11.4 Discuss emerging issues and how significant an impact on human and/or ecosystem health in the field of early childhood education.
An emerging issue is an issue (positive or negative) which is not yet generally recognized, but which may have significant impact on human and/ or ecosystem health in the next 50 years.
The term “school readiness” has varying definitions among the early childhood field. For example, school readiness can refer to a number of variables, including child development outcomes, systems that focus on coordinating early care services such as health care, child care, and services to communities and families, and the capacity of child care to prepare children to enter or transition into kindergarten ready to succeed. For children, entering or transitioning from preschool to kindergarten means adapting to new people and different surroundings and learning a whole new set of rules and expectations. Families are also involved in the transition, schools and communities are recognizing the need to have schools ready for children and families, as well as children ready for school.
Early educators also define school readiness as a set of social, motor, and cognitive skills that enable children to be successful when entering kindergarten. In general, kindergarten teachers’ expectations of children’s skills entering kindergarten vary, but most teachers look for specific skills related to social, motor, and cognitive development. The following table identifies a general range of common skills and expectations for children entering kindergarten.
It describes the core indicators and domains determined through the School Readiness Indicators Initiative. Indicators and domains are direct excerpts from the Getting Ready Partnership publication.
Core indicators and domains determined through the School Readiness
|Domain||Kindergarten Teacher Expectations|
In the early childhood field, the word transition is used in many different ways. Traditionally, transition has been used to describe the period of time that falls between two different types of activities. Transition may also be used to describe the time period in which children move from home to school, from school to after-school activities, from one activity to another within a preschool, or from preschool to kindergarten. in each case, early childhood professionals have been concerned with easing the transition between two different types of activities or environments.
With more and more children participating in early childhood programs before they enter school, there is an increasing focus on the transition that occurs when children move from preschool to kindergarten. Many children have problems adjusting to elementary school programs that have a different philosophy, teaching style, and structure than those programs in which they participated during their earlier years. Transition efforts were designed to help ease the entry into school by preparing both children and families for the differences children will encounter. But more recently, there has been a growing consensus that the key to effective services for young children is less through bridging the gap between different types of programs, and more through ensuring continuity in certain key elements that characterize all good early childhood programs.
As the preschool years come to a close, families are faced with the challenge of preparing their children to start school. Preparing for this transition can make the child’s experience (and the family’s experience) more comfortable. Transitions from preschool to school involve a shift in caregiver-child relationships and peer relationships — some relationships end while new ones begin. Children often have mixed emotions about this shift, including a sense of sadness about leaving their preschool or childcare programme, and a sense of excitement and anticipation about beginning school. The ability to deal with these emotions and adapt to these changes is important for a successful transition, which sets a positive tone for children’s adventures in school.
Here are some suggestions that can help you prepare children for these transitions excerpts from the Getting Ready Partnership publication.
- Arrange a visit to the child’s new school. Make sure the child meets his or her new teacher and has the opportunity to explore the new classroom.
- Ask your child’s new teacher about the routines that your child can expect in the new classroom. For example, find out about naps (Do children take naps? Are naps gradually phased out over the course of the school year?), snacks (How many snack times are there during the day?), and lunch (Do children eat in the cafeteria? Will they have to carry a tray?).
- Incorporate aspects of your child’s new routine into his or her current routine. For instance, if children eat lunch in the cafeteria, play a game at home where your child can learn how to balance a tray. If children do not take naps at your child’s new school, gradually phase out naptime during your child’s daily routine at home. If your child attends preschool or a childcare programme, ask your child’s teacher to help phase out naps.
- Talk with children about what will change and what will stay the same. For example, children may have friends that will be in their new class at school, but they will also get to make new friends. Research suggests that children may adjust better to a change of school when they have the support of a friend. Find out if any of your child’s friends will be in the same class. If not, ask your child’s teacher to put you in contact with another family whose child will be attending the same school and lives nearby.
- Encourage children to talk about their feelings about starting school.
- When possible, volunteer at your child’s school. You can attend field trips, read stories to your child’s class, and help with special events. If your job prohibits you from volunteering during the day, you may want to use some personal time to volunteer for a special event at your child’s school. Parents who cannot volunteer during the day can help by saving materials for art activities or contributing to the school newsletter.
Today’s early childhood specialists stress the importance of presenting curriculum in an integrated format, rather than spending short periods of time focusing on separate subject or content areas (Day & Drake, 1986; Katz, 1990). The theme approach includes activities in language, arts, social studies, creative dramatics, music, art, science, math, or any combination of these. Many teachers and curriculum specialists have developed thematic units that incorporate content and process objectives from several content areas and heavily infuse them with the language arts processes of oral language, listening, reading, and writing (Tchudi, 1991; Varnon, 1991). The themes represent typical topics that are often the focus of early childhood curriculum units. During the early years, theme topics generally pertain to children’s life experiences and interests. By selecting topics of high interest to children, the opportunities for active involvement in the process of learning are increased. Organizing curriculum around a theme allows for curriculum content and learning processes to be addressed within a meaningful context.
