Early Childhood Education
Early Childhood Education and Care in Australia
Australia is a nation characterized by distance, diversity, and change. As a democracy, with a federal system of government, power and responsibility are shared between the Commonwealth (the Australian government) and the six- state and two-territory governments. The Australian government is based on the Westminster system. Under the Constitution, citizens elect members of the House of Representatives and the Senate (the house of review of legislation). The states and territories vary in size, population, and their specific systems of democratic government. The state and territory parliaments regulate a further tier of local government by around 750 democratically elected Municipal and Shire Councils.
The Australian government has prime responsibility for collection and distribution of Income Tax and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and sets policy in many areas, including social security, education, and health. While the states and territories also collect a range of taxes, the bulk of their funds are distributed from the Australian government.
A multicultural society of just over 20 million people, Australia occupies a continent with a land area only slightly smaller than the coterminous states of the United States. Most of the population is concentrated on the southeast and east coast, and to a lesser extent in the southwest of the continent, with the majority of Australians living in the capital cities of the states and territories.
The distances between population centers in rural and regional Australia can be vast and the population density varies greatly. Half of the total land area is home to only 0.3 percent of the population. In contrast, the most densely populated 1 percent of the land area is home to 84 percent of the population, making Australia arguably one of the most urbanized nations on the planet.
Indigenous Australians have lived on the continent for over 50,000 years, or 2,000 generations. Seminomadic hunters and gatherers, they moved in small family groups in both the inland and the coastal regions, inhabiting areas of extreme diversity in climate and terrain from the central desert to the wet tropical north. At the time of European settlement in 1788 their population has been estimated at between 300,000 and one million, with 600 tribes each with its distinct territory, language, and culture. Identification with land, cultural diversity, and mobility strongly characterize Indigenous Australians. Today, there are still 170 Indigenous languages that are spoken by 21 percent of those over 5 years of age. The 410,000 Indigenous Australians recorded in the 2001 census are approximately 2.2 percent of the population.
Migration has added further richness to the diversity of Australia. Since European settlement, the increasingly multicultural character of Australian society has been the result of successive waves of immigration, predominantly from the United Kingdom and Europe, although increasingly from Asia and the Middle East. At the last census, around 4 million residents had been born overseas, in one of 200 countries, and a similar number had a parent who had been born outside of Australia. Apart from the Indigenous languages, 111 languages other than English are spoken in this country. In recent years migration has been the major contributor to the average annual increase of 1 percent in Australia’s population.
Like most countries in Europe, Australia has experienced considerable change in the age mix of its population. Only 20 percent of the general population is aged under 15 and 6.4 percent under 5. This contrasts with the figures for the Indigenous population, of 38.9 percent and 13.1 percent, respectively. The proportion of the population aged over 65 has been increasing and now represents 12.8 percent of the population. Again, this is in marked contrast to the Indigenous population where only 2.9 percent of the population is over 65 years, reflecting marked differences in health and life expectancy.
The total fertility rate (TFR) of Australia has declined steadily over the last hundred years. The current rate of 1.81 babies per woman is well below the replacement level (2.1), although recently there has been evidence that the TFR continues to rise. The age at which mothers give birth to their first child is rising, with a median age in 2002 of 30.2 years. The infant mortality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100 live births, in 2000, is lower than the UK (5.6) and the USA (7.1) but higher than in Sweden (3.4) and Japan (3.2). Indigenous babies have a mortality rate that is three times that of the general population (15.5 deaths per 1000 live births). In total, at the Census in 2001, Australia had 1.3 million children under 5 years of age, 2.2 million aged from 5 to 12 and 1.4 million aged 13-17.
With regard to family types, most children were born to married couples (69%) and most lived in two-parent families (80%). But only 38.6 percent of all families comprised couples with dependent children. Single-parent families with dependent children have increased from 6.5 percent in 1976 to 10.7 percent in 2001.
One of the most marked social trends has been the rapid increase in the participation of Australian women in the workforce. Approximately 70 percent of women are in some form of paid employment and they account for around 43 percent of the total workforce. Nearly half of those women with a child under 4 years of age worked, although only 15 percent were employed full time while their children were this age. Those with a partner are more likely to work than those who are sole parents. Mothers’ workforce participation increases as their children grow older. Of all those with children aged less than 15, two-thirds participate in the workforce.
Early Childhood Education
Australia has a universal system of school education, provided by a mix of government and nongovernment (church and other religious bodies and independent providers). Almost three-quarters are government schools, while 17 percent are under the auspices of the Catholic Church and 10 percent are independent.
The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) has responsibility for administering policies and programs for schools and providing financial assistance to state and territory governments and other school education providers. DEST also has a significant responsibility for Indigenous education, including through the provision of preschool education for Indigenous students. The Australian government has taken a leading role in the development of national benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, as part of its commitment to the improvement of attainments in these areas. Early literacy has been a particular focus, nationally.
Responsibility for children’s services and education policy involves all levels of government. The national government, however, has a prime responsibility for Child Care Support and for supporting the national quality assurance schemes, via the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC). The Department of Family and Community Services (FaCSIA) has the major responsibility for children’s services, excluding schools. Its Child Care Program sets policy and funding for long day-care services, including family day care; multifunctional services and multifunctional Aboriginal services; some occasional care centers; and outside-school- hours care services. Subsidies are also provided to central playgroup associations in each state and territory to foster and support playgroups.
Major developments like the National Agenda for Early Childhood and the Head Start for Australia, along with the emergence of advocacy groups such as the National Investment for the Early Years (NIFTeY) and research networks including the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), highlight the priority that Australia places on its young children. Major initiatives such as the Australian government’s Stronger Families and Communities Strategy designed to build community capacity to support young children, and complementary state and territory developments, further underscore the continued prominence of early childhood in Australia.
To cater for the education and care of its young children, and to support women’s workforce participation, Australia has developed and sustained an extensive and diverse system of children’s services including long day-care centers, family day-care schemes and outside-school-hours care services. These services are primarily provided to meet the needs of working parents, but are also used by nonworking parents and those families requiring respite care. Preschools and early learning centers provide educational experiences for children on a sessional basis, prior to school entry.
Early childhood education and care in Australia is a priority policy focus for all levels of government. Of most policy interest are issues related to improving the affordability and access to child care and the enhancement of the educational and developmental benefits for children of participation in early childhood services. While the focus remains on supporting mothers’ workforce participation, increasingly the role of children’s services in prevention and early intervention is being highlighted.
Provision of such services is through a mix of public, nongovernment not-for- profit, private for-profit, and private not-for-profit organizations. The private sector provides over 70 percent of center-based child care. Most other early childhood services are provided by state and territory governments, local government, and the nonprofit sector.
Issues of supply, access, affordability, on the one hand, and quality and staffing of children’s services, on the other, are of current concern. In terms of supply, around 1.5 million Australian children in the age range from birth to eleven years used care (around half of this age-group). The Australian government expended $1646 million in 2001-2002 on the provision of child care, with the bulk of this paid as the Child Care Benefit (CCB) to parents, on the basis of the family’s income and use of approved child-care services.
The states and territories also provide funding to children’s services and are responsible for their regulation and licensing. Their primary responsibility, however, is for the provision of school education, including preschools, and some occasional care centers. Some also contribute financially to outside-school-hours care, long day-care centers, playgroups, and other children’s services. The states and territories vary as to where responsibility for early childhood education and care resides. In some it is split between departments of education and community services. In others it is in a single department, typically education.
Local government is involved in the provision of a wide range of services for young children and their families. In addition to providing a wide array of community facilities it may also subsidize or provide long day care, out-of-school hours, and occasional care services, as well as immunization services and parenting courses. The larger councils typically employ an early childhood coordinator.
Access to Services
Australians enjoy a relatively high standard of living, and while there is poverty, it tends not to be concentrated in inner city locations. There are, however, higher than average levels of unemployment, poverty, and disadvantage in rural and remote areas. Distance makes provision of social, health, and educational services a challenge in rural and remote Australia. Provision of early childhood services in these locations is not easy.
Quality in early childhood centers is directly addressed through the national accreditation program managed by the National Child Care Accreditation Council and through state and territory regulatory and licensing systems. Staffing of children’s services remains a major issue, and if Australia is to maintain the high quality of its children’s services the supply of well-qualified early childhood educators will need to be increased.
Further Readings: Australian Government (2004). Stronger families and communities strategy. Available online at http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/aboutfacs/programs/sfsc-sfcs.htm; Commonwealth Taskforce on Child Development, Health, and Wellbeing (2003). Towards the development of national agenda for early childhood. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; deVaus, D. (2004). Diversity and change in Australian families: Statistical profiles. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies, Commonwealth of Australia; Martin, J. (2004). “ ‘More than just play dough’—A preliminary assessment of the contribution of child care to the Australian economy.” In Australian Social Policy (2004). Canberra: Department of Family and Community Services, pp. 3-19; New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People and Commission for Children and Young People (Qld) (2004). A head start for Australia: An early years framework. Sydney and Brisbane: New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People and Commission for Children and Young People (Qld); Press, F., and A. Hayes (2000). OECD Thematic review ofearly childhood education and care: Australian background report. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
The Sociology of Childhood
The sociology of childhood has been used increasingly as a theoretical perspective in early childhood education since the late 1980s. In Australia, those who draw on the sociology of childhood have tended to use it in similar ways to European counterparts, being guided by six major tenets identified by Prout and James that form the basis of the sociology of childhood. These include the notion that childhood is a “social construction”, that childhood is a “variable of social analysis” and is closely connected to other variables such as class and gender, and that children’s relationships and cultures are “worthy of study in their own right.” Further, children are considered as active (rather than passive) agents in their daily lives and to be competent and knowledgeable about their own lives. Although the sociology of childhood is comparatively young, there has been little analysis of the key tenets of the position. Morss is an exception and raises some fundamental issues for consideration, which include refining the notion of the “socially constructed child,” a term that is used widely in much that is written about the sociology of childhood.
The key tenets of the sociology of childhood have been used in various ways throughout the world in research projects that feature children. One way in which this has occurred is through the focus on children’s rights. The United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has had significant impact internationally on child protection and human rights, notably the debate about child labor, and also on flow-on effects such as the contested area of the protective regulation of children. This manifests itself in continuing tension about the dubious line between adult regulation of children’s lives and children’s protective rights, especially as the former can restrict the latter and that legislatively in many countries, adults have different rights from children.
With regard to children’s protective rights, the sociology of childhood has been used to investigate a range of circumstances such as the ethical responsibilities of involving children in research as participants, the preferences of children in foster care, and decisions about with whom children will live when their parents divorce or separate. Another way that the sociology of childhood has been used in empirical research is to investigate children’s perspectives about their education environments in both before-school settings and the early years of schooling. For the purposes of this encyclopedic entry, examples are drawn from research in Australia that includes involving children as research participants and the understanding that children are competent and knowledgeable about their own lives.
In their attempt to develop a model whereby children can have “input [in]to the process of identifying children’s needs in care” Mason and Urquhart confront the complex issue of attempting to balance relationships of power between researchers and children. Their motivation was that research about substitute care for children (such as foster care) continually told stories about children “feeling that their needs were discounted and that they were treated as objects.” Mason and Urquhart contend that decisions about the placement of children are based on generalizations about ideological and budgetary considerations that are supported by understandings of the universality (rather than individuality) of children’s needs. Although they claim that children are being listened to, they point out that this does not necessarily mean that they are “being heard and responded to in terms of the needs they articulate.”
One way around this impasse, the complexities of achieving children’s participation in decision making, and ensuring systemic responses that meet their needs is to involve children “actively in the design and development of the processes and structures intended to hear their contributions.” (New South Wales Child Protection Council, cited in Mason and Urquhart). In their attempts to develop a collaborative approach that is based on social justice and achieves a balance between what they call Adultist and Children’s Movements, Mason and Urquhart’s first step was to consult children about how and why children should contribute, and to ask what children needed in the way of support and assistance to be able to contribute. Methodologically, a number of ways for children to participate were offered (focus group discussions, individual or group drawings, writing individual or group narratives), as were feedback sessions where member checking was to be undertaken. The ultimate aim is to develop an approach that integrates children’s perspectives with those of carers and decision makers that is informed by social theories, all the while recognizing that children have individual responses and should not be confined to one research category.
The case for developing social capital through responsive and integrated child and family services has been made by Farrell, Tayler, and Tennet. An integral part of this approach has been to seek not only adult, but young children’s views about service provision, mainly because of the scarcity of children’s voices in such research. Informed by the sociology of childhood, data were gathered from 138 children aged 4-8 attending two public elementary schools in a rural/remote locality and two public elementary schools in an urban setting in the state of Queensland. A practitioner-researcher engaged children in informal conversations in their classrooms to ask about six dimensions of social capital (participation in community activities, neighborhood connections, family and friend connections, feelings of trust and safety, proactivity in a social context, and tolerance of diversity). Teachers also asked children informally about why they came to school or preschool, what they liked and disliked about coming, and advice they would give to children new to the setting to ensure that they were happy.
