While early childhood education, its habits, mores and traditions, are known to be diverse in New Zealand, the sector has also, to a large extent, been normalised. In spite of the goal of providing for multiple cultural approaches (overtly stated in Te Whariki), dominant practices and values are largely normalised across society (if not always overtly)…
Marilyn Fleer looks at some of the ramifications of this. She writes that: “Early childhood education in most European heritage countries has been built upon a strong tradition of a materially rich and active play-based pedagogy and environment. Support for this approach can also be seen in policy and curriculum implementation literature within many industrialized societies. Yet the selection of materials, the organization of learning, and the beliefs that underpin centre-based environments remain largely uncontested. This is problematic….” (127)
Fleer questions the institutionalisation of ‘Western’ approaches to child development – specifically, the evolutionary model of ages and stages that arose out of the industrialisation of ‘the West’. Fleer’s argument is that our increasingly diverse societies fail to support multiple cultural models of child development in the institutions designed for child care and education (eg. ECE). She advocates improving these services by undoing the cultural exclusion of those not normalised into a ‘traditional’ ‘Western’ view: by bringing attention back to ‘communities’ of practice and by viewing child development not as occurring ‘within the child’ but “as being about the relationship between the child and society or institution.” (134)
Her article advocates the ‘making visible’ of “the different value sets that are working within the school or early childhood setting and the home,” and she argues that when this happens “it is possible to ‘understand differences in the forms of practice that dominate at home and in school’ (quoting Hedegaard and Chaiklin (2005), p.39) and to value children’s cultural development as valid and normal. Through this process,” she continues, “the foundations for constructing localized views on development can be put in place.” (138)
In her concluding comment, Fleer writes that: “As a community of early childhood professionals we must begin work on new ‘context-bound theories that offer an insight into the developmental processes under the new pedagogic conditions of shared care of children’ (Singer, 1998, p.75) within a culturally and linguistically diverse community. Cultural and institutional intersubjectivity offers one way forward.” (139)
Fleer also writes:
“How our educational institutions take account of cultural variations has generally not been foregrounded in early childhood beliefs and practices within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.” (136)
“…we have not problematized dominant cultural assumptions about what happens in the home among families before and during the pre-school years. What prevails is the institutional practice of western early childhood education, where intersubjectivity between the institution and families of western origin fits snugly. / When educators consider the institutional intersubjectivity, the lens moves towards how the culture of the institution fits with the culturally and linguistically diverse communities it serves.” (136)
This final statement puts me in mind of the ongoing debates around literacy in New Zealand and the unspoken expectation that most of this learning will be done at home (National Standards have not changed or exposed this). Until this hidden curriculum is made obvious, we will continue to have children struggling and families being looked down upon.
Ref: Marilyn Fleer (2006) ‘The cultural construction of child development: creating institutional and cultural intersubjectivity’ International Journal of Early Years Education 14(2)June: 127-140
She also refers to: Hedegaard, M. (2005) Child development from a cultural-historical approach: children’s activity in everyday local settings as foundation for their development, paper presented at the triennial conference of the International Society for Culture and Activity Research, Seville, Spain, 12-17 September.
Hedegaard, M. & Chaiklin, S. (2005) Radical-local teaching and learning (Aarhus, Aarhus University Press)