Trends and perspectives in early childhood education:
Reconceptualising early childhood education from
an international point of view
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Wassilios E. Fthenakis:
Prior to the early 1990s the early childhood education curriculum was hardly a matter for dispute at an international level.
Government influence on early childhood education was more concerned with structural issues rather than with questions of the curriculum. Thus educators to a large degree were free to make their own decisions about curricular issues. There was a good deal of consensus among practitioners as to what constituted a relevant curriculum for the early years.
The view about what is important and relevant for the education of infants was based to a large extent on the knowledge base of developmental psychology. It was common to refer to internationally well-known pedagogical conceptual frameworks, e.g., those of Froebel, Montessori, Piaget or Vygotskyi, in order to justify early childhood programmes. If materials were developed by government authorities in order to enhance early childhood education, they corresponded with prevailing ideologies. Moreover, these materials focused on developmental results and were based on a pedagogical view which stressed a holistic picture of the child and the importance of play-activities for the development of children.
The inspiration and justification for this curricular approach was mainly based on programmes developed in western countries,
e.g., the Developmentally Appropriate Practice approach as well as US-American development-oriented programmes such as the High Scope Preschool Curriculum (Schweinhart & Weikart, 1988; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Since the late 1980s so-called Developmentally Appropriate Curricula have been developed which take into account the various fields of child development. These Developmentally Appropriate Curricula emerged from the experience and the conviction that children should be taught basic competencies, e.g., problem-solving strategies, decision-making skills, social competencies etc., from a very early age on to enable them to successfully cope with future tasks (Bredekamp, 1987). A basic position in this respect was formulated in the “Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 (1987)” by the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which shortly afterwards was adopted by the National Association of State Boards on Education (NASBE) as well as by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Similar proclamations and guidelines following this philosophy can also be found in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Even though this particular perspective has been criticized, mainly because of the developmental psychology paradigm on which it was based, it has nevertheless had a deep impact in so far as it has initiated discussions about the appropriateness of contemporary concepts of education. This development began in the 1990s in a number of places and I shall now present some examples of new curricular approaches.
Up to the mid-1990s, an array of curricula and innovative pedagogical approaches had been developed.
These included the “Project Approach” by Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard (Katz & Chard, 1991) and “The Bank Street Approach”, a developmental-interactionistic model (Bank Street College of Education) based on the philosophy of John Dewey and others. Dewey assumed that learning could only be successful if it was based on active exploration and experience. I have already mentioned the “Cognitive Oriented High Scope Approach” by David Weikart and colleagues (Weikart & Schweinhart, 1993). This approach is based on the developmental theory of Jean Piaget. The main assumption is that children are active learners who construct knowledge by making meaningful experiences. Following this curriculum the cognitive development of children is to be enhanced by “key experiences” in eight areas.
(a) active learning, (b) language use, (c) presentation of personal experiences and ideas, (d) classification, (e) seriation, (f) concept of number, (g) spatial relations and (h) concept of time.
Further developments of more specific types of curricula should be mentioned, e.g. the “Multiethnic, Multicultural, Antibias Curriculum“ by King and colleagues (1994), „The Emergent Curriculum“ by Jones and Nimmo (1994), which is described by the authors as being responsive to a specific person in a specific place at a specific time, and the “Open Structures Integrated Learning Approach“ by Fortson and Reiff (1995) which is based on the belief that children as well as adults produce the best results and feel happiest if they are able to be creative and to act with responsibility. This approach stresses the importance of offering children the necessary freedom, encouragement and guidance for their own creative and problem-solving processes. The general aim of this approach is to develop the skills and readiness for continuous learning. The term “open structures” refers to the intentional structuring of activities which should allow as much openness as possible for the children’s ideas.