According to the children’s responses, the social capital of children in the urban community was higher than those in the rural/remote locality. High numbers of children in all age-groups reported feeling safe in the community in which they lived, and responses to the questions asked informally by teachers showed variations in the different age-groups, confirming that purposes, attitudes, and reasons for coming to school change with age. Unsurprisingly, children were troubled by acts of physical and verbal aggression by other children, but were not asked about how they thought such acts should be handled. The children provided advice about effective transitions between early childhood settings and made suggestions about what newcomers need to know that could be incorporated by practitioners, administrators, and policy makers to help children transition successfully to new educational environments.
The impetus for a study by Dockett and Perry was that much of the research about children starting school positions children as research objects by assessing, testing, and observing them. They wanted to know from children’s experiences what starting school is like and ways to improve the experience for others. Based on the premise that children have expert knowledge about their own lives and that adults have different understandings of children’s lives and their experiences, these researchers gathered children’s drawings, photographs that children elected to take, and engaged in conversations with children to gain insight into their perspectives about starting school. Children from four schools in two states of Australia were involved in the project that asked the children to share their expertise with those who were soon to begin school. The four schools reflect a cross section of socioeconomic, rural, urban, isolated, and religious characteristics, and some of the photographs taken by the children are included in the article. This study recognizes the knowledge children have about their own lives in regard to starting school, and aims to use their expertise to improve transition programs and experiences associated with beginning school. It is further evidence of the value of involving children as research participants and seeking their perspectives about matters that are significant to them and that pertain directly to them and their successful movement into school environments.
As well as using the expertise of children to improve transitions to school, the sociology of childhood has been employed to show the competence of young children in everyday language interactions in constructing their own social orders in a preschool classroom (Danby). To illuminate understandings of the sociology of childhood, Danby contrasts viewing young children as competent language users with typical child development perspectives such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, where children are considered to be in the process of developing language skills and achieve competence as adults. A detailed analysis of several excerpts from a transcript of three boys aged 3-4 who are playing in the block area, reveals the intricacy and intensity of the interactions and emotions and how relationships can change quickly. Although the teacher was engaged at one stage, she retreated after a short time, advising the boys to sort the situation out for themselves. The verbal and nonverbal language competence of the boys was unmistakable, causing Danby to make some suggestions for practitioners to reflect on how they understand children.
From the analysis provided, the point that these three boys are highly competent and knowledgeable about their own lives and experiences is undeniable. However, practitioners would do well to consider some of the other tenets of the sociology of childhood alongside such evidence. For example, while much of the sociology of childhood is given over to research and discussion about adult regulation of children’s lives and children’s protective rights, it is also necessary to consider the rights and responsibilities of children as they ‘play’ in early childhood educational environments, and how they are to learn about and respect such rights and responsibilities.
In Australia, while research informed by the sociology of childhood is in its infancy, it has much to offer to children and adults, especially adults working in early childhood settings who must do more than merely observe children’s play.
Further Readings: Danby, S. (2002). The communicative competence of young children. Australian Journal of Early Childhood 27(3), 25-30; Dockett, S., and B. Perry (2005). You need to know how to play safe: Children’s experiences of starting school. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 6(1), 4-18; Farrell, A., C. Tayler, and L. Tennet (2004). Building social capital in early childhood education and care: An Australian study. British Educational Research Journal 30(5), 623-632; Mason, J., and R. Urquhart (2001). Developing a model for participation by children in research on decision making. Children Australia 26(4), 16-21; Morss, J. R. (2002). The several social constructions of James, Jenks, and Prout: A contribution to the sociological theorization of childhood. The International Journal of Children’s Rights 10, 39-54; Prout, A., and A. James, (1997). A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? Provenance, promise and problems. In A. James and A. Prout, eds., Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. 2nd ed. London: Falmer, pp. 7-33; United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989.
Multicultural Education and Cultural Diversity
The initial phase of multicultural education in Australia was primarily conceived as a project to improve the educational and social opportunities of cultural and linguistic “minorities.” Although being of a cultural and linguistic “minority” does not automatically predestine a child to educational failure or lack of social mobility, it is undoubtedly the case that the educational prospects of particular cultural and linguistic groups are adversely affected under particular circumstances. A view of multicultural education as something that exclusively addresses “minorities,” either as groups inequitably excluded from social access or as a positive presence, however, has its own limitations and difficulties.
From this early experience in Australia, it was realized that new visions of multicultural education were needed, visions that have the potential to transform pedagogy for all students, and to reconstitute mainstream social and educational practices in the interests of all.
Differences in Educational Success Rates
We know that some groups of students are more successful in school than other groups. We acknowledge that not all opportunities are evenly distributed and we refer to this as a question of “disadvantage.” This is usually conceptualized as a checklist of educationally disadvantaged groups:
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
• Students from non-English speaking backgrounds.
• Students in poverty, or from low socioeconomic status families and localities.
• Girls, and sometimes also on some measures, boys.
• Students with disabilities.
• Students in rural and/or isolated communities.
In the Australian context, however, it has become evident that these groups are in fact habitually, perennially disadvantaged, giving lie to any claim that opportunities are equal. The problem in each case is the distance between these worlds of community experience and the world of institutionalized education and valued knowledge.
However, despite its undeniable truth, the checklist represents a view that is too simplistic, since:
• Some students in these groups do succeed, background is not all-determining. Indeed, sometimes it is a student’s “disadvantaged” background that is the basis for their particular resilience, their peculiar success.
• There are more disadvantaged citizens than those found in the groups in the list; and many more individuals who fail as a result of particular conjunctions of community or lifeworld experience.
• The groups are not separate; they are overlapping, simultaneous, multilayered. In fact, virtually every individual represents a peculiar conjunction, a unique mix of group or community experiences.
• The groups are defined via relationships—of comparative power, privilege, and access to resources. Each group is created through a series of historical and ongoing intergroup relationships. These relationships (e.g., racism, sexism, comparative socioeconomic privilege) often play themselves out through schools and classrooms.
• The group categories oversimplify critical success and failure-determining differences within groups and between individuals.
• They create labels for categories, implying a deficit on the part of the student, when in fact they may be an opportunity upon which we might build a worthwhile learning experience.
The Notion of “Lifeworld”
Recognizing the notion of the “lifeworld,” one’s everyday life or community experience, is important since it represents an opportunity to encapsulate the full spectrum of differences across all the students in the classroom. Note that when we are talking about cultural differences as a critical determiner of outcomes, we are talking about the broad dynamics of power and privilege, of history and location, and of the accident of birth and life experience
Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity in the Classroom
When we consider ethnic and linguistic diversity in classrooms, the two big- group categories Indigenous and Non-English Speaking are too simple and overgeneralized to account for relative advantage or disadvantage of students in our schools. A fine-grained understanding of every student’s cultural and linguistic background and lifeworlds would include the following information about the students:
• Country/place of birth; country/place of birth of parents
• Indigenous ancestry, or recency of immigration; if recent, parents’ visa category (e.g., refugee, business)
• Ethnic or Indigenous identity
• Perceptions of “race”
• First language spoken; language(s) spoken at home
• English language proficiency of student and parents
• Variant of English spoken (e.g., Aboriginal English, working-class Australian English, “wog” English)
• Literacy level of parents in first or other languages
In addition, gender, socioeconomic status, and other variables such as disability, may be integral and inseparable aspects of culture, ethnicity, and language. Consistent with recent developments in multicultural policy in Australia, in which the category “non-English speaking background” (NESB) has been contested and calls made to abandon it, the above pointers focus on the following:
• The cultural and linguistic profile of every student; and
• A much broader range of variables than those identified by the category “NESB” which, for curriculum and school planning purposes, are (a) more closely related to categories of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data and (b) represent a more finely grained predictor of educational outcomes.
Working with Cultural Differences in Education: Alternative Models
In dealing with cultural differences, there are four archetypical forms of modern education approaches: exclusion, assimilation, superficial multiculturalism, and a more inclusive approach we have called pluralism.
Exclusion. Education as exclusion means not being able to gain access for success in the education system. It also includes those who experience failure once in the system. There can be a variety of reasons for exclusion, and these all reflect the kind of distance that exists between the student’s lifeworld and institutionalized education. Distancing features include, for example, the education you can afford; what you know you can realistically wish for from education; what you expect; and what you can slip into more or less comfortably. In the modern era, where education is compulsory and the promise of equity through education universal, exclusion can also exist as a powerful form of inclusion. As a consequence of this exclusion, you will do certain kinds of work, become a certain kind of citizen, have a certain kind of relationship to the icons of belonging—and the results of your education will have in part “explained” this for you.
Assimilation. Education as assimilation means gaining access to institutionalized education and succeeding by adhering to the protocols and practices inherent to it. Assimilation requires leaving behind your old self and lifeworld as past experience, and then gaining experience and expertise in those lifeworlds closest to the culture of education.
Superficial multiculturalism. Education as a superficial multiculturalism means that, at a surface level, the system recognizes the variability of lifeworlds—a kind of “spaghetti and polka” multiculturalism. However, in reality, it requires adopting the image of those lifeworlds closest to the culture of institutionalized learning and “mainstream” power. Different lifeworlds might be made an object of study or celebrated as folkloric color, but only insofar as the fundamental framework of seeing, valuing, and knowing remains singular and undisturbed.
Cultural pluralism. Education as pluralism recognizes thatyou don’t have to be the same to have similar opportunities. Pluralism involves a subtle but profound shift from a more superficial multiculturalism. Pluralism means that the mainstream— be that the culture of the dominant groups or such institutional structures as education—is transformed. Instead of representing a single cultural destination, the mainstream is a site of openness, negotiation, experimentation, and the interrelation of alternative frameworks and mindsets. Learning is not a matter of “development” in which you leave your old selves and lifeworlds behind. Rather, learning is a matter of repertoire—starting with the recognition of lifeworld experiences and using them as a basis for extending what you can do. The pluralist process of transformation, then, is not a matter of vertical progress but one of expanding horizons. These new horizons have an impact on the lifeworld: learners still engage in and with their lifeworlds in new ways, but not necessarily to leave those lifeworlds behind.
Genuine equity cannot be achieved in any but the pluralist alternative. In fact, the first three forms of inclusion are simultaneously rationalizations of exclusion; the first explicitly so and the other two by way of practice. In all three, the pattern of those who are more likely to miss out on opportunities reflects the relative distances of lifeworlds to the culture of power and the culture of institutionalized education. The crossover is more possible for some than for others. Only pluralism is even-handed, because negotiating cultural differences is the main objective.
The Dichotomy of Pluralism
Pluralism is both an ambitious program and a minimalist, unambitious program. It is ambitious in the sense that it is based on the argument that the mainstream needs to be transformed. It is unambitious in that it does no more than take the limited equity argument at its word. To the question of what are the conditions of mere equity—not equality—the only answer can be an educational system that does not habitually favour and reward some lifeworld experiences over others. This is to do no more than to take at its word the apologetic rhetoric of a society which does not pretend to have an equality of outcomes, just “opportunity” for all. Pluralism is the only way the system can possibly do even that; the only way it can possibly be genuinely fair in its distribution of opportunity, as between one group and another, one kind of lifeworld experience and another.
Making curriculum culturally inclusive. Cultural differences are interwoven through the patterns of relative advantage and disadvantage that characterize schooling, as well as society. One of the fundamental purposes of education is to provide learning, and as a consequence, social opportunities for all. Equity, however, can only be achieved through a curriculum that engages every student in such a way that their opportunities are optimized. Education for pluralism requires a culturally inclusive curriculum that recognizes the differences among students and provides every student with learning experiences that optimize their opportunities. The key features of an inclusive curriculum are (a) recognition of students’ differences, (b) classroom and curriculum flexibility and curriculum customization such that every student is provided learning experiences that engage their particular capacities, needs, and interests, (c) measurable outcomes which optimize each student’s learning and social possibilities. Inclusive curriculum requires a complementary mix of strategies focused on opportunity and strategies focused on diversity.
Opportunity. It is important to design educational strategies that provide access to the dominant or “mainstream” culture, its ways of thinking, communicating, and being. Dominant educational values are expressed and measured at the key points of assessment and credentialing. Key access strategies might include English as a Second Language instruction and explicit teaching to the rules of the assessment and credentialing system. In this task, education has a crucial intervention role to play in the politics of redistribution of social resources.
The balance between strategies for opportunity (or access) and strategies for diversity is critical. Strategies to improve access that neglect diversity tend to drift toward discredited and ineffectual educational strategies akin to “assimilation.” The underlying message of a curriculum which overemphasizes access is that the ideal knowledge and skills are those expressed by the dominant culture, and other cultures are, in one way or another, inferior. It also leads to old-fashioned, didactic forms of “transmission” pedagogy, which fail for their lack of relevance, and for their failure to mesh with students’ interests and aspirations.
