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The importance of children feeling valued for who they are June 28, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education.
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From Dr Leonie Arthur

In this piece Dr Arthur argues that, for more effective outcomes for children in 21st century learning, there needs to be greater understanding and support by the school education sector for the values and goals of early childhood education and curriculum.

As Associate Professor Christine Woodrow has discussed in her previous piece on our Blog, Australia now has a national curriculum framework for early childhood. This document – Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (DEEWR, 2009) – has the potential to strengthen the continuity of learning between early childhood settings and schools, yet it is disappointing that there is no indication in the current drafts of the national school curriculum documents (for example English K-10 or Mathematics K-10) of how they will interface with the pedagogies, principles and learning outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework.

If schools are to promote ‘equity and excellence’, as agreed to by all education ministers in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA, 2008), then they need to build on children’s existing experiences and knowledge through partnerships with families and early childhood settings. It is vital for children’s successful learning that teachers in the school sector are aware of, and extend the learning that is occurring in, prior to school settings. With the national early childhood agenda including the provision of preschool education for all children in the year before formal schooling there is even more need for strong connections between schools, early childhood centres and preschools to ensure smooth transitions and relevant curriculum.

One of the features of the Early Years Learning Framework is its equal emphasis on belonging, being and becoming. The importance of children feeling valued for who they are and having a sense of connection with a community of learners – a feeling of belonging – is highlighted. At the same time there is a focus on the significance of the here and now – of being – and the value of children having time to play, explore and experiment. There is also a focus on the learning that is taking place within these communities of learners – the becoming. The draft national K-10 curriculum with its focus on teaching a pre-determined body of knowledge and skills and moving children onto the next step, places teachers’ attention on children’s becoming and gives little recognition to belonging and being.

Greater consideration of the connections between homes, early childhood settings and schools, and recognition of the ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll et al,1992) that children bring to school, would support children’s sense of belonging and their engagement with learning. More time for experiential learning and play would enable “children to make connections between prior experiences and new learning”, support concept development and enhance positive learning dispositions (DEEWR, 2009: 9).

The Melbourne Declaration of Goals for Young Australians highlights the importance of personalised learning in the achievement of ‘equity and excellence’ in Australian schooling (MCEETYA, 2008). While individual pathways of learning are clearly the focus of the Early Years Learning Framework, the national school curriculum seems headed towards a homogenised curriculum with a focus on whole class teaching of a fixed body of content. It is not clear how this approach will support the MCEETYA (2008) goal that young Australians are successful, confident and creative learners, or how learners who have been active participants in a co-constructed curriculum in early childhood settings will cope with this loss of agency. It is hoped that there will be room in the new school curriculum for teachers to be responsive to individual students’ ideas and experiences and to include these in the curriculum in ways that promote independent  and creative thinking, so that the curriculum is ‘reforming’ or even ‘transforming’ rather than ‘conforming’ (Mac Naughton, 2003). There is much potential for teachers in the school and prior to school sectors to work collaboratively to support children to become effective communicators and critical thinkers able to transform themselves and society.

References

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Canberra: Author.

Mac Naughton, G. (2003). Shaping early childhood: Learners, curriculum and contexts. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) (2008). Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians. Melbourne: Curriculum Corporation.

Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D. & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms, Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.

Leonie Arthur is the Head of Early Childhood teacher education programs at the University of Western Sydney

New secondary research program at UWS: Innovation and the future learner June 12, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Secondary Education.
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from Associate Professor Wayne Sawyer

Recently representatives of the School of Education’s secondary program met with representatives of the two NSW Dept of Education regions served by the university – Western Sydney region and South-Western Sydney region – as well as representatives of particular units and bureaus within the DET. The aim of the meeting was to begin a discussion about aligning a new School of Education research agenda with the forward planning of the regions. The School of Education is currently re-thinking its research agenda to more closely link to its teaching programs. The secondary program is the first to begin to shaping this initiative. Thus the School is focusing a research agenda in response to the challenges facing secondary schooling today and into the 21st century.

We aim for the proposed research agenda to be constructed in a strategic way that is going to be of practical value to the DET and its priorities in policy, research and practice. Current policy initiatives in education, especially at the Federal level, reflect a widespread imperative for educational change in response to the expectations of a dynamic social and economic environment. Yet the current national and state policy landscape contains a number of tensions, if not contradictions, that create a confusing picture of what is demanded of secondary education today. In this context, we are seeking to re-focus our research efforts towards developing a futures-oriented research agenda that will address challenges confronting secondary schooling in a coherent and useful way.

Our current thinking is that the agenda will focus on the central themes of: innovation and the future learner, with related themes being: the future curriculum; future pedagogy, the future and equity; the future teacher; the future leader and the future community. We see these themes as connected and mutually interdependent. We feel that in practice attention to each is necessary to the sustainable development of schools into effective 21st century sites of learning, and that each needs to be represented in our research program if it is to make a contribution to real and sustainable improvement. We also see a good research program as involving teachers and school leaders inquiring into questions of innovation and practice in their classrooms and will be looking for a consistent expression of this in our research program.

Wayne Sawyer is Head of Research in the School of Education, University of Western Sydney. He is also a member of the Centre for Educational Research at UWS.

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