In this context I should also mention the “Integrated Whole Language Curriculum“ by Sawyer and Sawyer (1993) and the “Transformational Curriculum“ by Rosegrant and Bredekamp (1992). Within the latter “transformational” means that (1) it adjusts to the children’s specific developmental needs and interests and (2) it aims at the child’s experiences of specific changes and further developments. These two curricula differ from the aforementioned by the fact that children are not given specific tasks to work on for a defined amount of time. Instead these approaches focus on themes that are important and relevant for the children themselves. This procedure requires close observation of the children themselves and of their interests. Starting points of these curricula are the theories and educational philosophies of Bruner, Dewey, Erikson, Maslow, Piaget and Vygotsky.
Reorientation: The search for alternatives
Meanwhile, this situation - namely that the development of curricula was mainly seen as being the responsibility of experts but not the responsibility of governments - seems to have changed. One can discern a growing interest of government bodies in preschool education, along with a growing pressure on qualified personnel to evaluate their work and prove efficacy. Recent empirical findings, e.g., in the field of brain research, and empirical studies that raise serious doubts about the traditional knowledge base of early childhood education, have contributed to this new awareness. The growing influence of market-oriented ideologies and the related privatisation of services in the field of early childhood education as well as efforts to establish education and curricula as consumer goods are further important causes for the changing situation.
Today, in this changed landscape of early childhood education, there is less security and much more controversy about appropriate and relevant directions for curricula and pedagogy. International perspectives from Reggio Emilia, theoretical challenges posed by the movement on the reconceptualization of education in early childhood pedagogy, scientific findings in the field of brain research and far-reaching educational reforms refreshed the debate on early childhood curricula, and new positions are being presented. Meanwhile governments have taken over a more active role concerning the curriculum, and the reformist course shows first effects in the field of early childhood education. All this has contributed to the fact that today curricula in some way resemble a battleground, where not only various but sometimes even contradictory and conflicting perspectives exist.
First of all I want to refer to the approach from Reggio Emilia, which (1) has provoked discussions on the issue about what image or construction of the child should be taken as a base for curriculum development (Robertson 1996; Robertson & Fleet, 1998) and (2) has ensured that knowledge is conceptualised as influenced by situational, social and cultural factors (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999). These perspectives question hegemonic assumptions on the "developing child" and on the relationship patterns between educators and children that underlie the development-oriented curriculum. Moreover, they have initiated fruitful discussions on the concepts of early childhood education and have laid the foundations for important debates on children, childhood and the construction of modern curricula.
Scientific findings from the area of brain research which emphasise the importance of early experiences have hardly had any influence on the curriculum so far, and there have been only few discussions among early childhood experts on the potential consequences of this research. But it is obvious that these findings can be taken as a strong argument by politicians to pay more attention to the first years of life. However, experts not only see the chances but also the risks of orienting the curriculum towards these findings (Corrie, 2000).
Another line of development seems to be of fundamental importance. Just recently, In recent years, nationally and internationally, the orthodox developmentally oriented curricula has been challenged from a number of perspectives. An increasing number of university researchers in the field of early childhood pedagogy rely on critical and feminist analyses and demand a reconceptualised curriculum approach that better reflects the diversity of childhood today. International research on the sociology of childhood has also contributed to this development and movement.
Within Europe, the integration of the training of early childhood educators into universities has led to an increase of research activities by the university teachers in this field and has resulted in the founding of the European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA). At their annual conferences, especially from 1999 onwards, these new trends have been debated.
As a consequence we can find an increasingly critical analysis of curriculum development in early childhood education. Resulting perspectives allow successfully to demask power relations and restrictions associated with child-centred pedagogy (Kessler & Swadener, 1992; Grieshaber & Cannella, 2001); and they raise questions about curriculum directions that everybody had felt secure about before. For example, critical and feministic post-structural analyses have called in question up-to-then undoubted notions that supported the traditional theoretical frame of reference of the curriculum of early childhood. Those were especially the role of the pedagogical professional as a facilitator, the understanding of knowledge in the context of postmodernism and the problematic construction of the child (Alloway, 1997). For example, it has been pointed out that the dominating curriculum approaches tend to be blind for gender, create social inequality and offer only restricted room to move for children and adults (MacNaughton, 2000; Alloway, 1995).