Diversity. Diversity recognizes curriculum strategies honoring differences amongst students by including those differences as the subject matter of the curriculum, by valuing different learning styles, and by allowing for different learning outcomes depending on student background and aspirations. Such strategies should aim to build constructively upon student experience, interest, and motivation. In this task, education has a crucial interventionary role to play in the politics of social and cultural recognition, the politics of belonging.
Strategies for diversity that neglect access may appear “relevant” or “appropriate” yet fail to challenge students or fail to take them into realms of opportunity outside of their existing or community experience. They may, in fact, silently help the already advantaged and hurt the disadvantaged. This is the danger of a superficial multiculturalism. Multicultural education is not about the unreflective preservation of differences, since keeping things just the way they are preserves the relationships of inequality. It is about transformations whereby learners change themselves in and through learning, while nevertheless remaining true to their selves, their lifeworld experiences, and their communities. This is a matter of cultural transformation through self-determination and self-redefinition. A pluralistic version of multiculturalism extends the dominant culture and even transforms what is considered mainstream. It helps redefine the “mainstream” as multicultural, as a place that is diverse in its very nature and in which all people can benefit from that diversity.
Further Readings: Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis (1997). Productive diversity: A new Australian approach to work and management. Sydney: Pluto Press; Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis (1997). White noise: The attack on political correctness and the struggle for the western canon. Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 28(), 283-329; Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, eds. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Melbourne: Macmillan and London: Routledge; Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope (1999). Multicultural education: Transforming the mainstream. In Stephen May, ed., Critical multiculturalism: Rethinking multicultural and anti-racist education. London: Falmer Press, pp. 245-276; Kalantzis, Mary (2000). Multicultural citizenship. In W. Hudson, ed., Rethinking Australian citizenship. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope
Families and Children in Australia
Many factors, including improved contraception, the legalization of abortion, and the widely publicized detrimental effects of institutionalization, have resulted in nearly all Australian children growing up in a family even if it is not their biological family. In fact, in Australia (2003), very few children grow up in institutions (200) or in correctional centers (500). However, currently children of refugees are held in detention centers with their families while their claims are being processed.
Although most Australian children grow up in families, children’s experiences of childhood differ as a function of the structure of their family, their parents’ socioeconomic circumstances, and the cultural background into which they are born.
Changes in the Structure of Australian Families
Women’s participation in the workforce. Over the past few decades there have been several major changes in conceptualizing what constitutes an Australian family. There has been a decline of the “traditional” family type of mother as homemaker, father as breadwinner, and children. The most obvious area of change has been the increased participation of women with dependent children in the paid workforce. Currently the most common pattern in families with children under 15 years of age is both parents are in paid employment. Eight percent of children in Australia, however, are in families where both parents are unemployed.
The increase of one-parent families. The other major change in family structure has been a large increase in one-parent families (an increase of 53% between 1986 and 2001). One-parent families now make up 23 percent of all families with dependent children. More than one in five children under 15 years of age is now living with one parent, generally their mother (20.3% of families with dependent children are headed by a single-parent mother and 2.7% are headed by a single parent father).
Cohabitation before marriage. In addition, about three-quarters of couples in Australia now live together before they marry, in contrast to patterns of the mid-1980s. De facto relationships are now recognized by law, and as a result many couples are choosing not to marry. This trend not to marry may partly explain why close to a third of the children in Australia are now born outside a formal marriage.
Socioeconomic circumstances of families. In affluent families, the expectation of health and access to good health care, combined with a low birth-rate and a greater use of prenatal testing, has led to an assumption that if they chose to have children, parents will have one or two perfect children. The emphasis has moved beyond desiring the basic survival of children, to the desire that children must fulfill “their potential.” To achieve this goal, a growing number of families invest resources in private education and extra tuition fees for their children. Such expectations for children have led to less emphasis on children’s useful contributions to the family in terms of responsibility and work at home. At the other end of the spectrum, for children from economically disadvantaged families, there seems to be an increasing sense of social alienation as they struggle to find the money to participate in such basic activities as school excursions, much less afford the fees for child care and preschool.
Cultural Diversity in Australian Families
Australia is a country characterized by the migration of a diverse range of people. Recent statistics show that the first Australians, or Indigenous Australians, currently comprise 2.2 percent of Australia’s population of just over 20 million people. The British colonized Australia in the eighteenth century and this is reflected in the population today. The three most common ancestries reported in the 2001 census were Australian (people born in Australia of various ancestries including Indigenous people), English, and Irish. Immediately following the Second World War, people from Europe (largest groups were from Italy, Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands) imigrated to Australia. More recently, people of Lebanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, and many other ancestries (approximately 160 in total) have joined the Australian population. In the 2001 census, over half of the children under the age of 15 reported having Australian ancestry, with most having been born in Australia and having at least one Australian-born parent. Within some ancestry groups, notably Vietnamese, Lebanese, and Chinese, many families speak a language other than English at home. The diversity of languages and cultures in Australia adds to its social wealth as well as challenging the English language and Anglo-Saxon cultural dominance of many services for children and families in Australia.
In the 2001 census, 410,000 people considered themselves to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait origin. While most live in major cities or in regional centers, proportionally more Indigenous than non-Indigenous people live in remote areas of Australia. As a group, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer multiple disadvantages: poor health, a higher rate of infant mortality, a reduced life expectancy compared to non-Indigenous Australians, lower rates of employment, lower rates of educational achievement, higher rates of incarceration, a high incidence of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect, and limited infrastructure and services in remote areas.
While forecasts for the general Australian population over the next few decades predict that there will be a larger proportion of older people than children in the population, the reverse is true for the Indigenous population, where it is predicted that there will be more children than older people. This has implications for services for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders, particularly in health and education, as there are a large number of dependents and relatively few adults to provide for them. In addition, Indigenous parents are often poor, young, and relatively uneducated—characteristics that point to the need for parenting support. High levels of unemployment, domestic violence, and abuse also create an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous backdrop for Indigenous children.
This need for support is counteracted, to some extent, by the strong sense of family and community in Indigenous culture. This characteristic leads to a lesser sense of isolation than might be experienced by non-Indigenous families in the same circumstances. However, since life expectancy is twenty years shorter for Indigenous Australians than for the non-Indigenous Australians, grandparents are not as available to provide support to families and children.
Managing Workand Family
Women in the paid workforce. Over the past twenty years, Australian women have become increasingly involved in the paid workforce. As a result, families have needed to actively manage their work and family responsibilities. Despite the increased dependence on the wages of both parents, the patterns of women’s involvement in the labor force is consistent with mothers rather than fathers assuming most family responsibilities at home. As their children grow older, more mothers join the paid labor force and mothers are more likely to shift from part-time to full-time work. In contrast, patterns of fathers’ participation in the workforce are unaffected by the ages of their children and as a result, most fathers work full-time jobs.
Managing work and family in Australia has been made more difficult for dual wage earners and single-earner families because of a shift away from standard working hours to longer hours and to “flexible” yet “unsocial” working hours involving early mornings, evenings, and weekends. There is considerable concern over the impact of these changes on parents and their relationships with their children and each other. In addition, there has been a trend toward more casual work, with one in three positions now offered on a casual basis. This has led to greater financial insecurity that has a detrimental effect on family well-being.
Child care is difficult for parents to organize as there is a shortage of places and trained staff in formal child care, such as long day-care centers and family day-care schemes. This is especially the case for children under 2 years, and as a consequence, child-care hours are generally structured around a standard working day. As a result, parents are forced to create a patchwork of formal and informal care arrangements, resulting in a third to a half of Australian children in their first three years attending two or more care settings a week.
Support from within the extended family is a crucial resource for families. Without support in the form of information, financial and practical help such as grandparents’ assistance in the care of young children, families become isolated and their children suffer. It is unusual in Australia for members of the extended family to live in the household of “nuclear” families, although this is more likely in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households, reflecting a wider kinship system.
The role of grandparents in the lives of children has been of increasing interest to researchers and policy makers. Non-Indigenous grandparents are living longer and having a longer period of shared lives with their grandchildren. When grandchildren are of preschool age and their parents are in the workforce, many grandparents act as regular part-time caregivers and are increasingly awarded custodial care of their grandchildren when parents are unable to care for them. In this way, they often take on shared parenting roles in the care of their grandchildren.
Children’s Services and Families
In their engagement with families and children, children’s services in Australia need to cater to the diversity of family structures and cultural and language backgrounds. While services attempt to include culturally sensitive practices, from the viewpoint of culturally and linguistically diverse families, children’s services are often seen as institutions that teach the values of mainstream Australian culture. Some migrant groups enroll their children in centers for this very reason, to learn about Australian society. Other groups, including Indigenous families, prefer not to send their children to children’s services because of the perceived difference in child rearing approach and values (as well as other reasons such as cost and lack of transport and services). Indigenous children have a very low rate of participation in prior to school services in Australia.
Australian policy. In Australian government policy, child-care services are seen as primarily serving the needs of employed parents. In some cases, child care or preschool is used to give families in need or with histories of abuse respite care for their children. There is a legislative requirement through the national accreditation system for children’s services to work in partnership with parents. Australian centers are working on finding ways to effectively develop this partnership; however, one constraint limiting family involvement is the long hours of employment, limiting parents’ availability for participation. Another constraint is that the majority of child care in Australia is now privately owned and more likely to have a “service” than “partnership” orientation toward families.
Increasingly in Australia, children’s services are seen as one of many community services, government and nongovernment, that help support families with young children. In North Queensland, for example, community hubs have been established around many children’s services to provide “one-stop shopping” for family support services. This is also the model used around Australia in many children’s services for Indigenous children and families.
In line with this trend, children’s services in Australia are providing formal support for families as well as care and education for children under school age. This has been done in a number of ways such as encouraging parents to form social networks, and providing parent education sessions on topics as diverse as nutrition and approaches to discipline. Additionally, informal support regarding children’s services has always been provided for parents. The involvement of children’s services in interagency collaboration with other services for children and families has only just begun to happen in Australia and this holds great promise for an integrated approach to assisting families in raising their children during the early years.
Further Readings: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003). Australian social trends 2003. Catalogue No. 4102.0. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service; Bowes, J. M. (2004). Children, families and communities: Contexts and consequences. Melbourne: Oxford University Press; De Gioia, K., J. Hayden, and F. Hadley (2003). Enhancing participation by Aboriginal families in early childhood services: A case study. Bankstown: Center for Social Justice and Social Change, University of Western Sydney; Hughes, P., and G. MacNaughton (2002). Preparing early childhood professionals to work with parents: The challenges of diversity and dissensus. Australian Journal of Early Childhood 28 (2), 14-20; Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care and Center for Community Child Health (2004). Early childhood case studies. Northcote, Victoria: Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.
Pedagogies in Early Childhood Education
Pedagogy is not a readily used term to describe teaching and learning practices in the Australian preschool (before formal schooling) context. Instead, early childhood educators refer to their program or curriculum approach, teaching techniques, and personal philosophy; and it is this combination that makes up their pedagogy. Pedagogies in early childhood education vary from setting to setting due to the individual’s personal teaching and learning style, their underpinning educational philosophy and epistemological beliefs, state curriculum policies and requirements, religious and philosophical orientation of the actual early childhood setting, and the type of community that the preschool is situated within. Here we review traditional and emerging pedagogies within Australian settings for early childhood education, and focus on the pedagogies found in preschool programs (programs for under 6-year-olds) that are located in schools, kindergartens, and child-care centers.
One of the main reasons that the term pedagogy has traditionally not been used in preschool education is that it has been viewed by early childhood practitioners as (primary) school terminology denoting formal teaching and learning, one that implies a direct transmission of knowledge approach. Pedagogy in preschool education is largely determined instead by the teachers’ own personal philosophy, usually built from theories acquired in their initial teacher training or gained through teaching experience. In the case of the state of Victoria, where there is no recommended, prescribed nor mandated curriculum framework operating for teachers of under 6-year-olds, one significant educational implication this brings is the issue of teachers’ curricula freedom, where the teachers are able to determine and devise their own curriculum framework, content, and pedagogy. More often than not, this results in a teacher-devised curricular framework and pedagogy that ultimately rests upon dominant discourses, dominant theories, and practices familiar and accepted by the teacher. The dominant early childhood teaching and learning practices in Australia will now be explored.
Foundational to many preschool programs are child-centered pedagogies, practices that are informed by child development theories and developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). Child-centered pedagogies view the child in individual terms or as a person who is not yet developed or underdeveloped, and this child is then observed, assessed, and planned for within a child development frame. The child is the focus of the educator’s study and is planned for individually through the lens of the main developmental domains; social and emotional development, cognitive, fine, and gross motor development. Acting as a catalyst, the child’s “interest” is used to drive the curricula content decisions while being embedded within a developmental frame, one that singles out and matches the interest to the child’s developmental “need.” In many cases this type of learning entails minimal adult interaction except for the educator setting up the learning environment, monitoring, “scaffolding,” and sanctioning the type of play and learning the child engages in.
