"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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Diversity in Preschool and Elementary Years

Though we were poor, my parents managed to send me to a private elementary school. In fact, all throughout my education in the Philippines, I would find myself as among the poorest kids in school. Obviously, school for me was so different from home. I brought to school my experiences and perspectives from home but I also saw what other children had. These classmates were growing up in an environment different from the one I had. Socio-economic status shapes the thinking of a child. With a range of experiences, children from different backgrounds enter school with different mindsets, prejudices, strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, it is foolish to segregate children according to socio-economic class during the early years of learning. Children can learn from each other. More importantly, teachers who teach not only rich children but also poor children, and vice versa, are given the proper environment and opportunity to develop learner-centered teaching skills. In this respect, elite preschools that cater only to the children of the wealthy or programs like Head Start in the US which provide preschool programs only to children in need, are both bad examples of early childhood education.

A program for teacher education at Northwestern University specifically focuses on diversity:

Preparing Teachers for Diversity

The idea that socio-economic diversity is good for schools is not just an opinion. It is in fact backed by evidence. There is one chapter in Richard D. Kahlenberg's "The Future of School Integration", that specifically deals with the advantages of having both poor and rich children in one classroom. The chapter written by Dianne Reid is "Socioeconomic Diversity and Early Learning: The Missing Link in Policy for High-Quality Preschools". Reid's findings are summarized in the following table and discussion:

Above table and discussion were copied from
"Socioeconomic Diversity and Early Learning: The Missing Link in Policy for High-Quality Preschools"

Reid started the chapter with a quote from Steffani Allen, director of early childhood education in Norman, Oklahoma (the state in the US that is considered to have the best preschools in the country):
“We know that each child brings different strengths, styles, and experiences into the mix, and that sparks cognitive growth. The diversity in experience and knowledge among the children naturally creates a larger scaffolding for learning, expanding a child’s base of knowledge and problem-solving skills. That’s why so many of us believed so strongly in the concept of universal preschool, instead of just targeting kids based on need. We recognized that if you put peers together in a classroom—all at-risk or all wealthy, all black or all white—you would automatically limit their experience and their learning.”
In the Philippines, Aquino's "universal kindergarten" captures the need to provide basic education to all:

What Aquino and the education policy makers in the Philippines had missed, however, is the fact that quality early childhood education is not as trivial as requiring all children to attend kindergarten. Quality education requires so much more than just a law.

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