These efforts signalise changes in the direction of another kind of relation, where power is shared, the curriculum is negotiated and the educating adult takes an active role with a perspective on diversity and justice (MacNaughton, 1997).
In research there are growing references to collaborative approaches of curriculum development as well as the use of professional knowledge of practitioners (MacNaughton, 1996). Although these projects up to now have originated from initiatives of universities or individual early childhood centres, they indicate a trend towards a stronger voice of practitioners in the curriculum discussion. This trend will increasingly challenge orthodox views and lead to conceptual changes in early childhood education.
Recent Trends and Perspectives
The developments I have outlined have stimulated a new orientation in the formulation of curricula within the last four years or so. Curricula are now being constructed against a backdrop of postmodernism. The epistemological standpoint of constructivism has been abandoned in favour of a social-constructivist perspective. I shall now describe these recent trends in more detail.
Above all it was the EECERA conference that took place in Helsinki in 1999 that posed some provocative questions which are proving to be crucial for the development of early childhood education and that point towards the future. In the same year Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss and Alan Pence published their book „Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education“. These two events usher in a new era in the field of early childhood education. I shall highlight some aspects that are important for recent developments in the formulation of curricula. At the same time I should like to point out some different levels of reflection upon curricula. First of all I shall raise the question about the particular world view on which each curriculum is based.
Our understandings of the world for which young children should be educated
Gunilla Dahlberg (1999; 2002) has pointed out that the economic, social and technological changes that we face today go beyond a mere transition from an industrial society to an information or knowledge society. In Dahlberg’s view we are facing a radical revaluation of our world view as well as a fundamental rethinking of how we see and understand ourselves in this world. Since the Enlightenment our world view has been strongly influenced by the project of modernity. Core assumptions of this project—[history as a] continuous and linear progress, certainty and universality, discovery of verifiable truth by means of objective methodologies — have become increasingly questioned. Today the project of post-modernism has gained importance. The idea of post-modernism accepts and even welcomes uncertainty, complexity, diversity and multiple perspectives as well as historical and context specificity.
This paradigmatic shift opens up new perspectives on how we understand and conceptualise pedagogical theory and practice. The first question that follows is: what are the ‘dominating discourses’ (Foucault) that have a formative influence on our concepts of children and childhood, on our concepts of education and educational institutions as well as on our relationships to children and our professional identity. Inspired by the pedagogical approach know as ‘Reggio Emilia’ Dahlberg and her colleagues at the Institute of Education in Stockholm raised such questions concerning the ‘ecology of early childhood education’. And they did so in dialogue with experts from the field as well as with administration and policy experts.
The educational programmes of today tend to reflect a stance of modernism rather than post-modernism. An educational approach based on post-modernism would reflect a world view that is characterised by cultural diversity and social complexity - characteristics that take into account the limited predictability that is typical for post-modern societies. In the post-modern world the individual has to face experiences of discontinuity, loss and accelerated change, and it is the individual who has to cope with them. In such a world orientation is not supplied by norms and externally defined standards but has to be attained by the individual. Any educational approach that follows this line of thinking accepts existing differences and appreciates them as a source of enriched learning. These learning opportunities are used within the process of education rather than ignored or even eliminated. In contrast to modernistic curricula that referred to the nation state, curricula based on the assumptions of post-modernism question the dominance of one particular language or ethnic identity and even recommend the acquisition of foreign languages and intercultural skills. In line with this new view, cultural differences are not to be ignored but taken into account and included constructively during the development of curricula, as can be seen in New Zealand, where the Curriculum Te Whäriki integrates the Maori tradition and the Pakeha tradition. Curricula based on post-modernism also consider other differences very carefully. As King et al. (1994) pointed out, most curricula of recent decades have not adequately accounted for the diversity of children within the classroom. Recent developments pay more attention to gender (MacNaughton, 2002), social class and ethnic background (McCracken, 1993; Ramirez & Ramirez, 1994; York, 1991; Zarillo, 1994). Derman-Sparks (1992) may serve as an example. Here four main objectives of a multicultural anti-bias curriculum are defined:
(a) Formation of a stable self-concept; (b) appropriate and empathetic communication with people from different cultural backgrounds; (c) a critical attitude towards prejudice; (d) reacting with a clear standpoint in the face of discriminatory remarks and behaviour. Such a curriculum not only includes cross-cultural aspects, it is also sensitive with regard to gender issues, age and differences in physical characteristics. Meanwhile ‘cultural diversity’ has become a central issue in the field of curriculum development.