Other child-centered pedagogies that feature within Australian early childhood programs have their own distinctive traditions and practices, including Montessori and Steiner education, and programs’ using Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory as the basis for their educational direction. Depending on the program, they can be either highly teacher-directed or highly child-initiated with the common feature being their child-centeredness that features planning for the individual child based on the child’s needs, interests, and strengths. This is in stark contrast to the school context, where the curriculum content shapes the pedagogy and the educator’s main role is to teach specific knowledge sets and skills. However, having said this, this distinction is now becoming less defined as recent examples show that there are more intersections between school and preschool pedagogies, with some primary schools adopting Reggio Emilia-inspired pedagogy and some preschool educators taking on board principles from Productive Pedagogies, an inquiry-based pedagogy with its origins deriving from the Queensland school system.
Although play-based pedagogies can share some common elements with that of child-centered pedagogies, such as basing practices upon child developmental theories, they are not necessarily the same in pedagogical terms. This is due to the main feature of play-based pedagogies, the belief that children learn through play. This can be witnessed in the form of uninterrupted play, free play, structured play, with the teaching techniques ranging from highly adult interventionist to minimal or no adult intervention. Play-based pedagogies are the foundation of most early childhood programs and are interpreted and practiced in many ways.
Sociocultural and Inquiry-Driven Pedagogies
New pedagogies are changing the educational landscape within preschool education. Viewing children as capable, competent persons and co-constructors of their learning are the common features of these new teaching practices and are inspired by inquiry-driven, critical, and postmodern pedagogies. This shifts the frame from seeing the child in individualist terms, or as a child who is underdeveloped with developmental needs, to that of seeing them as capable people traveling on their lifelong learning journey. One such pedagogy, inspired by sociocultural theories, has resulted in a growing number of research projects and publications that describe early childhood practices from this frame. Fleer and Richardson provide an example by documenting how early childhood practitioners have moved across educational paradigms, in this case from a constructivist-developmental framework to a sociocultural pedagogical approach. Drawing from the sociocultural theories of Lev Vygotsky, Malaguzzi, Rogoff, and others, Fleer and Richardson highlight some of the tensions and resistance that can occur when pedagogy shifts and new conceptual tools replace the familiar. In this particular study, new key pedagogical principles and practices are revealed and a transformation of theoretical understandings takes place. This type of work is shifting the pedagogical frame in the Australian early childhood context.
Even though sociocultural theories and practices are making inroads, at the forefront of pedagogical change within Australian early childhood settings is the phenomenon of the Reggio Emilia approach. Stemming from the small region of Reggio Emilia, Italy, innovative early childhood programs founded by Loris Malaguzzi relatively recently appeared on Australian shores and the approach barely requires an introduction to worldwide early childhood educators. The effect of this educational approach and its wide-ranging pedagogical influence is paramount as an increasing amount of early childhood programs are based on some sort of connection to this orientation. Early childhood educators are being hired based on their knowledge of “Reggio,” and their ability to “do Reggio” are keenly sought after pedagogical skills. The discrimination of the transference of this pedagogy to the Australian context varies, with some programs taking the “best aspects” of Reggio Emilia and others taking on board and duplicating as many Reggio Emilia principles and practices that they can. The pedagogical impact of the Reggio Emilia approach is overwhelmingly positive, with educators incorporating inquiry-driven teaching and learning practices including child-initiated projects, and carrying out comprehensive documentation practices. Even though the early childhood programs and approaches of Reggio Emilia have broadened early childhood teaching practice within Australia, some skepticism should be maintained to ensure that the process of pedagogical reconceptualization is an ongoing process; a process that includes curricular renewal to best fit the educational context, and a process aware of the many curricular theories and pedagogies that are available. Reconceptualizing early childhood pedagogy guided by postmodern and critical theories is one example of how to distill the familiar, as practice guided by this frame of reference reveals educational inequities so that they can be challenged and ultimately overcome.
Postmodern and Critical Pedagogies
Currently gaining momentum in early childhood education are pedagogies that aim to transform culture and change the status quo, derived and informed by postmodernism, poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonialism, and critical theories (MacNaughton, 2003). These postmodern pedagogies have entered preschool educational discourse and practice, but still have a long way to go, educationally speaking, and much more to offer early childhood education. These critical pedagogies are driven by principles of social transformation and democratic education and provide educators a language of critique and possibility. Critical pedagogies unravel salient and critical issues within educational contexts and provide educators with the ability to examine “hidden” aspects of their curriculum. In their text, MacNaughton and Williams categorize early childhood teaching techniques into two main areas, general teaching techniques that are common pedagogical techniques and specialist teaching techniques that originate from diverse theoretical perspectives. The general teaching techniques category is comprised of commonly found early childhood teaching approaches such as demonstrating, describing, encouraging, facilitating, modeling, questioning, and so on, whereas specialist teaching techniques that are quite new to early childhood education are co-constructing, community building, deconstructing, empowering, and philosophizing, and so forth. Of pedagogical interest here are the specialist teaching techniques that generate new and different ways to view pedagogy and ultimately educate young children. By drawing from new and diverse philosophical and epistemological theories, the challenge that the Australian early childhood community has set itself is to promote and sustain new pedagogies, in order to continue to shift the pedagogical frame to accommodate the changing nature of society and education. It is for this reason that early childhood pedagogies are thought of in multiple terms, highlighting the theoretical choices, discourse alternatives, and practice possibilities that are available to educators.
Critical perspectives are most useful for early childhood education as they view the preschool site as an environment that can be inequitable and unjust for some, particularly disadvantaged groups who often consist of lower socioeconomic groups, Indigenous Australians, recent immigrants, or other people of disadvantage. Arguably one of the least known critical pedagogies is that of Indigenous Australians. As Fasoli and Ford found out, there is little research literature on Indigenous Australian pedagogies in early childhood contexts. These writers consequently maintain that it is vital to employ Aboriginal educators where possible when educating Aboriginal children, and non-Aboriginal educators should become aware of the complex relationship structure and the importance placed on relationships within Australian Indigenous perspectives, rather than just apply an Anglo-Australian version of “culturally appropriate activities.” They argue that, “... in understanding Indigenous practices, was not so much to modify programs to include Indigenous content but rather to focus on relationships as critical when dealing with Indigenous children in an early childhood setting.” As some of the most disadvantaged people within Australia, Indigenous Australian pedagogies require close and careful consideration to rethink and change educational bias and prejudiced practices.
The emergence of new technologies is also changing the way that early childhood education is practiced. O’Rourke and Harrison have reported that the inclusion of new technologies, particularly the computer, can be a catalyst for reconceptualizing the early childhood program and pedagogy. Preschool educators in their study claim that by introducing the computer to their early childhood program it has broadened the preschool’s horizons and has had positive program implications.
Not all pedagogies could be mentioned here and even though pedagogies have been discussed as separate entities it is common for early childhood practitioners to be eclectic in their approach and combine varying pedagogies to make up their own teaching and learning repertoire. By discussing various pedagogies it is anticipated that early childhood educators will appreciate the limitless bounds of theoretical inspiration from which their pedagogies can draw, and the educational impact on our young children that these pedagogies can ultimately have.
Further Readings: Fasoli, L., and M. Ford (2001). Indigenous early childhood educators’ narratives: Relationships, not activities. Australian Journal of Early Childhood 26(3), 18-22; Fleer, M., and C. Richardson (2004). Moving from a constructivist-developmental framework for planning to a sociocultural approach: Foregrounding the tension between individual and community. Journal of Australian Research in Early Childhood Education 11(2), 70-87; MacNaughton, G. (2003). Shaping early childhood: Learners, curriculum and contexts. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press; MacNaughton, G., and G. Williams (2004). Techniques for teaching young children: Choices in theory and practice. 2nd ed. Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: Pearson; O’Rourke, M., and C. Harrison (2004). The introduction of new technologies: New possibilities for early childhood pedagogy. Australian Journal of Early Childhood 29(2), 11-18.
Creativity and Imagination
Creativity is a concept that has a wide range of meaning and understandings, particularly in the education sector. In Australia, the Victorian Schools Innovation Commission (VSIC) initiated a creativity pilot program with four schools during 2004. The intention of the pilot was to raise teachers’ awareness about creativity, to test ideas as to how best to promote children’s creativity, and to identify how to embed creative learning across the curriculum. This work has been continued and expanded through the Australian Centre for Effective Partnerships, who have brokered a range of innovative partnerships between schools and creative practitioners.
An advisory group on creativity was established by VSIC consisting of representatives from a wide range of creative sectors and industries. The group set out to describe creativity in such a way that it would be useful for teachers and the education sector in general and developed the following guiding concept in 2004:
When we are creative we see the world in new ways, we ask new questions, we imagine new possibilities and we seek to act in such a way that makes a difference.
They maintained that creativity entails the following:
• use of imaginative, intuitive, and logical thinking
• a fashioning process where ideas are shaped, refined, and managed
• pursuing purposes to produce tangible outcomes from goals
• disciplined application of knowledge and skills to make new connections
• originality or production of new ideas, perspectives, or products
• expression influenced by values
• the value of what is produced is open to the judgments of others
• collaboration, evaluation, review, and feedback
In this conception of creativity, imagination is intrinsic to the creative process and operates as children develop their capacity for creative thinking and action. Imagination is concerned with the generation of ideas through exploration, representation, and conjecture. Imaginative thinking and creativity are significant as children construct knowledge and learn to communicate ideas.
The Role of Creativity in Learning: Rationale for a National Focus
Creativity is increasingly being seen as a key component to the individual’s wellbeing, sense of fulfillment, cultural identity, and economic success. In response to such international imperatives, the VSIC Advisory Group identified the following four points as rationale for increasing the focus on creativity in schools: 1 2
1. Creativity enables individuals to structure rewarding and fulfilling lives. The world that our children face will be complex, ambiguous, and uncertain. They need to be equipped with curiosity and confidence in order to exercise choice and respond positively to opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. Children need creativity to manage risk and cope with change and adversity. A creative life generates excitement and personal delight. Creativity also emerges from the struggle to negotiate conflicts between ourselves and our surrounding world.
2. Creativity stimulates learning. When provided with the opportunity to be creative, children are more likely to make full use of the information and experiences available to them and extend beyond habitual or expected responses. When children are encouraged to think independently and creatively, they become more interested in discovering things for themselves, more open to new ideas, and keen to work with others to explore ideas. As a result, self-motivation, pace of learning, levels of achievement and self-esteem increase. By developing the capacity of teachers to use their own creativity in their teaching practices, we increase the opportunity for students to develop their ideas in safe, creative, learning environments. This capacity to transfer, transform, create, and innovate is an important dimension of twenty-first century literacy practices.
3. Creativity as a driving force of economic growth. Today’s global economy increasingly relies on knowledge, creativity, and innovation. Knowledge, imagination, and individual creativity are the wellspring of innovation as nations attract, retain, and develop creative people. This ability to innovate is increasingly acknowledged as the critical corporate asset of the twenty-first century and a major source of individual, corporate, and national competitive advantage. By supplanting land, labor, and capital, nations use creativity to stay “ahead of the pack.” Creativity, innovation, inventiveness, entrepreneurship, and enterprise are valued social capital.
4. Creativity in response to social, cultural, and environmental issues. Flexible, creative approaches are required if society is to respond positively to the challenges and responsibilities associated with rapid change, uncertainty, and adversity. Schools and communities that equip students to be creative will generate individuals capable of fueling a vibrant and innovative cultural, social, and economic life. Individuals can transform society if they learn to act together and generate new ideas. The state of social cohesion, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and effective governance will depend on the abilities of people to unlock their creative potential. Current social, cultural, and environmental attitudes and beliefs can be reconsidered when people respond to new interactions and fresh connections, and collaborate.
The implications for education are therefore significant. Teachers face a major challenge as they go beyond simplistic understandings of creativity as self-expression. Creativity must be understood in the classroom beyond children’s responses to open-ended tasks. This will require teachers to reconsider creativity as a rich and disciplined inquiry vital for the effective communication of ideas.
A Framework for Creativity: Where to Lookin Assessment
Teachers in the creativity pilots adopted and continue to use the following conceptual framework developed by the IDES network in conjunction with Learning and Teaching Scotland:
The Person—characteristics, abilities, and skills we encourage and give space for. These include the following:
• cognitive and metacognitive abilities
• knowledge and specific skills
The Process—the relevant strategies and approaches we adopt and employ in successful creative exploits. These include the following:
• flexibility and openness
• facilitation of specific knowledge
• acceptance of alternatives
• stimulus and ownership
The Product—the outcomes of the creative endeavor. These include the following:
• tangible products
• personal satisfaction
• social worth
The Place—the environment and resources that are provided and developed. These include the following:
• ethos and culture
• physical space
Creative Curriculum and Pedagogy
What is significant about these frameworks is the notion of interrelationships. We can only understand teaching for creativity if we consider it as part of a complex range of interdependent factors. There are implications for assessment and a need for a new assessment paradigm.
