Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Education at a Pre-School Level in the Context of Polish Kindergarten Curriculum Changes

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Education at a Pre-School Level in the Context of Polish Kindergarten Curriculum Changes

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

An increase in interest in an early start of foreign language education is a great opportunity to rethink the place of the intercultural approach in language teaching. In 2014, Polish Ministry of National Education (Ministerstwo Edukacji Narodowej or MEN) introduced changes to the Core Curriculum of Kindergarten Education (MEN 2014) according to which as of September 2015 all five-year-olds start a compulsory foreign language education. From 2017 foreign languages will be compulsory for all pre-schoolers that is for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children. The Curriculum states, as one of its aims, the need to prepare very young learners to use a foreign language through awakening their language awareness and intercultural sensitivity as well as the need to develop a positive motivation towards language learning at further levels of their future education.

In order to teach languages at a pre-school level in Poland, teachers need to be qualified kindergarten educators, have a certified knowledge of the language at B2 level and hold a diploma in teaching foreign languages at a pre-school level. Since the Polish reality is that not many teachers fulfil these requirements, the Ministry of National Education introduced an interim until 2020 for teachers to obtain the above-mentioned qualifications. For this reason, higher education institutions in Poland offer an increasing number of kindergarten teacher training courses (more data is provided in the empirical part of this paper).

The aim of this article is not to discuss whether the decision to introduce foreign language education at a pre-school level is the right one, or whether there are enough qualified kindergarten teachers to work with very young language learners. Instead, it focuses on one particular aspect of Polish kindergarten teachers' education, namely their readiness for teaching about foreign cultures and developing the children's intercultural competence. Furthermore, it will explore the state of kindergarten teaching programmes, also the ones devoted in particular to teaching English as a foreign language, with recourse to the presence or absence of intercultural education.

The problem addressed in the present study is poorly investigated in SLA research, not only in Poland but also internationally. The choice of the scope of this study is based, on the one hand, on the present author's ongoing interest in the development of intercultural communicative competence in the realm of foreign language education, and, on the other hand, on his experience of being a lecturer in teaching foreign languages to pre-school children. The importance of intercultural education has been supported in numerous studies (Gundra 2003, Fowler, & Pusch 2010, Amosa, & Gorski 2012, Baker, & Clark 2012) stressing its value in challenging racism, promoting human rights and equality, celebrating human diversity, developing citizenship responsibilities and leading to a person's emotional growth. Relatively little attention, however, has been given to developing intercultural education in very young learners.

Foreign language classes seem to be the most natural environment for introducing the concept of culture and cultural diversity. The intercultural approach to teaching foreign languages (Corbett 2003) implies that language is more than a tool for exchanging information, it is also a tool for constructing personal and social identities. In the context of kindergarten education, the inclusion of the intercultural approach may help shape future societies and prepare students for functioning in diverse conditions. Yet, while intercultural education has been shown to be an effective strategy for promoting tolerance and harmony among people, it remains a very complex pedagogical challenge.

Further below the present author reviews literature pertaining to the psychology of a child's prejudice (McKown, & Weinstein 2003, Aina, & Cameron 2011, Moore 2012, Rhodes et al. …

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