Children, Families, Communities, and Professionals: Preparation for Competence and Collaboration in ECD Programs

Article excerpt

Abstract: Under the broad banner of education, training, and collaboration across systems, this paper examines, through analysis of seven individual projects, issues and insights associated with three central themes: (1) the link between ECD programs and children's school readiness; (2) the promotion of parenting enrichment programs as a childcare quality enhancement strategy and the fostering of parent-school collaborations; and (3) curricular design for personnel training and strategies for (a) increasing societal awareness of ECD issues and (b) nurturing professional networking and partnership building across key stakeholder groups. The primary works discussed in the paper include one empirical study testing specific hypotheses with a large data set, one international comparative case study of school-community collaboration, and several program development projects employing multiple methodologies to gather various forms of data as input into the program development process. The paper emphasizes the discussion of intriguing and critical issues connected to the main thematic sections, in the hope that the issues raised would inform future research, policy formulation, program development, and program-level practice.

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The African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" has been popularized in North America during the course of the past decade through former United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us (Clinton, 1996). An important book published recently in the United States by some of the leading contributors to scholarship on early childhood development and education in Africa today (Swadener, Kabiru, & Njenga, 2000) appropriately employs this same proverb in its analytic and incisive examination of the changing nature of child-rearing and early childhood education in Kenya. There is more than symbolic importance to opening this article with these words of wisdom which can, in some ways, be said to have become an African philosophical contribution to the near-elusive search for greater collective social responsibility in child development policy, even in a nation as resource-rich as the United States of America. These eight powerful words capture some of the core developmental, educational, moral-ethical, and economic arguments frequently made in the scholarly literature worldwide in support of increased societal investments in the early childhood years (see McCain & Mustard, 1999; Mustard, 2002; Myers, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; and Young, 2002 for examples of specific arguments).

What is not readily apparent from a cursory invocation of this proverb is the reciprocal nature of the relationship between the child and the village that is so pervasive in both African philosophical thought and ordinary day-to-day life. A careful search of African proverbial language will surely yield many wise sayings reflecting the child's expected contributions to the preservation of the "village." A moving experiential account from Maya Angelou's All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (Angelou, 1986) provides a vivid historiographic illustration of this point. Angelou's recounting of her last days in Africa during the 1960s--a period during which the fledgling Pan-African movement held the best hope of reconnecting Black Americans with their roots in Africa--climaxes around a visit to Keta, an Ewe town in the southeastern Volta Region of Ghana. During this visit, her profound physical resemblance to the local women and the surprising discovery by these women that she is an "American Negro" triggers memories, handed down generations of descendants, of the devastation brought to the village of Keta in the era of the slave trade. These memories convince the local women that Angelou is a descendant of the stolen mothers and fathers of Keta, sparking an intense mourning that perplexes Angelou until her subdued friend and linguistic guide provides her the following explanation of the day's events:

    During the slavery period, Keta was a good sized village. …