In recent years I have begun to get involved with the international community. It started with me going to Macao and presenting my research on pedagogy in work-based learning. So within my role as an academic I started to question different perspectives of Early Childhood and Pedagogy and what it all meant. Within settings up and down the UK we use these words, and we use them to encourage professional dialogue between us as practitioners. It was this approach as a practitioner and then as an academic that got me thinking, surely, Early Childhood is much bigger than any specific pedagogical conception. This is why I became interested in what other Nations were doing, to learn and engage a global perspective of the child.
My trip to China and links to Abu Dhabi were the highlights of my journey in seeking new ways of learning and seeing active pedagogy from different perspectives. I soon realised that new discourses were happening in my own knowledge and some have emerged to inform philosophy and pedagogy in my own teaching and learning. Early childhood education in its broadest sense refers to the theory and practice of educating young children. Globally, Early Childhood education also occupies an important platform for governments, social and economic policy, forming a role in the way the child and family can be conceptualized in a contemporised and future society. Taking this into consideration, early years pedagogy is aligned with child rearing practices that are well meaning and believed by adults to promote desirable outcomes for all. Therefore, it became apparent through observation and speaking across practices that Early Childhood education and the pedagogies which frame its existence are often viewed as a magic train for social reform in so many countries.
Pedagogy, from pais (boy); agōgos (leader), literally translates as ‘to lead the child’ (Collins English Dictionary, 2017). Practitioners understanding of pedagogy has now started to evolve over time. There is a much more contemporary understanding of the art of pedagogy. The art or science (Loughran, 2010) of being an early years professional, involves techniques and methods, predicated on two conceptions of pedagogy: the liberal, emphasising the autonomy of the child; and the conservative, emphasising the authority of the teacher. In my opinion, the UK is still a far cry from the liberal conception, but rather sitting in between the two. It was interesting to start to unpick how early childhood discourse in contemporary times emphasises a child-centred approach rather than a teacher-directed approach. This is mirrored in most Western early years curricula and associated practices.
However, the practice I observed and started researching in Eastern countries defines the two concepts and flips it on its head. The sociological impact of the practice has much to do with how children learn and are taught within their Early Childhood settings. Questioning a wider scope of educational concepts with practitioners, such as ‘What does it mean to teach?’ ‘Whose knowledge is important?’ Therefore, pedagogy makes vital connections between knowledge, learning, teaching , society and politics. Vygotsky (1997, P.38) states that pedagogy ‘is never and was never politically indifferent).’ So the point I am making here is we see children playing, learning and being taught in many different ways based on a mix of political design, societal conceptions of the child and teaching and learning techniques. The global perspectives that I have seen and discussed really made me ponder the breadth of pedagogy and encouraged me to delve deeper and question further. I stated to question our Western traditions and why we uphold them so dearly, to be honest I upheld them because it was all that I knew!
Pedagogy in the Early Years
Taking on board Western traditions of education which has been inspired by Rousseau, Dewey, Pestalozzi and Piaget depict a progressive system of education where the child is viewed as naturally developing and the child being an active learner. The dialogue I had at the World Forum invoked a clear dialogue about the above and how Western traditions may not be seen as functional in other societies, it opened up my thinking about my practice. As a practitioner, I thought the way I practiced was the right way and there wasn’t another way! What I learned was that there are many commonalities about how children learn and how best to teach, and some of the online discussions were very interesting which led me to question myself and interrogate my own pedagogy through the following lenses:
Learning through play
- Encouraging children to discover knowledge
- Childrens’ natural tendencies to explore
- Practitioners’ building on what children already know
In most cases the above happens, in curricula across the globe, evidenced in some form or another. Theoretical frameworks attempt to be able to explain many concepts through interpretations of many systems, activities, social capital and human motivation. This can be seen for example, in the New Zealand and Australian curriculum Te Whāriki [Ministry of Education, 2000]; the Australian Early Years Learning Framework [Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009]; Keeley, 2007). These policies and the associated research and pedagogy frequently focus on constructivist approaches with didactic adult interaction.
To represent how things are in the world in correlation with early years pedagogy, I feel there needs to be an appreciation of epistemological and ontological nuances that underlie teaching and learning in the Early Years. It is with this in mind that I started to look at the philosophical approaches across pedagogy and practice in Early Childhood and also Early Childhood in a global context. Why I feel getting a global perspective is important for you and your setting. Well, it’s not as simple as looking at another country’s curriculum and trying to adopt it in our context. Take Reggio for example, it works well in Reggio as it’s the philosophical standpoint of the community but bring that to central Birmingham and you have a huge difficulty on your hands! What I mean by this is that you can bring aspects of Global curricula’s, but it’s important to recognise what works and adapt accordingly. Some of us have become so entrenched in trying to follow what is in our EYFS, that we may forget that we can also peruse some of the less popular pedagogical principles from across the globe and utilise them appropriately in delivering the EYFS.
It is the Conservative approach that has started to get me thinking about how this approach could in fact start supporting our movement towards the future of testing and baselining children, if indeed this comes to fruition. However, we only have to look at China to explore similar Early Childhood changes and how they have approached Early Education, to give us some insight into a similar future. I think it is fair to say that in some instances the Chinese Early Education curriculum holds true to economic outcomes rather than a policy which is specifically child-centred in a constructivist approach but nonetheless the unique child in embedded in the core of the more conservative approach. It is important to mention here that this does depend on the region of China, and many Kindergarten centres also follow many Western curriculums, including Montessori and Reggio.
How can global pedagogues influence the Early Years context of the future?
I can’t help thinking about how Early Childhood pedagogy could change due to many factors which affect preschool classrooms and nurseries. These include child characteristics, educational resources, teacher attributes and their behaviours, philosophy of the setting, parental beliefs and educational policy. Research indicates that the brain develops most rapidly in the first years of life and that environmental stimulation positively affects the brain (Shankoff, 2000). We now know more about early child development and learning than we have ever done before, and it is very clear that views about child development and learning do influence classroom practice. The dominant philosophical/ theoretical perspectives in early childhood education have been the constructivist, social constructivist and behaviourist approaches that are representative of the views of Piaget, Vygotsky and Locke/Skinner, respectively. However, we know that Early Education across the Globe is not outstanding for various reasons including inconsistencies, inequalities and varying social constructs of the child in society, but can we still learn from global perspectives to prepare us for the future of Early Years and the impact on settings?
Perhaps it bears some exploring of China’s economic plans for future investment in Early Years and their commitment to children even from a more conservative approach which undeniably gives positive outcomes in later life. Could we learn from Global pedagogy to prepare, influence and begin a deep dialogue of practice? My answer is yes. But, it isn’t as simple as standing back and waiting for things to arrive. It is being prepared for what is on its way and learning from our global partners what worked, what didn’t work and how we can best adapt our pedagogical practices to continue a child centred approach for our children despite the economically motivated political machinations that denote the direction of travel for Early Years in the UK. Can we afford to kick back and wait for the inevitable changes? I have learned that looking outside of your setting, your local authority and even your own country’s curriculum opens up your mind to new experiences, new ways of thinking and ultimately prepares us for whatever the future may bring.