"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Early Childhood Education

While there is no doubt that education in the early years is crucial, providing public education to young children is only the first step. Something is not necessarily better than nothing. Quality in early childhood education is a must. The important question to consider is what factors determine quality in preschool as well as in kindergarten and the early elementary years. 

Early childhood education not only introduces kids to schooling but also their parents. These are the years in which a parent learns first hand what it means to send a child to a school. It is at this point that a parent begins to share the rearing of a child with society. The relationship between teachers and parents begins at this time and so do relationships between parents of classmates. Preschool and kindergarten serve not only as a way to smooth the jump into formal schooling for the children, but also for parents. Quality in early childhood education should therefore include how well parents are introduced to basic education.

It is obvious that early childhood education goes beyond some of the factors usually considered in evaluating an education system. The structural requirements such as safe and healthy environments, low pupil to teacher ratio, adequate learning materials, and level of teacher education, are still relevant, but as important, are the relationships forged at this stage between teacher, children and parents.

Back in 2008, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill devoted an issue of Early Developments in addressing the question of quality in preschool education:

To read this issue please click
http://www.fpg.unc.edu/sites/default/files/resources/early-developments/FPG_EarlyDevelopments_v12n1.pdf
The first article in this issue highlights the observation that high quality preschool education is characterized by  the interactions between the children and their teachers. Unfortunately, this is something that is challenging to quantify. Equally cumbersome is dealing with the question of how should a teacher be trained and supported for such endeavor. Bonnie Rochman wrote a year ago in Time Magazine:
But what does high-quality child care mean anyway? It’s not about preschool children being drilled on their multiplication tables. Instead, it refers to low ratios of students to teachers and developmentally appropriate books and toys, as well as attentive teachers attuned to their students’ developmental needs. In practice, that plays out as teachers trained to not automatically start a curriculum just because the majority of a class is 3 years old. Instead, they individualize activities to children’s specific levels.
Seeing teacher-child interactions as significant, teacher training for this stage of schooling then means a focus on what actually happens inside the classroom. The importance of the classroom puts a dent on teacher preparation in college. Learning how to interact with young children happens most with experience. The second article of the "Early Developments" issue shown above deals with "How Do We Prepare Early Childhood Teachers to Provide Quality Education and Care". This is what the researchers found:
Professional development efforts that focus on observations of effective teacher and child interactions, and are video-based, individualized, and skill-focused, hold promise as effective approaches to creating high quality interactions between children and teachers on a large scale.
Oftentimes, when we think of applications of technology inside the classroom, we jump straight to pedagogical tools. Ongoing professional development of teachers can also benefit from technology especially in early childhood education where concrete situations need to be observed and fully experienced. Early childhood teachers need to become better observers of their own teaching. They also need to be aware of other teachers' styles and approaches. Teaching at this stage is like other teaching professions - it is ongoing learning.

Since effective teachers for the early years are not miraculously formed in college, it is even more important that we pay attention to teacher turnover or retention. It is in this light that we should ask ourselves whether we are providing preschool and kindergarten teachers with all the support they need. This is our future.



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