Focussing on Differences
An aspect of similar importance concerns gender differences. Increasingly, the international discussion is paying attention to gender-specific experiences during early childhood (MacNaughton, 2002). Associated with this is the aim to guarantee gender-fairness within curricula for early childhood education.
Up to the mid-1980s a series of studies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia described in detail how young children observed in early childhood settings play, think and react in gender-typed ways (e.g., Silva 1980; Meade 1982; Rickwood & Bussey, 1983; Smith & Grimwood, 1983; Kaarby, 1986). Evidence from the 1990s proved again and again that children behave in highly gender-typed manners (MacNaughton, 2000; Alloway 1995). As MacNaughton (2002) points out, the knowledge about learning gender-typed behaviour in institutions of early childhood education stimulated research efforts concerning the question as to whether and how gender-fairness can be attained in such educational settings. The efforts of integrating handicapped and non-handicapped children within the same institution are another example of valuing diversity. Conceiving differences as a source of enrichment leads to a new quality of curricula. Here individuality and the specific characteristics of the child are considered and the perspective of the child is taken.
Our image of the child
This may be the reason why new curricula highlight a redefinition of the underlying image of the child. The child is no longer seen as the object of educational efforts of adults. On the contrary, the child is now treated as a subject and competent actor who co-constructs his or her own development, learning and education.
From a post-modern point of view the child and childhood can not be conceptualised in one uniform way. Different conceptions are accepted varying with the given cultural and historical context. This post-modern approach has resulted in changed curriculum formulations: The perspective of the child gains more attention, the autonomy of the child and his or her rights is stressed in more recently drafted curricula, a development promoted by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Almost all new curricula stress the independent position of the child and are expected to make the rights of the child a subject of discussion. Cathy Nutbrown (2002) argues that children's rights are core essentials of a curriculum and can be used as criteria when the effectiveness and quality of learning processes are to be evaluated. This claim is universal since the rights of children are formulated for all children; they do not depend on culture, religion, gender, national or ethnic background or any other specification.
In a text Nutbrown wrote for our reader „Frühpädagogik international“ (Fthenakis & Oberhuemer 2002, in preparation) – this title can be translated in ’Early childhood education – an international perspective’ and gives an overview on curriculum development in 15 countries – she cites some paragraphs of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989). She shows that these rights are related closely to the theme of educating young children. In many European and non-European countries (e.g., Australia) the rights of the child have become a key focus of curriculum development for early childhood education.
A new conception of education
Another important aspect of recent curriculum development relates to the conception of learning that is implied within each particular curriculum. Curricula formulated in the tradition of modernism are universal, they address all children. Learning is conceived as a process that can be explained on an individual level. Primarily it’s the child that teaches himself or herself. The context plays a minor role with regard to the learning process. That explains why such curricula are insensitive for contextual changes and challenges like geographical mobility, migration, poverty or social exclusion. Changes resulting from family development like separation, divorce, remarriage of one parent or other normative or non-normative life-events and corresponding coping processes by the child are also ignored.
This idea of education is being gradually replaced by a new one. Education is now conceptualised as a social process that takes place in a specific context and that involves children, professionals, parents and other adult actors. Cultural differences and social complexity are discussed intensively. Inter-individual differences are not to be ignored but important for the process of learning. Educational conceptions of this kind focus on interactional and procedural aspects of pedagogical quality (the quality of teacher-child interactions; the quality of interactions between the professionals within the institution; the quality of teacher-parent interactions). And last but not least peer-interactions play a crucial role in the organisation of educational processes. Within the curriculum inter-individual differences are functional. They are used in order to stimulate new relationships on a meta-level. I should like to illustrate this with an example: If we accept that different children have different strong and weak points, it is necessary to give feedback to every single child concerning his or her strengths and weaknesses. This makes it clear for each child that his or her strong points differ from those of his or her friends. So we actively highlight the differences. At the same time it is pointed out that the children profit more if they combine their different strengths. Differences between the children are treated as a source of enrichment and as a stable base for success in the future.
