An Essay Discussing Pedagogy and Curriculum in the Early Years.
The main aims for this essay is to begin by discussing what is pedagogy, what is curriculum, some of the pioneers of education and theorists that influence this. Examine different perspectives towards early childhood education in other countries. Analyse the current the history behind early childhood provision within the UK and Ireland and identify and discuss the practitioner’s role in the planning and implementation of a varied and balanced curriculum indoors, outdoors including beyond the pre-school setting.
In my setting we describe curriculum as a process of learning through a carefully planned out set of activities/projects which incorporates the children’s interests, skills and needs. From examining the term ‘curriculum’, it can have different meanings for different people, but it is centred around the main purpose of learning. In 2008, The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was established as the curriculum in the UK for children to five years of age. The curriculum framework we use in Ireland is called Aistear (NCCA, 2009) which was designed in 2009, and describes our curriculum as an experience that consists of formal and informal learning through planned and unplanned activities or experiences in an outdoor/indoor environment (NCCA, 2009:54). The educational frameworks are also seen as a scaffolding system which provides support for the implementation of curriculum approach. Our Aistear framework is built around 4 main themes, well-being, communicating, Identity and belonging and exploring and thinking (NCCA, 2009). From these main themes a set of detailed aims and learning goals which explain the ways children will learn and supports their overall needs and interests. The UK the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum framework, is also similar. Like Aistear, it is designed to underpin an integrated approach to early years learning by giving practitioners a set of principles enabling them to provide quality early education for all children. In Australia the Early years learning framework, also known just as ‘the framework’, shares similarities to the Irish framework Aistear. It acknowledges the diverse nature of Australian society and strongly supports inclusive practices. It encourages the supports for inclusive practices with recognition to the diversity of Australian society. Pedagogy is hard to define specifically as many writers have their own ideas and although constructive and influential, there appears to be no clear boundaries that limit the concept (Siraj- Blatchford, 1999). Siraj-Blatchford (1999) explains this best saying, ‘The boundaries of pedagogy in mainland Europe, it appears, are defined very broadly’. Use of the term pedagogy is more familiar in European countries such as France and Germany and less so here (Siraj- Blatchford, 1999). “Pedagogy is about learning, teaching and development influenced by the cultural, social and political values we have for children…in Scotland, and underpinned by a strong theoretical and practical base” (Education Scotland, 2005, p.9). In my setting we define pedagogy as the way or method of teaching a specific subject or curriculum. We believe that pedagogy methods and practice are underpinned through the philosophy and principles of Aistear, our curriculum framework and Siolta our quality standards. Our setting is play based but influenced by two approaches, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. By using Aistear, we have clear guidelines which help us implement the curriculum framework effectively as well as implementing the influences of the two approaches Reggio and Montessori and Siolta to examine, reflect and measure our progress relating to our professional pedagogical practice. Although some early years settings do differ in pedagogy approaches, with pioneers Frobel, Steiner and Montessori and theorists Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner which all play a role in today’s current practice, it is our own ideas and perspectives which are mirrored within early years practice (MacNaughton, 2004). ‘Much of our current thinking is informed by what has been written in the past and is shaped daily by the ever-shifting world in which we live in’ (Gray and MacBlain, 2015, pg 30). Our own philosophy of pedagogy and curricula are based upon how we understand child development. Gray and MacBlain (2015) explain this best by saying ‘Our understanding of how children think and how they experience the worlds in which they live is limited. for this reason, we need to engage with different and creative ways of seeking to capture, and then understand and explain their learning’ (pg 29). In the 1970’s some believed that learning was achieved through intrinsic (from the child) or extrinsic (taught by adults or influenced by the environment) but Piaget believed that neither of these explains learning, rather he thought a child’s interaction within their environment is what develops their learning (Mooney, 2013 pg 79). Piaget’s idea that “Construction is superior to Instruction” (Hendrick, 1992) was built upon the influences of Montessori’s idea that meaningful work is vital to cognitive development in childhood. Mooney (2013) says that ‘Like Montessori, Piaget has helped teachers of young children to see how important it is for children to experience whatever we want them to learn about’. Dewey also shared similar views to that of Piaget and Montessori and as a progressive educator his philosophy understands the need for education to be child centred and involve both active and interactive education and should involve the social aspects of the child and their community (Mooney, 2013 pg 13). He felt education was part of life itself and children learn best when they interact side by side with other peers and adults with the children’s interests forming the foundation for curriculum planning through what he called learning experiences (Mooney 2013 pg 16). Although some misunderstand his ideas of education thinking he supported a free student lead education, he in fact believed that children require a clear structure and need support and direction in developing their own learning in order to gain the most benefit (Gray, MacBlain, 2015, pg 38). Although as Reggio Emilia becomes more popular so to does the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s work changed perspectives of how we think children interact with one another by showing that social and cognitive development work together and build upon each other. Piaget’s philosophy recognises that children’s knowledge comes from their individual experiences, and although Vygotsky believed this to, he also believed that personal and social experiences can be separated.
