The quest for quality literacy agendas
in early childhood education
Leonie Rowan and Eileen Honan
While there is widespread agreement among educators, parents and members of the community that early childhood education plays a vital role in the consolidation of children's literacy skills, there is increasingly less agreement about what it is that the word 'literacy' actually means. Recent years have seen the emergence of a veritable 'literacy industry' within which the term has come to be associated not only with the traditional activities of reading and writing, but also with newer skills associated with contemporary life. Emphasis has increasingly been placed upon the importance of such things as media literacy, computer literacy, technological literacy, visual literacy, or emotional literacy, for example. This creates a challenging environment for early childhood educators who are expected to possess an increasingly wide range of operational, cultural and critical literacies, as well as skills in being able to map and monitor the progress of all their students in these areas.
While it is not difficult to understand the rationale behind the introduction of programmes designed to address ever-increasing forms of literacy, the plethora of literacies (coupled with increasingly public monitoring of literacy 'achievement' and regular declarations of literacy crises) create an environment that can be overwhelming, stressful, and ultimately unproductive for teachers and children. In this space it is easy for all educators to become both literally and literarily lost.
In response to these contexts, this chapter has the following aims. First, to provide a brief map of the current debates on literacy that impact on the fields of early childhood education and to identify some of the assumptions underpinning various literacy agendas; second, to explore an example of an early years programme currently operating in Australia, and to reflect upon the assumptions about contemporary literacy that underpin, and are constructed by, the implementation of this programme and finally, to identify some key ideas that may be useful in helping early childhood educators move positively through complex terrains in the pursuit of meaningful, defensible and achievable literacy goals.