The purpose of selecting common themes is to increase the probability that teachers will find it appropriate and convenient to integrate the activities into the current curriculum. This approach of selecting themes that are commonly used by teachers increases the likelihood of the activities being integrated into existing classroom experiences (McGarry, 1986). The thematic units allow for teacher ingenuity and creativity and encourage the adaptation of the curriculum to the needs of students. The topics directly concern children and the need to capitalize on their interests as they learn about themselves and their environment.
Teacher flexibility and adaptation in the use of this program is encouraged and a particular topic in any given activity can be substituted for another. For example, the teacher selects an activity that involves learning about trains. But, the children live in an urban area and have little, if any, have knowledge about trains.
In science, the class may be studying weather and its effect on the environment. The Start with the Arts activity entitled, “Rain Again?” may be used to further extend children’s learning of weather and provides a rich resource for vocabulary, concept and oral development as they create and discuss their watercolor paintings of rain.
In making adaptations, it is important to select activities, which support children’s prior learning. Although the activities can double as “stand alone” art activities, their true value will be realized when they are used in the context of promoting literacy.
The goal of each activity in the program is to provide children with many opportunities to advance their art skills and conceptual knowledge, while facilitating the development of their communication and literacy skills and promoting positive attitudes toward themselves and learning.
Indigenous knowledge can be defined as a particular group’s understanding of the surrounding world, ways of sharing information or teaching, and ways of speaking and thinking that are passed down through generations (Easton, 2004). Within both formal and non-formal education traditional knowledge and practices can be woven together with other pedagogical practices. More often the non-formal and informal.
One of the early Western academic uses of non-western indigenous knowledge was the medicinal use of plants; the indigenous knowledge of botany served western medicine and pharmacology. The value of indigenous knowledge has been increasingly recognized in other fields, including early childhood development, as development agencies and institutions of higher learning come to appreciate its contributions.
Robert Chambers (1983, 1994, 1997) has been a champion of this point of view. On the African continent, where former colonial systems of education are predominant, the desire to include indigenous knowledge and practice has continued to gain momentum since independence. The African Regional Framework of Action from Dakar calls for “community involvement in school decision-making and administration; employment of teachers in their own community of origin; curriculum reform toward locally relevant subjects; use of mother tongue as the language of instruction; the use of schools as community learning centers” (UNESCO, 2000, p. 24-34). The indigenous knowledge that should be included at the early childhood level begins with use of the mother tongue. One reason is that using a mother tongue tends to better increase literacy rates (Leautier, 2004). Traditional stories are also important media to be used in ECCE programs as demonstrated by case-studies conducted by students of the Early Childhood Development Virtual University (Schafer et al. 2004). Schafer (2004) summarized findings from Uganda and Lesotho that emphasized the use of local stories as important to cognitive skills development and continuation of indigenous knowledge. Sagnia (2004) also promotes the use of songs, dances, and locally produced toys in ECCE programs in the Gambia. Local ideas of parenting and children’s roles can and should also influence early education practices (Pence, 2004). In many of the documents read (Schafer, 2004; Pagano, 1999; Sagnia, 2004), the rise in urbanization has led to a change in family structure and loss of traditional practices, therefore increasing a cultural preservation argument for the integration of indigenous knowledge in education.
Sagnia (2004) suggests building on the indigenous practices and educating the communities on benefits of further opportunities for play in group settings with toys, sand, water, songs, dance and stories. Training should include local production of toys and the participation of grandmothers as childcare providers and storytellers for perpetuating traditional knowledge and also economic concerns of using what is available at minimal costs.
Before 1983 when HIV/AIDS became known, most nations’ curriculum did not recognise it. Due to its negative impact on people’s lives, it was later declared a national disaster in Kenya. Consequently, most national resources have been mobilised to address it. The curriculum and subjects taught in schools have been modified specifically to address the issue of HIV/AIDS. Children also learn about it, how it is transmitted, how to prevent its spread and how to take care of those who are HIV positive.
ii) Drug Abuse
The issue of drug abuse has been thorny. Although the National Council for the Control of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) was formed, one of the ways in which information on drug and substance abuse has been spread is by incorporation of drug abuse issues into the school curriculum.
iii) Political Violence
In 2008, Kenya experienced the worst violence ever to be witnessed in the post-independence era. The post-election violence led to the death of about 1,500 people and the displacement of approximately 350,000 people. To prevent the recurrence of such bloodshed and human catastrophe, the government recognised the place of curriculum change as one of the ways to tackle ethnic animosity and impart in learners knowledge, skills, values and attitudes for peaceful co-existence. The ECDE curriculum activity areas that have been introduced to address this are Life skills and Religious Education.
iv) Internet and Computers
The use of ICT as the engine to drive industrial, scientific, economic and social development has been addressed by the curriculum. Children receive basic teaching in computer knowledge and skills to appreciate its application in real life situations.
v) Early Years
Lastly, the importance of early years for an individual’s later development has seen more interest in the field of early childhood education. Although the system of education in Kenya still emphasises on eight years of primary education, four years of secondary education and another four of university education (8-4-4), there is an attempt by the government to integrate the Pre-primary I and II (4 – 5 yearn old) into the primary school cycle. This has led to the re-organisation of the national curriculum and the pre-school curriculum in line with the emerging government policy on education, training and research.