Our approach in my setting is influenced by Reggio and Montessori. Although we have many Montessori toys and resources for the children which they use, or approach to learning is more influenced by Reggio Emilia. The educational methods of them both are like each other in that they both embrace a nurturing child centric and alternative approaches (Edwards, Gandini and Forman, 2012). Both approaches were founded in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. Both approaches aim to educate the whole child and help children to grow in harmony with others. The Montessori approach teaches about maths, practical skills, culture, language, music, geography and sciences using sensory and movement activities. whereas in Reggio the approach is different as there is no curriculum but to allow for emerging lessons which are guided by the child’s interests (Edwards, Gandini and Forman, 2012). In Reggio and Montessori Children use their sense to direct their education. Montessori uses pre-prepared tasks allowing children the freedom to select the one of interest to them and work independently. The Reggio model, is a joint approach including the whole class and enables any of the children to direct the classroom learning through exploring, asking questions and curiosity and through many language styles using their classroom as the teacher and the early years educator as guidance (Edwards, Gandini and Forman, 2012). Although both have their benefits, In my setting, the room leaders find it hard to let children pick their own Montessori activities. These activities are also done independently and at their own speed, therefore the children miss out on social interactions with other children. With Reggio it is very hard for us in our setting to show parents that the children are learning anything because Reggio activities are child directed and project based. We do not use printed activity sheets and it is not encouraged in the other preschool rooms, so the children are unable to show they are learning writing skills or numeracy. In this approach there is also no set model of curriculum or testing so there’s no way of examining a child’s developmental progress against other children.
Looking back through the history of education in the UK, there were many influential people which shaped the educational system into what it is today. Over the last 25 years, the UK has has been through a slow change in early years education but it is now playing a key part within education and social change (Nutbrown, Clough, 2014). Due to the introduction of twenty policies over the last 25 years, this has changed the shape and view of Early Childhood Education beyond what it used to be. Some of the most important policy changes among them include, but not limited to, the implementation of the Children Act 1989, the National Childcare Strategy in 1998, Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships, implementation of the new Foundation Stage curriculum, The Ten Year Childcare Strategy 2004, implementing the Birth to Three Matters Framework, implementing the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (2007), implementation of the revised EYFS (2012), new policies announced in ‘More Great Childcare’ (DfE, 2013) and the new assessment policy announced (2013) (Nutbrown, Clough, 2014). These policy changes have shown the government’s interests in investing in the early years sector after many years of large consistent spending cuts. Continuous professional development in the sector, increased qualifications in staff member’s as well as large network of support has all helped to build upon the status of Early Years Education in the UK (Nutbrown, Clough, 2014). Key people throughout the development of the sector played important roles. Joseph Lancaster a founder of basic mass education for the poor during the industrial period used a system of monitorial education also recognised as the three ‘R’s, it taught the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic as well as practical skills like gardening, sewing and baking (Gillard, 2011). Friedrich Froebel whose ideas of play in education were influential in 19th century Britain and Emily Anne Eliza Shirreff who later became president of the Froebel society campaigned for education for girls (Nutbrown, Clough, 2014). In the 1980’s Thatcher’s neoliberalism approach to education was unpopular as she introduced her new educational policies which saw her change the schooling system and taking power from local authorities to main government (Gillard, 2011) She changed the way curriculum was seen by publishing the 1979 document LEA Arrangements for the School Curriculum which meant that local authorities had to publish their curriculum policies (Gillard, 2011). It was evident by this time that thatcher was ready to take on the teachers and their unions, local education authorities and the curriculum and by 1981, the government brought out ‘the school curriculum’ which set out an innovative approach to school curriculum which they expected to be implemented by all in the coming years ahead. All local authorities were required to build policies for curriculum around the government’s recommended guidelines (Gillard, 2011). The John Major era was no different and saw education slipping due to lack of funding, investment and inequality. Over his time, we saw the introduction of The Education (Schools) Act (16 March 1992) 1993 Education Act which was the biggest piece of legislation in education. The Dearing report on the National Curriculum 1994, which was the biggest review of education stated the curriculum as an ‘unwieldy structure’ and impossible to implement (Gillard, 2011). By 2009, Early education was shaped by the different political influences at the time and under Gordon Browns government with Ed Balls and shadow secretary Michael Gove, action within education began to unfold with the introduction of the 2009 White Paper, 2009 Children, Schools and Families Bill 2010 Children, Schools and Families Act, Children and young person’s Act and the Child Poverty Act. Ed Balls at the time said “The core of our approach is to make sure that everyone who works with children and young people – whatever their role – has the skills, knowledge and motivation to do the best job they possibly can. They must be able to ensure that children and young people are safe and can develop and succeed across all of the outcomes, which underpin Every Child Matters” (DCFS 2008a). Other Successful governments, have aimed at establishing more early intervention programmes. An example of this can be seen in the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program in the United States followed the lives of 123 children over a period of 40 years from 1962 (Schweinhart and Weikart 2002; Schweinhart et al. 2005, Faulkner, Dorothy and Coates, 2013), and in 1967 the Chicago Child-Parent Centre Program (Reynolds 1998, Faulkner, Dorothy and Coates, 2013). Because of these evaluations, we are able to see that during pre-school time, social and educational interventions are more cost effective over a long-term period (Faulkner, Dorothy and Coates, 2013).
Ireland was slower in the development of the early years sector, despite that we have been quick to catch up and as years have gone by as more of an emphasis has been placed not only on early years education but on the importance of education as a whole. Pre-school education in Ireland didn’t really exist until the 1980’s early 1990’s, mainly because many women didn’t work outside of the home setting (Flood, Hardy, 2013). Early care for children was provided by family or close friends in the local area. The marriage bar in place at the time meant that women working in the public service had to leave their jobs once they were married and become stay at home house wives or mothers. By 1973 this was lifted and allowed women to go back to work (Flood, Hardy, 2013). Due to this a need for childcare developed and was provided by unregulated community and private childminders until 1997 (Flood, Hardy 2013). In the 2006 childcare regulations came in, there was no specific requirements or details introduced about the qualifications necessary to provide early childcare apart from them having their own children, a reference of experience or a relevant qualification. In 1992 Ireland ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child which brought a huge change by recognising the rights of the child. This made way for the National Children’s Strategy which followed in 2000 and was a ten-year plan which focused on improving the lives of children (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). Part of the children the strategy aimed to provide quality supports and services to children across all aspects of development by providing quality early years services. The National Forum on Early Childhood Education was introduced in 1989 which saw a collaboration of organisations and individuals with a common interest in early years education (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). The National Voluntary Childcare Collaborative began in 1999 and consists of seven non-government agencies which promote ECEC across Ireland (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). The same year the Ready to Learn- The White Paper on Early Childhood Education was brought in. The main purpose of the white paper was quality of provision and set out government policy on issues within early childhood policies (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). The Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education (CECDE) was set up in 2002 with the purpose of achieving the aims set out in the White Paper (1999), but was later disbanded in 2010 (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). In 2006 the Siolta: Along with the Childcare (preschool) regulations, The National Quality Framework for Early was launched. It set out a list of rules to be met by all individuals and organisations providing ECEC services from 0-6 (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). Siolta took over three years to complete and involved over 50 diverse groups from teachers, policy makers, childcare workers etc (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). Its purpose is to define quality standards across the ECEC sector. This soon brought along the development of Aistear that was launched in 2010 which was developed by the NCCA and promotes the development of the child as a whole (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). The Free preschool year in Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) Scheme was introduced in 2010 and recognised the benefit of early education for all children. This initiative allows providers of preschool education to be paid per child enrolled. This in turn acted as an incentive for preschools to meet the required criteria which improved quality of provision Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011). The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), was ratified committing the state of Ireland to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of the child (Donohoe and Gaynor, 2011).
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