Rather than judging students by what they produce, the relationships between learners, teachers, and their environment should be assessed and analyzed in order to plan for future action and intervention. If we consider how students take risks, participate in critical reflection, remain open and flexible, use general and detailed knowledge, and make decisions, we can assess how students have engaged in the creative processes as they occur. In order to better understand how students are learning, we need to consider whether students are informed about the structure of the learning, have opportunities to negotiate criteria, and are supported in their work.
We need to consider the environment and relationships in the classroom in the same way. When we evaluate the particular atmosphere, the approaches employed, and the facilities, we can make better decisions about the creative learning environment. By looking at the partnerships and relationships that form in the classroom, we can see how relationships affect creative processes. We should acknowledge how students help each other to focus on the learning, how relationships encourage risk-taking, and how students support each other’s expressions of ideas. We cannot assess a student unless we assess the pedagogy of the teacher and the learning environment being offered at the same time. The following cases illustrate this complexity in action.
A Case Study: The Potential of Animation in the Classroom
Rachael is an early childhood teacher who passionately believes in the importance of creativity in children’s lives. She participated in a two-year research project with twelve other teachers exploring the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) with young children. It became apparent to her that although ICT had the potential to stimulate children’s creativity, the software programs that were available were not facilitating the process. By chance she came upon a professional opportunity that enabled her to learn about how to create animations and she realized its potential to act as a powerful narrative device by which children could create contexts for telling stories using new media.
A visit to an animation studio clarified for Rachael that animation was essentially about well-constructed narrative. She began an exploration of animation with her class and provided children with the opportunity to observe and critically reflect on animations they had encountered. She also allotted time for children to develop a foundational understanding of how the various technologies worked. The children played, experimented, and were given small teaching clinics on both the technical and narrative aspects of animation. The children also spent time talking about their ideas to each other and thinking about how the animation process could facilitate telling their story effectively. Rachael supported and guided them to find effective ways to communicate their ideas.
Prompted by their discussions, the children created a storyboard of their ideas together with a script. Both the storyboard and the script indicated features of the technology, such as camera angles, the placement of sound effects, and the use of voice-overs. Once Rachael taught the children the basic principles of visual design and camera work, they quickly increased control over equipment and the medium. The project created a need for learning new vocabulary (e.g., wide- shot, mid-shot, close-up, etc.), which was incorporated into the curriculum. The class also investigated how to combine a sequence of shots based on film-making principles. This newly gained expertise and knowledge provided children with the power to critique their own and others’ work.
Rachael’s classroom moved beyond other classrooms where the technical or foundational aspects of animation predominated. When only the foundational aspects are emphasized, the results are animations that are technically clever but not necessarily communicating a message of interest or worth in the eyes of the audience (neglect of some aspects of the human dimension).
The teamwork required during the creative process inevitably facilitated the development of such skills as communication, negotiation, decision making, time management, and general organization. Creativity is therefore not something that occurs in isolation from other learning. The children in Rachael’s class exhibited many of the characteristics of creative people: curiosity, passion, drive, and confidence. They used their imagination to pursue purposeful goals and demonstrated tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty as they persisted with their tasks and identified ways forward when confronted with problems.
Importantly, Rachael created an environment where children could work in a sustained way when needed. For example, when one group of students were clearly working well and in the final stages of producing their animation, she allowed them to spend the better part of two days to complete it rather than be constrained by the timetable. Children as young as seven and eight years were able to sustain their concentration and perseverance.
Rachael encouraged learners in her class to believe in their own ideas and articulate back and forth between logic and imagination. Her own beliefs in children’s creative and learning capacity meant that her expectations of what they were capable of doing were high. Consequently she created a learning environment where there was clear evidence of children feeling challenged by their goals and tasks, freely moving around and taking the initiative to find relevant information, interacting with others, gaining support and encouragement from their teachers, and willingly put forward new ideas and alternative views. This is consistent with the research on creative learning environments and demonstrates how important both environment and pedagogy were in enabling children in Rachael’s class to develop their creative capacity.
Links to Literacy
One of the reasons the animations produced by Rachael’s students communicated powerfully with their audiences was because she went beyond the technical to emphasize a need to communicate something of worth. Creativity and multiliteracies are intrinsically linked if literacy is understood to involve the following dimensions: the human, the foundational, the critical, and the creative.
The human dimension of literacy is a reminder that literacy is not simply a technical endeavor. Literacy is shaped and influenced by individuals as they make sense of life experiences and communicate new knowledge. An individual’s knowledge develops through experience, and the way an individual interprets experience changes. This growing knowledge includes not only discipline knowledge (e.g., Arts, Science), but also knowledge gained from other people, situations, and contexts. The communication of emotions is particularly evident in multiliterate practice when music is used to create a mood or feeling associated with a message.
The foundational dimension of literacy refers to the particular skills and knowledge that generally need to be directly taught, then practiced in order for students to become proficient. In schools, a huge emphasis has been placed on the development of skills associated with reading and writing and to a lesser degree, listening and speaking. The foundational skills associated with visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes of communication do not receive that same emphasis and are more often addressed through specialized or elective subjects.
The critical dimension of literacy has serious implications for educators’ pedagogy and the following series of questions arises:
• How do we examine the educational intentions of the tasks we set students? For example, are we aiming to simply engage students with technology or are we providing opportunities for genuine critical engagement?
• To what extent are students encouraged to use higher order thinking, develop deep understandings, and reflect on the content of their work?
• How well do we encourage students to identify the relevance of their work at a local and global level?
• To what extent are students able to reflect on the appropriateness of the mode of communication they have used to exhibit their knowledge and ideas?
• Is the learning environment designed physically, socially, and culturally to be a place where students regularly give and receive feedback?
• How much time is provided for students to revisit and reshape their initial ideas after discussion and feedback?
The quality of questions, scaffolding, and support that teachers provide to guide students’ thinking contribute to how well the critical dimension of literacy is developed.
The creative dimension indicates where learners manipulate and reconstruct situations to make their experiences more meaningful. This involves the expression, testing, and elaboration of ideas as they take place. Other dimensions of literacy are adapted, adopted, and innovated for the individual’s own purposes. Understanding how well other dimensions of literacy have been assimilated provides opportunities to assess creative literacy.
Creativity has long been valued in the early childhood sector, particularly by preschool teachers who are adept at creating curriculum that enables children to explore and develop their ideas. Creative approaches, in addition to being effective, also match calls for reform of teaching pedagogy. Students become engaged in novel ways and build a strong base of skills, techniques, knowledge, and understanding.
When teachers create an environment that fosters honesty of interaction, they also create an atmosphere for challenge. Teachers still have a strong role to play, as the early stages of the creative process often involve teachers articulating the challenge and engaging in direct teaching or modeling. Later, children draw on new and existing skills, knowledge, and understandings to develop their ideas and thinking. A curriculum that fosters creativity in the classroom encourages empathy and consideration of multiple perspectives, with a high premium also placed on communication and interpersonal skills.
Creative learning contexts need to foster a wide sense of student responsibility for learning. Students can identify what to do, organize their time, identify priorities, determine how best to approach tasks, and balance their commitments. Communication of ideas in multiple modes creates a demand for multiliteracies in learning and teaching. In examining creativity, a shift from evaluating isolated student achievement to using a new assessment paradigm that evaluates relationships is called for. This refers to relationships between teachers’ pedagogy, the physical and cultural environment they create for students, and the learning or outcomes demonstrated by students. Considering the interplay of such relationships in assessment will enrich our understanding of how best to develop young children’s creative capacity and improve our teaching practice.
Further Readings: Cotton, R. (Spring 2003). Assessing creativity: Where to look. IDES Network. Available online at http://ides.org.uk/idespublications/index.asp; Craft, A. (2001). An analysis of research and literature on creativity in education. Report prepared for the Qualifications and Curriculum authority. Available online at http://www.ncaction.org.uk/creativity/creativity_report.pdf; Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (2001). Culture and creativity: The next ten years. Green paper. Available online at http://www.culture.gov.uk/PDF/creative_next10.pdf; Learning and Teaching Scotland and the IDES Network. (2004). Creativity counts: A report on the findings from schools. Dundee, Scotland. Available online at http://www.ides.org.uk/files/creativitycountslts2004.pdf; Loveless, A. (2002). Literature review in creativity, new technologies and learning. NESTA: Futurelab series. Report 4. Available online at http://www.nestafuturelab.org/research/reviews/cr01.htm; The New London Group (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In B. Cope and M. Kalantzis, eds., Multiliteracies: Literacy learning for social futures. London:
Routledge; VSIC Advisory Group. (2004). Creativity rationale and guiding concept. Melbourne: Victorian Schools Innovation Commission.
Curriculum in Early Childhood
In Australia curriculum is developed and implemented at the level of states and territories. Attempts in the past two decades to develop a national curriculum for schools have been unsuccessful, and as a result, each state and territory government is solely responsible for the development and implementation of its’ own regulatory frameworks for the curriculum. Each state and territory has agreed on a set of Key Learning Areas. Although the names for these may vary, the discipline areas remain common and refer to English, mathematics, science, the arts, technology, society and environment, health and physical education, and languages other than English. In this section I will refer specifically to the school curriculum for early childhood (kindergarten to year 3) since child care in Australia is regulated by a national accreditation scheme. The child-care sector does not usually adopt curriculum designed by education authorities although in some states child-care directors are required to be trained teachers. Most Kindergarten and preschool programs are offered free to children who are 3-5 years of age, although these programs are not compulsory and school (i.e., year 1) starting ages also vary, as they too are determined by individual states and territories.
The curriculum emphasis in each Australian state and territory differs, with a shift in recent years toward “essential learnings.” Essential learnings are a response to recognition of the need for a new curriculum paradigm, able to embrace multiliteracies, changing technological conditions and futures. Curriculum frameworks in the Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland reflect this shift in thinking toward essential learnings or the “new basics.” Queensland’s New Basics Framework also promotes multifaceted and authentic or “rich” tasks for assessment as an alternative to large scale testing (The State of Queensland Department of Education and the Arts, 2001). Baker, Trotter, and Holt (2003) note considerable diversity in the categorization of these essential learnings. While some frameworks regard essential learnings as curriculum itself, others describe them as a component part of curriculum.
Stages of Schooling
Within the frameworks there is a reliance on developmental continua to demarcate early, middle, and upper schooling into phases/bands or stages. Although these stages of schooling in fact attract slightly different names in each state and territory, the underlying principle of these levels is hierarchical and increasingly focuses on specialized rather than integrated knowledge. It is usually the case that children of the same chronological age are grouped together in the same classroom. Multiage groupings often exist in small schools for reasons of administration rather than pedagogy while some larger schools have taken a multiage or family grouping approach for philosophical or pedagogical reasons.
There is policy provision for early entry to school for children of high ability and this is usually measured by an intelligence test that is administered, at the cost of families, by an independent psychologist. Equity is clearly an issue in the access to dominant cultural discourses and funds of knowledge that are tested. The actual provision of early entry to school has been very limited and many families have encountered considerable resistance from education authorities to early entry or differentiated curriculum in the early years. The social and emotional development of children is often cited as the major reason for not accelerating students of high ability (Senate Committee, 2001).
Outcomes and Standards Frameworks
In a climate of accountability and economic rationalism it is now the case that outcomes frameworks are used in all Australian schools. Each of these frameworks identifies a set of predetermined learning outcomes for all students although these also vary across jurisdictions in the type and scope of learning outcomes used. The outcomes are essentially curriculum organizers that emphasize observable student achievement using terms such as “compare,” “describe,” or “investigate.” They are not intended as assessment criteria (Baker, Trotter, and Holt, 2003). However, as Luke (1999) notes, “the multiple outcomes approach is ‘technocratic’” (p. 7) based on positivist principles and is potentially intellectually reductionist. It also deskills teachers and teacher professional learning communities. MacNaughton (2003) also notes that outcomes-based education and standardized testing disem-power educators and perpetuate a conforming position in relation to curriculum in early childhood education.
National testing in literacy and numeracy is conducted with all students in year 3 (approximately 8-year-old children) and testing is again conducted nationally in tests during the school years 5 and 7. These tests are based on achievement targets identified by education authorities. These tests are decontextualized, standardized, and offer students a single opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understandings in a high-stakes curriculum area. Our concern with such approaches is informed by critical theory and a multiliteracies framework (Cope and Kalatzis, 2000) that recognize that many students undertaking such tests will be unable to demonstrate what they know and can do due to the Eurocentric cultural knowledge that is inherently valued and normalized within them.