New curricula are no longer centred around the issue of teaching knowledge. Strengthening the competence of learning how to learn, how to organize one’s own knowledge and how to use this knowledge during problem-solving in a way that is characterized by social responsibility. Teaching learning skills is a main topic of contemporary curricula for early childhood education. The second priority lies in an early strengthening of the child's personal skills: a stable self-concept, high self-esteem, self-regulatory skills, secure attachment to parents and teachers, competencies for solving interpersonal conflicts constructively, optimism, self-confidence and a sense of self-efficacy as well as intercultural and linguistic skills, and so on.
The points I have made may suffice to show you that many elements of the newer curricula have their precursors in the curricula of the 1980s and 1990s. But there is one important difference: The new curricula are no longer primarily a product of experts. Government influence on the development, implementation and evaluation of curricula has increased. Curricula have become normative standards for the educational institutions and serve as means for keeping the system of day care institutions under administrative and political control. This new function of curricula is totally different to what we know from earlier approaches.
I should like to describe some of the new curricula in more detail in order to illustrate this.
The ‘Pre School Curriculum Guidelines’ of Queensland/Australia formulated in 1997 offer a good introduction into the philosophy of recent curricula.
The Guidelines are structured around the following five elements:
(a) understanding children; (b) partnerships; (c) flexible learning environments; (d) play; (e) content.
The seven foundation learning areas comprise:
(a) thinking; (b) communication; (c) consciousness of oneself and of others; (d) health and physical awareness; (e) social life and learning; (f) cultural understanding; (g) understanding one’s environment.
Literacy and numeracy are assigned to these learning areas. It is expected that learning experiences that promote literacy and numeracy are integrated into play and interaction. Learning outcomes are specified for each learning area.
The focus of the curriculum is on the developing child. Observations become an important basis for planning learning experiences that seem to be appropriate for the developmental stage of the child. The Guidelines adapt a constructivist perspective with the child as an actively learning actor. It is the task of the pedagogical professionals to guarantee opportunities for learning and to support the child´s desire to learn. The curriculum document encourages practitioners to consider cultural diversity and multiple concepts of the child. Self-assessment is considered a key aspect of evaluation and professional development. Here the reform of the educational system is still founded on the constructivist position. Other examples of recent curricula have chosen a different way. Their theoretical foundations root in social-constructivism. Therefore they relate to a different concept of education: Education is seen as a social process. But all of them show a vivid interest in curricula for children under six years of age.
These recent curricula represent a changing philosophy of education. They are characterised by various innovative aspects that I should like to briefly illustrate with two examples.
I will start with a curriculum that was developed in Europe. Sweden is known as a country with a highly and well organised early childhood education. Until 1997 early childhood education was an integral part of the social service system. After 1997 early childhood education became part of the education system.
and in 1998 a new curriculum was published that was obligatory for all preschool institutions in the same way as curricula for primary schools.
The Swedish national curriculum (1998) is based on five principles:
1. Norms and Values: „Pre-School should strive to ensure that each child develops
- their ability to discover, reflect on and work out their position on different ethical dilemmas and fundamental questions on life reality;
- respect for all forms of life as well as care for the surrounding environment.”
2. Development and Learning: „Pre-school should try to ensure that children
- develop their identity and feel secure in themselves;
- develop their ability to listen, narrate, reflect, and express their own views;
- develop a rich and varied spoken language and the ability to communicate with others and to express their thoughts;
- develop their vocabulary and concepts, the ability to play with words, an interest in the written language and an understanding of symbols as well as their communicative functions.”
