lack of school readiness and development of imperative skills necessary for the demands of successfully completing their Grade 1 year (Khumalo, 2020; Retief, 2020; Slatter, 2020). Quality Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) is of paramount importance to address poor academic performance in later years. Children in the age group 0 – 9 years learn best through first-hand experiences when they engage in real-life and imaginary activities (Burgemeester, 2019; UKEssays, 2018; UNICEF, 2018). Play-based learning motivates, stimulates and supports learners’ development of skills, concepts, language acquisition, communication and concentration (UKEssays, 2018; UNECEF, 2018). Research recognises positive and enhanced outcomes for children in their early years when collaboration between stakeholders are formed to develop young children holistically through play-based learning (Rouse, 2012). This project aims to answer the following research question: How can the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE between stakeholders be strengthened through a collaborative approach? The critical transformative learning theory will guide this research (Mezirow, 1991), because it plays a significant role in adult education and brings about change in what we know and how we teach. The critical learning theory takes place through critical reflection, innovative problem solving and interactive, participatory dialogue (Hoggan, 2016).

Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) will be utilised. A collaborative approach of reiterating cycles of actions and reflection by practitioners, teachers and university partners will be used to strengthen the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE between stakeholders (Worall & Harris, 2013).

​Future project

  • Habits of mind through play-based approach

External funding: has been secured by the Collaborative Action Research Network: Susan Noffke Action Research Foundation.

 Capacity development 2020

  • Supervision Workshop
  • Learning festival
  • Singakwenza workshop: The participants brought play to the classroom after attending a workshop with Singakwenza (which means “we can do it” in isiZulu). Singkawenza is a fun effective training programme for adults where the focus is on learning through play and to make educational toys from recycled material.


"Community-based educational research to improve the quality of life of people engaged in contexts of learning and development"