Being, Belonging and Becoming: Some Worldviews of Early Childhood in Contemporary Curricula
Papatheodorou, Theodora, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table
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). From this point of view, child's holistic development is understood as being embedded in her/his immediate environment and culture.
Despite the philosophical shift in understanding children's development, the emerging terminology in the field of early childhood (e.g. learning outcomes, school readiness, children at risk, early intervention, benchmarking and best practice -to name a few) implies a universalistic view of the child and imposes standards and norms against which individual children are judged and assessed; they assume quantifiable and measurable certainties applicable to all children (Moss 2008; Cannella 2005;1999) and defy the notion that children's development is culture and context-bound and so it should be early childhood provision (Dahlberg et al 2007).
The arguments, above, demonstrate the complexities and tensions which exist in the field of early childhood care and education. To quote James et al (1998), on one hand, is the view of the child as becoming or having, therefore, early years provision is offered in the name and for the sake of individual and societal economic prosperity and well-being in the future; on the other hand, stands the view of the child as being, here and now. The first worldview of the child requires early childhood provision and services which emphasise the skills and competencies required for tomorrow's citizens to earn their living and enjoy the economic prosperity; service provision is made available with future employability as the ultimate goal. The latter sees early years care and education as the fertile ground where the powerful, intrinsically motivated and keen to learn child will flourish and develop holistically and harmoniously to become the competent, autonomous, resilient and well-rounded human being. The first is the focus of politicians, governments and policy makers who like to see identified outcomes, skills and competences to be achieved through a prescribed and technical educational praxis. The latter is primarily embraced by academics and researchers, who focus on and emphasise child-centred, play-based and community-and-culture-embedded learning experiences in the early years.
This may be a crude dichotomy and oversimplification of dominant worldviews of early childhood but it is indicative of the philosophical gap that exists between policy makers, academics and researchers that may leave early years practitioners "lost" between colliding discourses and competing worldviews of the child. I will argue here that the clash between these dominant worldviews of childhood have consequences for both children and the wider society. I will illustrate this argument by providing an overview of the philosophical underpinnings and worldviews of the child reflected in the world-renowned Reggio Emilia approach in Northern Italy, the Te Whdriki Curriculum in New Zealand/Aotearoa, the English Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and the Greek Preschool Curriculum Framework.
The Reggio Emilia approach and the Te Whariki curriculum were chosen because of the wide interest they have attracted by academics and researchers and became well reputed internationally. I had also the opportunity to visit the Reggio Emilia preschools a few years ago and witness and hear first hand their practices. The choice of the English Early Years Foundation Stage and the Greek Preschool Curriculum Framework was motivated by my familiarity with both of them; I currently live and work in England, but I was initially educated and worked for many years as a nursery teacher in Greece. I had also the opportunity to be involved in the final debate about the Greek Preschool curriculum framework in 2002 (Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs/Pedagogical Institute 2002)
The three first curricula approaches and frameworks, above, have been previously discussed by Soler and Miller (2003) in the light of progressive ideals versus instrumental views of the child. In this paper, the four curricula will be discussed at the backdrop of economic arguments for early years provision in order to examine the worldviews which they uphold about the child and childhood. I will then trace some of the philosophical underpinnings of these curricula and worldviews of the child …
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Publication information: Article title: Being, Belonging and Becoming: Some Worldviews of Early Childhood in Contemporary Curricula. Contributors: Papatheodorou, Theodora - Author. Journal title: Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Publication date: Summer 2010. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Forum on Public Policy. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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