Kindergarten Teachers' Perspectives on Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP): A Study Conducted in Mumbai (India)

Article excerpt

Abstract. A qualitative study examining teachers' beliefs regarding developmentally appropriate practices was conducted in the city of Mumbai, India. Twelve kindergarten teacher's were interviewed for this study, and a constant comparative method was used to analyze the interviews. Six themes were identified within this study. The themes highlighted distinct differences between American and Indian cultures, as well as striking similarities, and pinpoint the importance of culture as the foundation for classroom practices. Themes included a focus on academics vs. play, the importance of worksheets, the importance of groups for socialization, and the difficulties of implementing a play-based curriculum. The description of these themes and its implication for the early childhood care and education of India are discussed in detail.

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The position statements on developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) have strongly influenced the field of early childhood care and education (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredkamp & Copple, 1997). DAP is based on a child-centered philosophy of education that espouses the idea that children actively learn and construct their own knowledge by interacting with peers, teachers, and materials. It is assumed by many that in any country, DAP can serve as the minimum foundation for quality and be measured as a parameter of quality (La Paro, Sexton, & Synder, 1998). These quality practices are important, as they are known to influence children's development. Research has revealed that children placed in these developmentally appropriate classrooms in the United States are more socially mature, less stressed, more creative, and show greater affinity towards school, than children who are placed in developmentally inappropriate classrooms (Burts et al., 1992; Hirsh-Pasek, Hyson, & Rescorla, 1990; Jambunathan, Burts, & Pierce, 1999). Thus, DAP's positive impact on children's development has popularized this concept in various westernized countries around the world. However, DAP's interpretation and its implementation by classroom teachers has long been debated in the field.

Debate Regarding Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP)

A number of scholars in the field (Cannella & Viruru, 2004; Delpit, 1995; Grieshaber & Cannella, 2001; Lubeck, 1998; O'Brien, 1996) have criticized and questioned the concept of DAP. DAP is considered by many to be a predominantly Euro-American middle class construct that has limited generalizability across various cultures. Researchers are urged to reinterpret DAP in light of the needs of the culture and population of a particular country. For example, in a populous country like India, the concept of small group size is understood quite differently. A preschool classroom with 40 children is considered small and manageable for the teachers (Gupta, 2004). Similarly, it is not unusual for preschool children to have silent lunch time in Taiwan (Hsieh, 2004). Maintaining silence while eating food is part of the Taiwanese tradition, and children are made to follow this tradition at school.

Lubeck (1998) questions the simplicity with which researchers distinguish teachers' beliefs and practices as DAP (developmentally appropriate practices) or DIP (developmentally inappropriate practices). Typically, these categorizations are based on little insight from the teachers regarding their performance in the classroom or their interpretation of DAP. On the other hand, scholars have refuted the logic that DAP guidelines are prescriptive and definite (Copple & Bredekamp, 2008). In the revised NAEYC position statement on developmentally appropriate practices, researchers state that such terms as "academics," "use of packaged curricula" (often regarded as developmentally inappropriate practices), and others need to be reexamined and understood within the educational context. …