Becoming Ecologically Sustainable in Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

Three years ago, when we began a research project with a focus on ecological sustainability in early childhood education, there was much less attention paid to this global issue than there is now. Internationally, education in general, and early childhood education in particular, has been slow to engage with global change--until now (Pramling Samuelsson & Kaga, 2008; Sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand, 2009). In Australia, for instance, the national professional association for early childhood educators (Early Childhood Australia--ECA) has recently updated its Code of Ethics to include "the obligation for early childhood educators 'to work with children to help them understand that they are global citizens with shared responsibilities to the environment and humanity' (Code 1.4)" (Davis, 2009, p. 230).

At the final stage of the project, one thing is clear: the issue of ecological sustainability will remain on the agenda, and we hope that this article will provide some insights into how such a daunting global challenge can work as a force for transformative change in early childhood education. It presents some of the challenges and some of the insights that this research project has generated. The first section gives a brief overview of the project and introduces aspects of the conceptual framework, while the second part focuses on the importance of "local community" in the process of "becoming global citizens" from the perspective of Marina and Kate, teachers at one of the early childhood centres. Our overall aim is to encourage critical engagement with global issues in early childhood education, and to promote transformative practices and curricula that address global issues in their local contexts.

The research project

The research project, Titiro Whakamuri, Hoki Whakamua: We Are the Future, the Present and the Past: Caring for Self, Others and the Environment in Early Years' Teaching and Learning, was funded by the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI). It involved 10 early childhood centres and kindergartens from across New Zealand and four researchers (see http://www.tlri.org.nz/projects/2007/future_present_past. html).

Discussions around "ecological sustainability" at the research design stage highlighted the complexity of the topic. The project had a bicultural emphasis, which we (the four researchers) considered as a particular strength, because it signalled from the outset that multiple knowledges and practices would shape and inform all aspects of the research. The focus on multiple perspectives, in particular Maori and Western understandings of ethics of care, generated a particularly rich and complex framework. Attempting to illuminate how the perspectives intermingled, diversified and complicated the analysis process far exceeds the boundaries of this article. A detailed discussion of the bicultural aspects will form the basis for future publications. This article focuses more generally on the advantage of having multiple perspectives to engage with climate change.

The project subtitle--"caring for self, others and the environment"--captured our intention to work holistically by addressing ecological sustainability alongside an ethic of care. Such a perspective considers the environment in constant co-construction with people, rather than positioning "the environment" or "nature" as separate entities that exist outside of daily practices. A holistic approach aims to develop ethical relationships between people, places, things, plants and animals to challenge some of the core understandings of much of Western thought. The separation between nature and culture has been extensively critiqued for a) its detrimental impact on indigenous communities (Rose, 2005), b) its contribution to the loss of biodiversity (Shiva, 2000), c) creating the problematic human/ animal relationship (Haraway, 2008) and d) its contribution to the ongoing exploitation of the planet (Plumwood, 2006). …