Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Challenges, Opportunities, and Capacity Building in Early Childhood Teacher Education Research in Australia and New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Challenges, Opportunities, and Capacity Building in Early Childhood Teacher Education Research in Australia and New Zealand

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper draws on two recent reviews of early childhood teacher education (ECTE) research to reflect on challenges and opportunities facing ECTE researchers in Australia and New Zealand. The paper discusses what these analyses reveal about the social relations of early childhood education policy that frame the work of ECTE researchers, in the context of wider issues of research capacity building in teacher education, and proposes a number of opportunities for ECTE researchers arising from the rapid credentialisation of the early childhood field. The paper concludes by arguing for enhanced collaboration, including cross-institutional and cross-national projects, as a key strategy for capacity building in ECTE research in Australia and New Zealand.

Keywords: teacher education; early childhood education; research capacity.

Introduction

A call for greater research into early childhood teacher education in Australia and New Zealand - both pre-service and in-service- is timely. Within the last decade, governments in both countries have laid out ambitious plans for the growth, credentialisation, re-credentialisation, and professional development of their early childhood education workforces, driven in part by a desire to minimise risks to human capital (Ministry of Education, 2002; Productivity Commission, 2011). Teacher education research is a recognised sub-field of education research, and research into the initial and continuing education of early childhood educators forms a small but distinctive part of teacher education research. In this paper I draw on two recent studies (Murray, Nuttall, & Mitchell, 2008, and Nuttall, 2010) to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing early childhood teacher education (ECTE) research in Australia and New Zealand in the context of general issues of capacity building in education research. In outlining challenges and opportunities, I am attempting to respond to Rees, Baron, Boyask, and Taylor's (2007) claim that...

...the starting point for developing new and perhaps more imaginative strategies for research capacity building is a much better understanding of the conditions under which educational researchers do their jobs and of the wider social relations within which these are situated, (p. 776)

I begin by outlining what I understand to be the wider social relations of early childhood education (ECE) policy in which early childhood teacher educators are situated. I then discuss the conditions under which ECTE researchers "do their jobs", arguing that, while these share many of the challenges facing education researchers in general, ECTE researchers face particular challenges and opportunities as a consequence of recent policy in higher education and early childhood education. I conclude by returning to the question of what we mean by capacity building, and making a case for enhanced collaboration as a key strategy in ECTE research in Australia and New Zealand.

The Australian context for early childhood teacher education research

One of the challenges facing early childhood education internationally is the need for a large, renewing, and suitably qualified workforce. Policy initiatives in both Australia and New Zealand have responded to this challenge, resulting in credentialisation pressures on both the early childhood field and on teacher education in both countries. In New Zealand, Pathways to the Future: Nga Huarahi Aratala (Ministry of Education, 2002) set the goal of a universally qualified workforce in teacher-led early childhood services (principally kindergartens and childcare centres), with 80% of teachers also attaining registered teacher status by 2010. Although the present government has rolled back the universally qualified goal to a requirement for just half of the workforce to be qualified, the Ministry of Education has still projected a shortfall of 1,100 registered teachers across teacher-led services in 2012 (Ministry of Education, 2011). …

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