3. Influence of the child: „Pre-school curriculum should try to ensure that children
- develop the ability to express their thoughts and views and thus have the opportunity of influencing their own situation;
- develop the ability to understand and act in according with democratic principles by participating in different kinds of co-operation and decision making“ (p. 17).
4. Preschool and Home: „The work team should:
- maintain, on an on-going basis, a dialogue with parents on the child´s well-being, development and learning, both in and outside the pre-school, in addition to holding the personal development dialogue;
- take due account of parents’ view points when planning and carrying out activities and
- make sure that parents are involved in assessing the activities“ (p. 18).
5. Co-operation with School: There has to be developed a trustful co-operation between pre-school and school (including after-school-care). The co-operation should be based on the national and local goals and directions valid for each activity. When the time comes to transfer from pre-school to school it is the pre-school staff’s responsibility to find forms of rounding off and concluding the period of time in pre-school.
From a content point of view, democracy is a key theme in the Swedish curriculum. It is incorporated into the stated view of learning, and also into the formulated values and norms, which clearly attach importance to the participation of and co-determination by children, and to co-operation with parents and school. Since 1998 curriculum regulation means that each public pre-school is obliged to follow the document goals. Private pre-schools are not legally obliged to implement the curriculum. But it is very likely that the curriculum will also influence the work in these institutions, since state subsidies are only allocated on the basis of certain quality standards.
The fact that this preschool curriculum is given the same status as the curriculum for schools is viewed as a guarantee for establishing a similar pedagogical framework for all children in every pre-school. This however involves restrictions for the qualified personnel in terms of decision-making. But one has to remember the broad basis of the curriculum, which only defines a framework and therefore maintains room for creative implementation and also varying methodical approaches. It does not include didactic suggestions on how to transfer demands into practice, which in turn means that expectations concerning the professionalism of staff are high. It is assumed that staff acquire a methodical repertoire during their training, and also that there is more then one way to reach the respective goals - an assumption, that is presumably valid. For the staff it is therefore important to have access to a broad range of methodical approaches. Not only do children learning in different ways, but the staff should be able to support children individually both in their ways of making sense out of what they are perceiving and also when developing basic life skills. It is also interesting to have a look at the concept of learning, on which the curriculum is based: The basic skills to be promoted by the curriculum are connected to the various developmental and learning goals.
It becomes obvious that this approach demands much thinking and active participation on the part of the educators in order to strive towards the stated goals for this particular age-group. The most important point of focus is helping children to become aware of the world around them, guiding them to describe or interprete phenomena using mathematical or scientific concepts, without addressing the subject by itself (Doverberg & Pramling Samuelsson, 1999). You could say that there are goals to be reached, but the way towards realisation is part of the pedagogical challenge within the Swedish curriculum.
Other good examples are the Norwegian Curriculum from 1996, and four years later, in 2000, the Department of Education and Employment in London published Curriculum Guidelines for work in early childhood settings. At the moment we develop in Bavaria/Germany a new Curriculum for children from Birth to six.
I shall now change my perspective from the northern hemisphere toward the southern hemisphere of our world, and take a look at the situation in New Zealand.
Te Whäriki“: The New Zealand National Early Childhood Curriculum
Since 1989 and the “Before Five” reforms (Lange, 1988), New Zealand has favoured an integrated approach towards care and education, and all early childhood programmes are under the Ministry of Education. This integration of care and education, and the inclusion of all “before five” years olds, helped shape the style of curriculum that emerged.
In 1996, the Prime Minister launched the final version of Te Whäriki, the national early childhood curriculum (Ministry of Education, 1996). Thereafter, early childhood services in New Zealand were expected to demonstrate that their programmes were operating according to the Principles, Strands and Goals outlined in Te Whäriki. “Te Whäriki also became the first bicultural approach to curriculum including the dual perspectives of both Maori (the indigenous people) and Tauwi (non-Maori) who are mainly European immigrants, but include a large Pacific Islands population” (May, Carr & Podmore, 2002). Te Whäriki, a curriculum for the education of children from birth to five years old in day care institutions, translates from the Maori language as „a mat for all to stand on“ (May, Carr & Podmore, 2002). Margaret Carr and Helen May coordinated the early development of Te Whäriki. And both, in cooperation with Val Podmore, have undertaken follow-on research projects, trialling some new approaches to assessment and evaluation linked to Te Whäriki, using the concepts of "Learning and Teaching Stories". The Curriculum was officially defined as “the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 10).