Financing of Early Years Provision
The Australian Council of Deans of Education have identified that “prior to school education is probably the sector most in need of help in Australia ... (it) remains seriously under funded” (2004, p. 47). The inadequate funding of prior to school settings, insufficient remuneration of early years teachers, and increasing child/staff ratios have a negative impact on the types of programs offered in early childhood. In this climate it is difficult to imagine how the profession can adequately provide learning environments where children “are to develop into well rounded, competent, productive and socially responsible citizens” (p. 47).
The popular appeal of recent developments in brain research has contributed to a renewed emphasis on the significance of the environment in the early years. In particular, there is concern regarding the so-called “windows of opportunity” in early childhood being fully exploited in order to generate competent and productive adults. Curriculum in the early years emphasizes early education as a significant foundation for future development particularly in social, emotional, and physical well-being and the development of literacy and numeracy to be an economically “legitimate” citizen. The notions of “opportunity and investment” are closely linked to the now renowned RAND Corporation’s statement that $1 spent in early childhood nets a $7 return in the long term (RAND, 2005). Hopes expressed by politicians that Australia would be regarded internationally as a “clever country” have been fertile ground for conservatism that unapologetically declares Australia can no longer afford to carry the “warm bodies” draining our education, welfare, and justice systems (Smart Population Foundation, 2005).
Despite the mandatory nature of early childhood curriculum in Australia there are numerous philosophical approaches to programming at the “grassroots” level. Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett, and Farmer (2005) identify no less than sixteen approaches evident in Australian early childhood programs. Among these are models of early childhood education informed by developmentally appropriate practice, behaviorism, sociocultural theory, postmodern, poststructural, and critical theories. MacNaughton (2003) makes a crucial distinction among these approaches, identifying social justice and equity as crucial indicators for evaluating whether curriculum approaches perpetuate conforming, reforming, or transforming educational practices. MacNaughton’s model is a useful one for exploring the ways in which dominant cultural discourses shape the perspectives of race, ethnicity, class, culture, childhoods, and families that inform mandated curriculum frameworks and day-to-day, classroom-based curriculum decisions.
What Lies Ahead?
Redefining curriculum in Australia has begun in earnest (The State of Queensland, 2001; Luke, 1999; MacNaughton, 2003) and will continue to evolve, provided that a purposeful dialogue regarding identity, diversity, language, and a problematizing of what constitutes essential learnings in the knowledge era persists. The major threats to this dialogue are political conservatism, economic rationalism, and the deprofessionalizing of educators through the development of a technocratic approach to curriculum in the early years of education.
Further Readings: Arthur, L., B. Beecher, E. Death, S. Dockett, S. Farmer (2005). Programming and planning in early childhood settings. Melbourne: Thomson; Australian Council of Deans of Education (2004). New teaching, new learning: A vision for Australian education. Canberra: Australian Council of Deans of Education; Baker, R., H. Trotter, and J. Holt (2003). Curriculum provisions in the Australian states and territories: Research report for the ministerial council on education, employment, training and youth affairs. Canberra: Curriculum Corporation; Luke, A. (1999). Education 2010 and new times: Why equity and social justice still matter, but differently. Online conference October 20, 1999. Available online at http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/newbasics/html/; MacNaughton, G. (2003). Shaping early childhood. Berkshire: Open University Press; RAND Corporation (2005). The economics of investing in universal preschool education in California. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Committee (2001). The education of gifted children. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; Smart Population Foundation (2005). Why smart population? Available online at http://www.smartpopulation.com; State of Queensland Department of Education and the Arts (2001). The new basics project. Available online at http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/newbasics/index.html.
Now, more than ever, the lives of young children are saturated with multimedia, in the form of DVDs, CD-ROMs, computer games, digital music, e-mail, text messaging, and digital photography, to name just a few. This has required new thinking about the new forms of literacy. One of the ways that this rethinking has occurred has been encapsulated in the pedagogy of multiliteracies, which has expanded our view of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to include the various multimedia symbol forms. In this way computers are “symbol machines” that allow young children to negotiate a complex interplay of multiple sign systems (e.g., video clips, music, sound effects, icons, virtually renderedpaint strokes, text in print-based documents), multiple modalities (e.g., linguistic, auditory, visual, artistic), and recursive communicative and cognitive processes (e.g., real time and virtual conversations, cutting/pasting text, manipulating graphics, importing photographs).
The term multiliteracies in fact covers what has also been regarded as electronic literacies, technoliteracies, digital literacies, visual literacies, and print-based literacies. To explore multiliteracies we require an understanding of semiotic theory to know how symbols, in the form of letters and words, drawings, icons of various types, photographs, colors, and animation movement can communicate meanings. Semiotics offer a wide lens to describe the ways in which meanings are made and goals accomplished using “semiotic resources” such as oral language, visual symbols, and music. As the figure shows below, emergent and early literacy is not simply a question of print-based versus electronic or digital literacies, but a consideration of the multimodal context of multiliteracies that makes it unique and relevant to contemporary early childhood education.
Multiliteracies incorporate print-based literacies
While being multiliterate is extremely relevant to the early childhood context, a review of the research into new technologies and early childhood by Lanks- hear and Knobel found a preponderance of the use of multimodal resources to promote decoding and encoding alphabetic texts. The authors claim there has been an underrealization of the potential of new technologies to orient children toward literacy futures that will be very different from those of the past. These authors also affirmed that the interrelated fields of new technologies and literacy in early childhood were radically underresearched when compared to other age- groups. Interestingly the authors contend that much new learning was occurring in out-of-school settings rather than in classroom settings. This review of research alerted Australian researchers to the need for involving teachers as researchers in exploring the possibilities of new learning and multiliteracies.
In other research into the integration of technology and literacy pedagogy Dur- rant and Green found that in various Australian states there has been an overly technical skills approach to integrating technology literacy pedagogy. This “skills orientation” was outside of an authentic context of situated social practice and at odds with social constructivist theories that underpin much of early childhood pedagogy. Durrant and Green’s research into digital literacies provided a conceptual framework known as the “3D” view of new literacy learning to bring together three dimensions—"operational,” “cultural,” and “critical”—that need to be addressed simultaneously to enable a holistic, cultural, and critical view of pedagogy.
Building on the work of these two research teams an Australian early childhood research project titled Children of the New Millennium, involved twenty teacher- researchers exploring 4- to 8-year-old children’s knowledge and understanding of multiliteracies. In the first instance, the teachers and researchers undertook a “technotour” of children’s homes that revealed a high level of use of new technologies by children that was far greater than teachers had anticipated. In most cases the children had access to and could use information and communication technologies (ICT) far in advance of the equipment that existed in many of the schools and preschools. Children were able to go online to websites that were often linked to their favorite television shows, use search engines to find information, and often played interactive games online and with game software. New ways of building on the skills and interests from home emerged when teachers engaged some children as coaches or mentors in the classroom and capitalized on children’s funds of knowledge by using similar software in school as at home. This was particularly so for children with special learning needs. The pedagogies of the teachers using new technologies were inquiry-based, and autonomous investigations and problem posing and solving were promoted. The multimedia software supported the creation of animations, movies, slideshows, and explorations of digital-still photography and video.
Situated practice—making learning meaningful and based on real-life experiences by focusing on children’s interests and understandings—was highlighted in the learning stories compiled by the teacher-researchers. The teachers commented on the need for authentic, real life, purposeful engagements in early childhood settings because children at home were able to quickly locate an enormous amount of resources and material through the use of the information-rich Internet. Teachers wrote that the visual aspect of the Internet was a valuable tool to further enhance young children’s understanding of their world.
A framework for mapping the depth and complexity of young children’s learning with multiliteracies was developed by the teacher-researchers. The four interrelated dimensions provided a lens for teachers to analyze what children know about multiliteracies and helped reveal the next steps in planning for learning.
The teacher-researchers found that children thrived on generating new multimodal texts and this led to the need to understand principles of multimodal meanings. For example, the use of graphics and story-making software encouraged communication and other emergent literacy behaviors as well as enhanced interpersonal interactions among learners. The electronic books in various software programs supported the development of children’s readings and rereadings and this was particularly evident with children with special needs. The use of electronic multimedia options opened up an interactive world that can support children’s literacy development in a digital world and provide them with stories that may be beyond their reading level.
Projects such as Children of the New Millennium, have shown that children as young as 3 and 4 years of age can represent meaning with digital photographs about their learning, can play with these photographs; importing them into slide shows, changing the layout, the colors, and the shape. They can make books with photographs and their own artwork using myriad of colors and backgrounds, and this can have audio voice and sound effects and animation added to it. The project has also revealed that the traditional content of reading and writing needs to be broadened to include the use of multiple-sign systems that represent meaning. Children in early childhood have always used construction, drawing or illustrations, movement, and sound to represent meaning. The newer multimodal technologies merely add to children’s choice of medium to represent ideas and to comprehend the meanings in a range of texts.
Indeed, as an example of how quickly the concept of multiliteracies has taken hold over the past three years, most Australian state departments of education have embraced the concept of multiliteracies. Education of Queensland and the South Australian Department of Education promote literacy learning in the context of the pedagogy of multiliteracies and encourage teachers to create contexts for learning that are multimodal and incorporate the use of new technologies where appropriate.
Very quickly, over the past five years it has become evident that digital literacies and print-based literacy are not oppositional concepts. Both are required for effective functioning in the twenty-first century. In fact traditional print-based reading and writing was found to be vitally important for success in digital contexts. Writing was significantly important as a memory tool, for planning, designing, and recording ideas and information. Reading was critically important for predicting, scanning, interpreting, analyzing, and selecting from the abundance of information. Interestingly, in Children of the New Millennium, the children switched effortlessly between genres, scanning material for information, following procedures, searching by scrolling through menus, and interpreting icons and written instructions on tool bars. In other words, although reading, writing, listening, and speaking are paramount, today’s students must be able to do more, as they decipher, code-break, achieve meaning, and express ideas through a range of media incorporating design, layout, color, graphics, and animation.
In fact, learning to critique the digital media, and consider whether the information is appropriate or accurate, is far more important than ever before considering the amount of time children are engaged with the screen. For many children preschool and school is the only place where they can learn to question the values and intentions of the many software programs and numerous websites. Teachers have commented about the need for practical examples of strategies they can use to support children to develop a critical orientation to multiliteracies.
It is clear that more research is needed into the long-term effects of prolonged use of screen-based learning. Children as young as 2 and 3 years of age are choosing to play with computers for long periods of time at home; in some learning stories teachers wrote of children whose main leisure activity at home was playing with the computer for extensive periods without adult supervision. Add to this long periods of screen-based learning at school, and the length of time interacting with the screen is significant. Long-term use may affect children’s health, social and communicative abilities, and thought processes.
Further research into multiliteracies in early childhood education is important because technological change is increasingly defining the nature of literacy. Reading and writing will become even more important in the future due to the increasing need for acquiring and communicating information rapidly in a world of global competition and information economies. We live in a time where speed of information is central to success and reading and writing proficiency will be even more critical to our children’s futures.
There has been a plethora of research regarding the impact of television on children. However, the Internet, as a source of information, education, and entertainment, is set to have a far greater impact on the lives and learning of young children than television. It is essential for us to consider the following questions: How will interactive game-based entertainment affect children’s play and learning? How will new technologies transform children’s dispositions or “habitus”, or ways of thinking? As children play, think, and learn, this learning becomes internalized as structures, schemas, or ways of thinking that can be used in other contexts. How will the increasing engagement with multimodal literacies change the ways children think and learn? New technologies have already transformed the lives of young children in their home and informal learning contexts—such questions will be vital if we are to have an education system that is meaningful and relevant to the lives of young children in the twenty-first century. Becoming multiliterate is viewed as being an essential part of successful learning for these new times.
Further Readings: Durrant, C., and B. Green (2000). Literacy and the new technologies in school education: Meeting the l(IT)eracy challenge? Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 23(2), 89-108; Hill, S. (2005). Mapping multiliteracies: Children of the new millennium. Report of the research project 2002-2004. Adelaide: University of South Australia; Hill, S., and N. Yelland. Children of the New Millennium: Using information and communication technologies (ICT) for playing and learning in the information age. Australian Research Council Large Grant LP0215770 2002-2003; Kress, G., and T. Van Leeuwen (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Hodder Headline Group; Lankshear, C., and M. Knobel (2003). New technologies in early childhood literacy research: A review of research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 3(1), 59-82; New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies. Harvard Educational Review 60(1), 66-92.
