Being, Belonging and Becoming: Some Worldviews of Early Childhood in Contemporary Curricula

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the last part of the 20th century, research findings have been increasingly used and cited to support the expansion of early childhood care and education. Indeed, there is now a growing body of evidence which has demonstrated the long term benefits of high quality early childhood services for young children, their families and the wider community (Kilburn and Karoly 2008; Sylva at al 2004; Wylie and Thompson 2003; Schweinhart 1994; Schweinhart et al 1993). Evidence from neuroscience has also supported these arguments by confirming the importance of early stimulation on brain development (Woodhead 2006; Shonkoff and Phillips 2000).

In addition to this, women's increased employment since the last half of the 20th century has also been a contributory factor for increased early years provision in terms of demand and availability (OECD 2008a); women need, and form the main workforce in, childcare. The Insight Centre for Community Economic Development in the county of Los Angeles in the States, for example, has reported the childcare sector as being comparable to other major industries in the county in terms of revenue (Brown et al 2008).

The importance of early childhood provision has been explicitly articulated by the economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman, who argues that the sooner education starts the better. He claims that early education gives individuals a head start and advantage to both enjoy high earnings and to get into the pathway of lifelong learning (cited in Keeley 2007). These findings and arguments have now been consolidated and become the cornerstone of international policies and commitments for the provision and expansion of early years care and education (OECD 2008a; 2008b; UNICEF 2007; UNESCO 1990; 2000).

The economic arguments about early childhood provision present a worldview of the child as a 'monetary' unit for which we spend money and we expect, in return, the generation of money in the future. The child has become the subject and object of economic benefits and returns (Keeley 2007). The 'monetarisation' of the child means that governments now spend more funds than ever before on early childhood care and education to achieve ultimate benefits for children, their families and the wider society. However, governments' accountability for spending tax-payers' money for these services, has also led to the introduction of a range of measures such as the introduction of early years curricula, children's assessment and programme evaluation to safeguard and improve the quality of services and see the returns of the investment.

In the European and Anglo-Saxon educational systems, initial preschool curricula were introduced mainly during the 1980s, providing a conceptual framework for what and how we teach (Grundy 1987). The work of early pioneers and contemporary thinkers (for example, Montessori, Froebel, Susan Issacs) and in particular Piaget's ideas were influential in the development of the initial early years curricula and the introduction of play-based learning (Moyles 2005; 1989; Smilansky and Shefatya 1990). Gradually, the notion of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) was introduced to highlight the importance of child-centred and age appropriate practice (Bredekamp 1987).

However, developmentally appropriate curricula and practices faced strong criticisms, firstly, because they assumed universal truths and laws about individuals' development and learning and, secondly, because they ignored the influences of cultural, social and political traditions, powers and systems that are intrinsic to any particular community in any given time (Cannella 2005). As a result, the notion of Developmentally and Culturally (or Contextually) Appropriate Practice (DCAP) was introduced to highlight that not only what and how we learn is relevant, but also what and how we learn is culture-bound and informed and influenced, and often determined by other powerful and dominant groups (Hyun 1998; NAEYC 1996). …