In this curriculum “empowering children to learn and grow” (very important for Maori) became a foundation principle. Te Whäriki is based on four guiding Principles:
The curriculum is founded on the following aspirations for children in New Zealand: “To grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge, that they make a value contribution to the world” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 9). These aspirations are elaborated in five aims for children (Strands) and these five Strands formed the national curriculum framework for local content and outcomes. Each Strand has been elaborated into three or four Goals for Learning. The Principles and Strands were negotiated between Maori and Pakeha as equivalent domains.
Transparencies 21 and 22
The Strands define an interpretation of the major interests of infants, toddlers and young children: Emotional and physical well-being; a feeling that they belong; opportunities to make a contribution; skills and understandings for communicating through language and symbols; and an interest in exploring and making sense of their environment (May, Carr & Podmore, 2002).
This curriculum is a good example of how to handle cultural diversity. It is also an appropriate model for developing a curriculum including every relevant perspective and also systematic implementation and evaluation.
Educational programmes like these offer us new perspectives from a theoretical point of view, from the educational philosophy on which they are based, and from the point of view of the technologies used for further development, including implementation and evaluation.
Evaluation represents a new and central aspect of the development and implementation of modern curricula, an aspect that has arisen not least under the pressure of employing resources efficiently and also from policy demands.
In international terms, it is possible to identify two main strategies for evaluating pre-school curricula: On the one hand we have the standardised observational and rating scales such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS). On the other hand we have the participatory approaches which favour a multi-perspective evaluation and development of pedagogical quality. The former approach depends mainly upon external evaluation measures to gauge pedagogical quality, whereas the latter approach tends to favour procedures of self-evaluation. A variant of the second approach includes procedures like documentation or the "learning stories" approach used for evaluating the curriculum Te Whäriki in New Zealand.
Documentation is needed in order to be able to evaluate pedagogical activities. Reggio Emilia’s pre-schools have become famous for their documentation (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1993), but it is also interesting to see how pre-school programmes in developing countries are using documentation in order to chart their activities (Ernst, 2000). In Sweden alternative instruments for evaluation are under scrutiny, although no one of them has been singled out in preference to the others. The Swedish perspective on evaluation is similar to the prevailing approach towards pedagogical methods and the organisation of pedagogical activities, that is, not only one way is recommended, but many. In this way we have to reflect, that many of the traditional instruments for evaluation are based on another perspective of learning and on other values too. We have to find ways and methods for describing children’s learning, in the form of qualitative steps in relation to people and the environment in which children are living (Sheridan & Pramling-Samuelson, 2000). To take account of the children’s perspectives becomes crucial here.
Evaluating Te Whäriki, one concluded that a true reform of the curriculum requires a reform of the evaluation methods at the same time (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992) and that evaluation is probably the most powerful tool in the area of education (Broadfoot, 1996).
In order to receive government grants, day care institutions in New Zealand have to formulate written evaluations.
The document „Revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices“ (Ministry of Education, 1996b; also known as DOPs) states that educators should employ curriculum activities and assessment practices that
(1) reflect a holistic view of children’s learning;
(2) reflect the reciprocal relationship between children, other people and the environment within which learning takes place;
(3) include parents / guardians and – where appropriate – members of the extended family; and
(4) enhance children's sense of themselves as competent and capable learners and human beings.
Since 1998 these DOPs are mandatory for all institutions. In other words, assessment and evaluation methods must follow the principles of Te Whäriki. These principles emphasise the socio-cultural nature of the curriculum: Social, emotional and cognitive learning dimensions are integrated, centred around the relationship between the learning person and the opportunity to learn. Families and community are part of the curriculum and the child´s sense of identity as a learning human being is a key component.