Numeracy: An Australian View
In the context of Australian education mathematics is generally regarded as the knowledge and skills base for the discipline, and the term numeracy relates to the application of this knowledge and skills in authentic or real-world contexts. As such the importance of developing a numerate populace who can function effectively with the practical mathematical demands of everyday life in the twenty-first century has been recognized in the Australian context. In fact, there is recognition that the process of becoming numerate is ongoing and the years from birth to eight years of age represent an age of unparalleled growth when the foundations of skills and concepts are established. It also represents a time of opportunity to develop positive attitudes towards mathematics and the ways in which it can contribute to everyday life in a variety of ways. It has become evident that children use mathematical ideas and processes in the years before they attend school in a number of informal ways. They develop understandings about money when shopping and about time as they embark on journeys in the family car, or on trains. Such informal learning contexts are enriched when parents or caregivers support the learning via reading stories, highlighting real world applications involving numeracy concepts and making links between numeracy and play activities. However, much of this support will be intuitive and we need to be clear about the importance of the early childhood years for later development and the ways in which we as parents and educators can support the foundations of numeracy in a variety of contexts.
It has now become apparent that new demands in the high-performance workplace mean that a traditional view of mathematics which focused on memorization, rote learning, and knowing facts devoid of context and application has been replaced with one in which mathematics has some purpose and application, and where becoming numerate is conceptualized in a broad way. Such a vision considers mathematics and becoming numerate in the context of societal and individual expectations. This vision has been accompanied with a shift in pedagogy which emphasizes the use of both whole class and small group teaching, active exploration, inquiry and problem solving, engagement with mathematical ideas via collaborations and creative explorations, mathematical representations incorporating a variety of media which include the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), and the communication of findings with peers and authentic audiences.
Environments that Promote Numeracy Learning
The importance of a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy was epitomized in Australia in the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the twenty-first century, which stated the following:
Students should have attained the skills of numeracy and English literacy; such that, every student should be numerate, be able to read, write and spell and communicate at an appropriate level.
Such a vision has implications for the organization of teaching and learning opportunities in mathematics that will enable children to become numerate or mathematically literate in Australia. The Numeracy for All Report recognized that “No single approach to teaching numeracy will be effective for all learners,” but declared that it was a major policy objective that students should attain strong foundations in literacy and numeracy in the early childhood years, so that key enabling skills for achieving success in schooling could be achieved. In 1999 Perry noted the importance of early learners being confident about their ability to solve problems mathematically and being challenged and engaged to create opportunities to use and extend their existing skills. He also stated that since children actively construct their own knowledge they should be able to learn in a variety of contexts and ways that are characterized by play, talking about their discoveries and strategies, and working with others in collaborative ways. He stressed the importance of teachers and parents working in partnerships to support student learning since this was a major factor that influenced effective learning in the early years.
Because of the high priority placed by the government on attaining numeracy for all students in Australian schools the various states created mathematics programs that were designed to create contexts in which children could develop skills which they could utilize in real-world contexts, and thus provide contexts for becoming numerate in new and dynamic ways. These have included the following:
• Count me in (New South Wales)
• The early years numeracy project (Victoria)
• First steps to numeracy (Western Australia)
Additionally, benchmarks for mathematical achievement were developed to ensure that it was possible to measure if such programs were successful in reaching their objectives. The programs initiated in each of the states not only focused on student attainment but also recognized that teachers needed professional development and additional support in their classrooms if outcomes in numeracy were to be achieved. The early years numeracy interview, which is part of the project in Victoria, is, for example, conducted on a one-to-one basis and provides teachers with rich data about the knowledge and abilities of young children with regard to their mathematical ability. Evaluations of the program have indicated that teachers feel more confident about their skills in mathematics as a result of their participation in the project, and that they were able to teach more effectively to improve outcomes for the children in their class.
In a recent study, Yelland and her colleagues have illustrated the ways in which young children may become numerate in the information age. They suggest a new view of numeracy that allows for the application of mathematical skills in a diverse range of contexts. Thus, to become numerate young children should have the opportunity to participate in both problem solving and problem posing in authentic contexts. This involves a model of learning that is active and related to engagement, with ideas that have meaning for the child so that they can build new understandings. This has meant moving beyond a basic use of mathematical skills for problem solving. It incorporates a model (see figure) that involves inquiry, communication, and the generation of new knowledge as well as the application of knowledge in a variety of authentic contexts. Further, it is asserted that there is a fundamental link between the ability to become numerate and the skills and knowledge base that children require to function effectively.
Numeracies for the twenty-first Century
These are based in tasks that children engage with in schools and it is suggested that these range on a continuum from unidimensional to multidimensional, which directly relate to the skills base and application that children need to draw upon to demonstrate a capacity to become numerate. Unidimensional tasks were simple sequences of activity that usually had a single outcome, and were often used as an introduction to concepts and processes. The pace of activity was largely related to the ability of the whole group yet the tasks were completed individually by each child in the class. An example would be when a teacher is teaching the concept of “doubling” to 5-year-olds and asks them to represent numbers by drawing squares and writing the addition equation (e.g., 5 + 5 = 10) underneath their drawing.
Multidimensional tasks, in contrast, were generally build on these basic tasks in a significant way and consisted of integrated investigations in which skills and concepts were used in innovative ways to solve authentic problems which often could not be categorized into traditional subject areas of the curriculum. An essential element in completing such investigations was the opportunity to communicate ideas and discuss concepts and issues that were an inherent part of authentic problem posing and solving during multidimensional tasks or investigations. For example, the children might plan and create a garden in their center or school. They mapped the garden beds that had already been planted, and decided what new plants and areas could further enhance these gardens based on various ideas from the collaborative group. The children then measured, mapped, and drew the gardens so that they could purchase and plant the new vegetation. The types of gardens included: “A Grasses Garden,” the “Entrance Garden,” a “Pea Garden,” and a “Bird Garden.” The children then organized a “working bee” of volunteer parents and community members to assist them in the building process.
In Australia, the importance of becoming numerate has been given a high priority by both Commonwealth and state governments who have become increasingly concerned with being able to measure outcomes in simple ways to demonstrate that their policies have been effective in raising standards in our schools. However, it is apparent that such conceptualizations of numeracy are intrinsically linked to traditional views of mathematics that focus on skill and knowledge acquisition which can be easily assessed in pencil and paper tests. It has also been suggested that new conceptualizations of numeracy are needed for the twenty-first century which provide contexts in which young children are able to inquire and generate their own investigations and create new knowledge which can be shared and communicated to others using new technologies. In this way mathematics and numeracy teaching and learning contexts are utilizing new pedagogies that promote such types of learning, and innovative programs in each of the states have been implemented to ensure that young children have the opportunity to learn and use such skills and knowledge and build on them in the later years of schooling.
Further Readings: Australian Council for Educational Research (1990). Being numerate: What counts? Victoria, Australia: ACER; Clarke, D. M., P. Sullivan, J. Cheeseman, and B. A. Clarke (2000). The early numeracy research project: Developing a framework for describing early numeracy learning. In J. Bana & A. Chapman, eds., Mathematics education beyond 2000 (Proceeding of the 23rd annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia). Fremantle, Western Australia: MERGA, pp. 180-187; Department of Education Training and Youth Affairs (1999). The Adelaide declaration on national goals for schooling in the twenty-first century. Available online at http://www.deet.gov.au/schools/adelaide/text.htm; Department of Education Training and Youth Affairs (2000). Numeracy, A priority for all: Challenges for Australian schools. Canberra, ACT: DETYA; Department of Further Education and Employment (1998). The implementation of the national numeracy strategy: The final report of the numeracy task force. Available online at http://www.dfee.gov.uk/numeracy/index.htm; Hunting, R. P. (1999). Rational-number learning in the early years: What is possible? In J. V. Copley, ed., Mathematics in the early years. Reston, VA: NCTM, pp. 80-87; Kilderry, A., N.J. Yelland, V. Lazarides, and S. Dragicevic (2003). ICT and numeracy in the knowledge era: Creating contexts for new understandings. Childhood Education 79(5), 293-298; Perry, R. (1999). Early childhood numeracy. Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers. Available online athttp://www.aamt.edu.au/projects/numeracy_papers/perry.pdf; Yelland, N.J. (2005). Curriculum practice and pedagogies with ICT in the information age. In N.J. Yelland, ed., Critical issues in early childhood. Buckingham, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 224-242.
Gender and Equity in Australia
Gender equity is a broad and politically charged term, holding different meanings for different groups of teachers, parents, administrators, and policy makers. In Australia, the concept of equity recognizes that the historical inequities of children from different social groups (gender, race, sexuality, and class) exist and that groups of children do not enter early childhood services from a level playing field. A number of social factors, including gender, are often associated with reduced access and participation in schooling. Gender equity also recognizes that different gender relationships of power and privilege exist within educational settings and society. Gender equity does not imply equality of treatment to girls and boys, as there are many factors that may disadvantage children in achieving equitable outcomes. Therefore, curriculum, teaching strategies, and policies created from a gender equity perspective favor those children who have been discriminated against or marginalized. Until recently, most policy and research on gender and education focused on girls and girls’ issues. Currently, there has been a growing shift toward examining boys’ education, debating how boys can, do, and should fit into gender equity programs.
In Australia, the field of early childhood education has taken the ideas and concepts of gender equity seriously, and for over a decade has been using alternative theoretical perspectives to explore how gender is constructed. The gender research conducted in early childhood settings, by Davies, Yelland, MacNaughton, and Taylor and Richardson, challenges traditional understandings of gender, uncovering the subtle processes by which children actively construct themselves as girls and boys. This research sheds light on the need for early childhood teachers to understand the part that children play in the construction of gender. What makes the gender research conducted in Australia unique is how these scholars are drawing from postmodern perspectives to conceptualize gender in early childhood settings. For example, Davies, Yelland, and Mac Naughton all use feminist poststructuralist understandings of subjectivity, discourse, agency, resistance, and power-knowledge regimes to analyze gender relations and social interactions of young children. Richardson and Taylor expand on these ideas by using queer theory to comprehend gender further.
Findings from these studies about gender depart from the Western cultural assumption that gender is biologically or socially determined. Instead, gender is seen as a social, cultural, historical, and political construct, recognizing the active part that children take in the social construction and reconstruction of their gender identities. For example, Davies’ groundbreaking work (originally done in 1989) was the first Australian study in early childhood to use feminist poststructuralism as a means for critiquing mainstream understandings of gender. Her work shows the possibilities of feminist poststructuralism for understanding children’s gender differently by exploring how children construct their gender identities. She shows how children position themselves conceptually, physically, and emotionally as male or female in the classroom. Feminist poststructuralism is used to analyze how children maintain and resist the male-female binary. According to Davies, gender equity will not be achieved until children are given access to new gender discourses, which open up new and multiple ways of being gendered.
Theory in Practice
MacNaughton’s (2000) action research project with twelve early childhood teachers shows how feminist poststructuralist ideas about gender might be practical in early childhood for exploring how young children learn and live their gendered identities. This work shows the possibilities for teachers to transform the traditions of early childhood curriculum by seeing and understanding gender from a feminist poststructuralist perspective. This requires early childhood teachers to conduct different kinds of observations in order to uncover the gender dynamics between children. Rather than looking simply at individual children's behavior, which only reinforces gender differences, teachers should look for patterns in how girls and boys relate to each other, attempting to find out what kinds of power relations exist between children and groups of children. Recognizing the power relations and gender dynamics that exist in the classroom enables teachers to challenge inequitable gender relations. Working towards gender equity is not only done by recognizing children's talk and actions in the classroom and reviewing the curriculum resources, materials, and goals, but it also includes challenging these inequities in practice. Change in children’s gendered behaviors will most likely occur through teachers' efforts at inventing new gender discourses for children to access and explore.
Yelland’s (1998) edited book, Gender in Early Childhood presents gender research done by various early childhood researchers in Australia. The studies presented in this book all draw upon contemporary understandings of gender. A variety of perspectives that influence gender are considered, including the family, community, and society as contexts for how gender is enacted in the everyday lives of young children. Several studies also explore the role of the school and its relation to the construction of gender and gender expectations.
New gender research conducted by Taylor and Richardson is building on these feminist poststructuralist understandings of gender by using queer theory to problematize gender further. These researchers look at how gender norms are being contested and defended by young children in the early childhood classroom. By critically analyzing heterosexuality and its position in the social construction of gender, the heterocentrism of developmentally appropriate practices becomes evident. This study shows how children’s space in the early childhood curriculum is gendered and how children's gendered identities are spatialized. By viewing children's play at the home corner from a queer perspective, Taylor and Richardson show how new opportunities can be created in the curriculum for young children to challenge and transcend gender norms. This research also highlights the fluidity of gender and the various ways that children position themselves strategically in the classroom as different kinds of girls and boys. This work challenges the field of early childhood education to continue exploring gender in radical ways, in hopes of transcending gender inequities.
The scholarship of these researchers recognizes the importance of the structures and processes of the social world and the impact these have on children and their capacity to take an active part in the construction of gender.
Impacts on Curricula and Policies
These contemporary understandings of gender have begun to influence early childhood curriculum and policies for gender equity in Australia. For instance, most current Australian state-based early childhood curricula identify the preschool years as significant to young children’s identity formation and make the identity of the young child as a future learner and citizen a key responsibility of early childhood teachers. Gender is seen as an important facet of young children’s identity, and these curriculum frameworks are recognizing how the active role that children take constructing and reconstructing their gender identity can limit their learning and produce unjust classroom relationships. As a concept of social justice, gender equity recognizes that gender issues do impact on children, the classroom, and society.
