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Early childhood academics cautiously optimistic

6 October 2015

Early childhood academics cautiously optimistic about proposed early childhood reform

Senior University of Otago College of Education academics are welcoming changes proposed in a new Ministry of Education report on Early Childhood Education.

The Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at the College Dr Alex Gunn says the Report of the Ministry’s Advisory Group on Early Learning – released last Friday – includes several ground-breaking initiatives that are likely to help both teachers and children in the early childhood sector.

The report recommends the introduction of reception classes for five-year-olds in which children’s transition to school can be better supported by more flexibility in teaching and curriculum, cohort entry into year one of school – meaning children would move on from reception class at a single point within a given year, and the use of the early childhood curriculum Te Whaariki rather than the school curriculum to guide teachers’ practice within children’s transition to school.

“These recommendations will support early-years education infrastructure and enable early childhood and other teachers to work closely together to support children’s learning. They hold promise for a major reformation in our thinking and practice as children transition to school,” says Dr Gunn.

“We know that when teachers and families from different settings work closely together to support children as they come to grips with a new education setting, that this aids children’s transition. Working with the familiar (early childhood curriculum) as teachers introduce the new (school curriculum) will help enormously,” she says.

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Programme Leader, Early Childhood Teacher Education, Judy Layland said the report includes other recommendations requiring a “major reinvestment in wide-scale professional development for early childhood teachers”.

“The current provision of this has been narrowly prescribed. The Advisory Group’s recommendations will require considerable investment from Government if objectives are to be realised. However, the suggested three-year implementation plan means this should be achievable in the medium to long-term,” Ms Layland says.

Dr Gunn says news of an updated and digitised early childhood curriculum should be responded to with caution, and she would not support any development of commercial curriculum software of “the kind currently flooding the market” because in her experience such software is acting to detract from quality curriculum implementation. Its pursuit of so-called efficiencies and the standardisation of practice – particularly in assessment of learning is of concern.

Conversely, she endorsed the working group’s call to re-engage with previously removed content relating to Pasifika learners and their families.

“If the scope of the review work closely matches the directions signalled by the panel we have an opportunity to produce a contemporary, forward looking, and re-focused curriculum statement that strengthens the good work of the current curriculum and keeps young learners and their families at the heart of early years practice,” Dr Gunn says.


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