Consequently, assessment procedures need to follow a social-cultural approach (Gipps, 2001). The project „Assessing Children’s Experiences“ took place in collaboration with five different institutions in order to find out how to realise the goals in a specific relation to the five curricular dimensions.
Another aspect recent curricula are focussing on addresses the relationship between early childhood settings and school. During the last 30 years much attention has been paid to the transition between pre-school and school. At the beginning of the 1990s some countries began to introduce a „flexible school start“, that is, parents were given the right to decide whether their child should begin school at the age of six or seven. The age at which children start school varies considerably: There are countries where compulsory education begins at age four, and other countries where children start school after age six. Especially in those countries favouring a later school starting age interest was shown in experimenting with flexible transitions from kindergarten to school.
Efforts like this are based on an assumption of continuity when organising this transition. At present the State Institute for Early Childhood Education (IFP) in Bavaria is developing an approach based on the assumption of discontinuity, using recent findings from transition research. This approach assumes that transition from kindergarten to school is a complex process, accompanied by changes in the individual child, in the family, and also at a contextual level. It is also assumed that there is a strong link between adaptation in school, the level of achievement and the ongoing development of the child generally.
There are tasks that have to be mastered on different levels. For example, let us consider the individual level. Here these tasks include a new definition of self-identity and self-concept; changes in the assumption of the child´s world; acquisition of new skills; and last but not least the ability to cope with emotional stress resulting from transitions requiring adaptive coping strategies.
After starting school the child sees himself or herself in a new light, as a "school child", and no longer as a "kindergarten child".
At the contextual level examples of discontinuity are: Losing at least a part of her/his friends and former peer group; or the necessity to develop new social relationships. Both processes are of great relevance for adaptation to school and for coping with the demands that school entry poses.
These examples should suffice to make clear how important it is to develop a new concept of transition from kindergarten to school, one that also takes into account discontinual processes of change and that enhances practitioners' sensitivity towards these transition processes.
Reflections on themes are represented in the newest contributions in literature, for example the work of Fabian & Dunlop (2002) „Transitions in the early years. Debating continuity and progression for children in early education“, or Fthenakis (1998), that make clear how the transition from kindergarten to school is also determined by the conceptualisation of childhood in the society. Looking at these publications it becomes obvious how curricula of different educational institutions exercise adult’s power on children, and therefore how necessary it is to develop a transition model for the passage of a child from kindergarten to school, which is open to diversity, values independence, and, finally, expects the school to adapt to the children and not vice versa.
Whatever efforts we undergo in developing further curricular concepts for early childhood institutions for children under six years old, we should mention and appropriately value the work of the educational personnel by paying increased attention to their qualifications and professional development. Within the last ten years the Scandinavian countries have developed innovative concepts for the education and training of professionals. Beyond that we have to discuss the general conditions for quality and to pick up the question of how to balance and regulate the system in a new manner. At the end of this discussion a re-evaluation of government influence on this sector of education should take place in a way that does not place restrictions on creativity within early childhood education but instead optimises the developmental conditions for our children. What we need is an ongoing development of those institutions responsible for our children's learning and upbringing. Further we need an educational approach that combines formal and informal learning and also recognises the importance of strengthening parental competence as a prior goal within modern curricular approaches. Taken together these efforts will form a new institutional profile.
Some of us may look at these changes as if they are the end of a familiar certainty. Others will maybe invite them as a welcome opportunity for (a) opening up our educational programmes and (b) for qualifying our children to develop and strengthen not only their ethnic and cultural identity, but also (c) to profit from cultural diversity and for promoting a stronger cosmopolitan orientation. Today's world in which our children are growing up presents a great challenge for early childhood education. The new curricula have already started to face up to these goals.
We are all invited to take our part in the construction of a peaceful world. Within the educational system the field of early childhood education, concerning its special contribution, may be the most important component. I wish every one of us enjoyment and success in preparing our children for a world that is changing more and more quickly and in less predictable ways. At the beginning of the 21st century, it is a great challenge world wide to create appropriate curricula for the education of young children which commit us to responsible and co-constructive actions.