Although gender equity policies do not flourish in the early childhood sector, when compared to primary and secondary education, Early Childhood Australia does have a Policy on Gender Equity. This policy states the following: “All children have an equal right to life opportunities that promote well being and support their development in all areas. Comprehensive knowledge about both societal and structural inequity based on gender should be understood and responded to in a manner that does not further promote gender discrimination.” It is evident that the research discussed earlier has influenced this policy in that gender is conceptualized throughout the document as a social, cultural, historical, and political construction. Not only does the policy recognize the importance of gender for girls and boys, believing it to be an all-pervasive and ever-present factor for all children, but it also sees sexuality as a significant aspect of identity. This policy highlights the vital role that early childhood settings play in the development of a range of femininities and masculinities through children’s relationships with peers, teachers, the classroom culture, and curriculum. This policy also implies that the role of the teacher is vital in promoting gender equity as it positions the teacher as an interventionist, ensuring that gender bias is identified and challenged in the classroom.
The state of current gender understandings is a direct result of the impact of 1970’s feminism on government and society in Australia. This movement has made huge gains in transforming the lives of women. Although these improvements are often under threat, they have been significant toward influencing early childhood gender research, curriculum, and policies in Australia.
Further Readings: Davies, B. (2003). Frogs and snails and feminist tales: Preschool children and gender. 2nd ed. Sydney: Allen & Unwin; Early Childhood Australia (2005). ECA Policy: Gender Equity. Available online at http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/abtus_pol_genderequity.htm; Mac Naughton, G. (2000). Rethinking gender in early childhood education. London: Paul Chapman Publishing; Taylor, A., and C. Richardson (2005). Queering home corner. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 6(2), 163-173; Yelland, N., ed. (1998). Gender in early childhood. London: Routledge.
Learning and Assessment
Camp Kilda (CK) is regarded as being a quality early childhood center, and has many features you would typically expect to see in settings across Australia. The children are busily engaged in hands-on activity, playing indoors and outdoors, in the sandpit, under the shade of a big mango tree. The learning environment is planned to offer a variety of activities, including dramatic play, climbing equipment, balls, painting, drawing, clay, books, blocks, writing materials, scissors, manipulative materials. The children are free to access all the materials, and they play either individually or in small groups. The teachers encourage and stimulate the children’s learning, through interactions and thoughtful planning. Learning and assessment at CK is embedded within the cultural and social contexts of the children and their community. Children’s learning is made visible through a rich variety of strategies, including recorded observations, work samples, photographs, and other artifacts. Parents are actively encouraged to build on these “stories” of their children. Planning is based around the teachers’ analysis of the information they gather daily as they interact with the children and their families.
Like most Australian early childhood educators, the CK teachers subscribe to the theories that young children learn best through play. Play-based programs are widely supported in initial teacher training and the literature, although they vary widely in application and in assumptions made about the type and place of play in learning. It is the kind of pedagogy in place that is an important factor. The teacher’s role in supporting learning generates varied child learning outcomes.
There is no national core curriculum for the early years in Australia but increasingly government initiatives at a federal level are calling for the introduction of a national standardized curriculum. Education is organized on a state-by-state basis and, as in many areas of Australian life, the states vigorously resist most moves for federal intervention. This results in a flexibility and range of differences across the programming and services available to young children and their families. For instance, across Australia, the starting age for formal schooling varies. Broadly, approaches to learning and assessment are distinctive to three stages in the early years: infants and toddlers (generally birth to 2 years), preschool (35), and early primary school (6-8). There is general agreement that identifying and building on children’s interests and maintaining informal approaches is of primary importance, and various models for curriculum are embraced, including child-centered, Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), antibias, emergent, and inquiry-based learning.
All early childhood workers who are involved in the planning of young children’s programs are professionally qualified with at least two years of tertiary training, and preschool and early primary teachers hold university degrees. Compartmentalizing curricula that separates learning into distinct domains and lessons for mastery is viewed as problematic in regard to young children’s development and learning. In their initial training, early childhood educators are urged to plan for learning that is holistic, play-based, active, hands-on, in a planned and supportive environment, with a strong developmental framework, and taking into account the cultural and social contexts.
In recognition of the complexities of learning, assessment is through congruently multiple and holistic methods. Teachers build a rich picture of each child, combining strategies such as using the traditional tools of child study (for example, observations, anecdotal records, checklists) with newer documentation technologies such as photos, portfolios, and recorded conversations. These rich data provide them with opportunities for reflection and analysis, which, in turn, informs their planning for further learning.
Learning and assessment in the early years are coming under increasing social and political scrutiny. Brain research is currently enjoying a high profile, with its advocacy for early intervention. The rapidly expanding child-care sector is having both social and economic impact. Corporate and managerial models of organization are being overlaid onto education. The rhetoric makes for an interesting mix with calls for the recognition of the necessity for lifelong learning and creativity, ironically juxtaposed with calls for getting “back to basics,” standardized testing, and a lamenting of a so-called “drop in standards” of literacy and numeracy. Along with calls for accountability, performance indicators, benchmarks, outcomes and standards, economic rationalizations question how the education dollar is spent, what is the product, who is the client, and what evidence is available to demonstrate positive outcomes. The high level of professionalism in early childhood educators has contributed to their ability to resist the increasing pressure for a more academic approach to learning and assessment, but they are being called on to find new ways to convince others of the worth of their educational approach.
In this situation, the discursive construction of play both enables and constrains. While the idea of facilitating children’s learning through exploration and discovery is enduringly attractive, for some educators, this has been interpreted as a laissez faire hands-off role for the teacher, which is a misreading of the principles for active learning and child-centered practice. Teachers will variously describe their work as guiding, facilitating, supporting, directing, scaffolding, being reluctant to use the word teach when describing the ways they work with children. Their understanding of child-centeredness does not permit them to take the position of teacher; rather, they strive to teach without teaching. There is a variety of nomenclature for staff in early childhood settings, for example, directors, group leaders, carers, assistants, teachers. In this entry all staff who work with young children in supporting their learning are referred to as teachers.
A second reading of the CK center can build a palimpsest, locating traces of any number of influences, a mix of some of the enduring traditional approaches, as well as the more recent thinking about learning and assessment.
Infants and toddlers—long day care. For the youngest children at CK, the interface between education and care for this age-group shapes approaches to learning and assessment. In the rapidly expanding child-care sector, standards vary widely, but at CK the infants and toddlers are seen as actively learning about their world through interactions and explorations. Proactive adults with a sound knowledge of young children and high expectations of their capacity make a positive difference to their learning. They support the babies in their sensory, perceptual, and motor development. The teachers bring an awareness of the expected patterns of growth and development, balanced with knowledge of each individual child, and their social and cultural contexts.
Planning for this age-group is not a matter of teacher-initiated “activities.” Rather, routine times, such as nappy (diaper) changing, are considered as learning opportunities, through one-to-one language experiences, music, and interactions. The teachers listen and respond to the children, develop communication skills through modeling and immersion, play games with them, and tend to their physical and emotional needs in a relationship of mutual respect and trust. The children are supported in the reaching of developmental milestones. Their cognitive development, creativity, and divergent thinking are all appreciated and encouraged. Planning is individually based, and directly relevant to the individual’s needs.
While there is no mandated curriculum, as such, for this age-group, the childcare sector is accountable to a national accreditation system. This applies to all long day-care centers, and CK’s continuing funding is tied to satisfactorily meeting the principles (e.g., Staff interact with children to stimulate their curiosity and thinking). Like all such standardizing devices, meeting all these principles sets only minimal standards for quality.
Along with this checklist as a tool for assessment of their program, teachers at Camp Kilda employ authentic forms of assessment daily, in order to inform their planning and improve the teaching and learning. They see the child as rich and competent, and they gather information and evidence of the children’s needs, interests, strengths, abilities, and achievements. They monitor children’s growth and development and learning through the use of traditional tools of child study, including observations, anecdotal records, and checklists. They use photography and other newer technologies for documentation. This “story-building” is shared with the children themselves, and their parents and families. The teachers use this pedagogical documentation as a reflective tool for themselves and their colleagues, to trace children’s thinking and communication.
Preschool—3- to 5-year-olds. The teachers at CK work at helping children to become decision makers, critical thinkers, problem solvers, theorists. The processes of doing and talking to clarify thinking, are seen as integral to children’s learning and development. Children’s curiosity and the questions they ask provide a key to learning about children’s understandings and learning processes. Basic understandings are constructed by children through self-directed problem solving.
In the process of co-constructing meaning, teachers act as co-players, colearners, co-artists. Art as a language is considered an important means through which the children can make their learning visible. The children are invited to draw, paint, and construct daily. They are given instruction in skills and techniques when required, they visit the art gallery in their local community, a dance specialist works with each group weekly, and artists are frequently invited to visit the center. The children’s artwork has also been hung in the local gallery, and these close connections with the community help to make learning purposeful.
Each state has developed its own curriculum guidelines for this age-group, but they share many commonalities. Learning programs for children of this age are child-centered and holistic, with an emphasis on developing thinking and communicating skills. In response to political pressure, literacy and numeracy are emphasized, along with recognition of the importance of learning social skills and understandings. Learning through play is in the foreground. There are those who critique “play-based” learning, and compare this unfavorably with “knowledge- based” learning. Others insist that the two are not oppositional.
Assessment is not considered as being the sole purpose, or even the main goal of teaching and learning but, rather, is relative, cultural, and dynamic. Teachers employ multiple strategies for assessing the diversity of children’s abilities and strengths, taking into account the cultural, social, and family contexts for learning. As with the younger children, strategies for assessment can include observations, anecdotal records, running records, some checklists and diagnostic tests, photographs, portfolios, work samples, recorded conversations, and other artifacts. At CK, this pedagogical documentation is shared daily and openly with parents.
Early Primary—5-8 Years. In the January that they have turned five, the children from CK leave and go on to a primary school. Although the starting age differs from state to state, you can expect a general “look” to these learning environments. Most children wear school uniforms; the daily timetable separates “learning” from “play”; classrooms usually accommodate each child with a desk and chair.
Teachers in the early primary years all have a university degree, and they are accountable to a state-mandated curriculum, which is organized hierarchically around the traditional key learning areas: Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Studies of Society, Health, Arts, and so on. While the syllabus documents are mandated, they are outcomes based, and teachers have a certain degree of autonomy to implement the curriculum according to what they consider is the best way to meet the outcomes. Many early childhood educators working in the early years of primary schooling bring with them an appreciation of the role of play in children’s learning, and build this into their programming.
There is an increasing interest in interdisciplinary approaches to learning at this level, and the rhetoric, at least, recognizes the place of active and purposeful learning. As in the preschool settings, there is much variation and flexibility in how learning and assessment is enacted across settings. But a quality early primary classroom would see the children engaged in purposeful and active learning, across the disciplines. Integrating devices vary, but might be through a thematic approach, or through projects or “rich tasks.” In general, it would be safe to say that teacher-initiated activity is predominant.
National standardized testing has been introduced for the third, fifth, and seventh years of primary schooling, with a strong political interest in levels of literacy and numeracy. Results are compared across states, and influence policy-makers. This places downward pressure on the earlier primary years, where formal assessment is required. Commonly, this takes the form of mapping individual children against indicators of outcomes, organized on a developmental continuum. Parents receive a written report, and are also invited to an interview with their child’s teacher. Some teachers in the early primary years, committed to the principles of child-centered learning, also use the broader range of assessment strategies, such as observations, portfolios, and other forms of pedagogical documentation.
Early childhood teachers in Australia are increasingly called on to resist the downward pressure for a more academic approach to teaching and learning, and they strive to advocate for young children through making their learning visible. When you walk into the CK center, you see and hear busy, happy children, who are viewed as rich and competent beings in the now. Their teachers are actively engaged with them in the co-construction of meaning, encouraging their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. They do this through their interactions, and through planning a dynamic learning environment, in thoughtful response to their daily assessments of the children’s strengths, abilities, and needs.
Further Readings: Kolbe, U. (2001). Rapunzel’s supermarket: All about young children and their art.Paddington, New South Wales: Peppinot Press; Luke, A., and S. Grieshaber (2004). New adventures in the politics of literacy: An introduction. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 4(1), 5-9; MacNaughton, G., and G. Williams (2004). Techniques for teaching young children: Choices in theory and practice. 2nd ed. Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: Pearson Education Australia; McArdle, F. (2001). A method of ironic research. In P. Singh and E. McWilliam, eds., Designing educational research: Theories, methods and practices. Flaxton, Queensland: Post Pressed; Yelland, N., ed. (2000). Promoting meaningful learning: Innovations in educating early childhood professionals. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.