The purpose of this essay is to first of all analyse the historical and political underpinning of social injustice of early childhood education. Then, I will define cultural identity and demonstrate awareness of the ways in which children’s cultural identities impact in both their access to early care and education and any benefits they may gain from it. Then I will examine my own practice in order to address inequalities there and finally critically evaluate a wide range of research related to this topic.
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Early childhood care and education has apparently been based on an important topic such as social justice. It has mainly focused on children from poorer backgrounds, and been directed by two theories right from the beginning. The first is that the home is the main environment for care and education of children to occur, this is provided by the parents, siblings, relatives and family friends. The second option is an early year’s environment where children are taught through forming positive relations and learning experiences which will help them to be good and law abiding members of their society. Nevertheless, because the perception of the poor was that they were not just coping with poverty; they were also thought of as been deprived of their social and cultural aspects of their lives. This instigated the provision of nurseries outside the homes with the view of providing quality care for the children (Bloch, 1987).
According to Cater and Goodwin (1994) there are three paradigms which have to be considered when exploring the social, economic and political history of early childhood care and education? These are the inferiority paradigm; the deficit or cultural deprived paradigm; and cultural difference paradigm. The inferiority paradigm is based on speculation that a certain race is genetically and biologically inferior to the white race. The culturally deprived paradigm is composed of racial, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomically diverse people to a white middle-class. The cultural difference paradigm is based on the influence of cultural differences on the lives, experiences and identities of diverse groups in ways that make them very special.
All three paradigms have contributed to the preparation and running of the early year’s curriculum and early childhood policies. The inferiority paradigm was evident in the 18th and 19th century when the curriculum focused on “spiritual salvation” and moral development during Sunday schools, infant and primary schools where the poor and deprived children attended (Bloch, 1987; Nourot, 2005). This was to mould and shape the children to be law abiding citizens as those in charge of the institutions felt the mothers were failing them in their nurturing. Church missionaries funded crèches to assist the influx of immigrants from mostly Africa. In addition, Tyack (1974) informs us that these early year’s settings were run by rich white business men who held a view of certain morals so they used Christianity to glorify the study of values of dead rural traditions.
The 1960’s saw the war on poverty as a sign of the culturally deprived paradigm. This was because sociologists put forward a suggestion that it was in the best interest of the child to gain experiences at school as the home environment was not conducive. They therefore proposed that educators should create experiences in schools that would counter the effects of deprivation Cater & Goodwin, 1994, p. 298).
The cultural difference paradigm was picked up on by scientists in the early to mid 20th century. They raised issues to the fact that being of colour does not mean one is mad, but they are aware of the importance of their beliefs that clearly defines their culture. Multicultural education and the means of teaching cultural awareness are examples of cultural difference paradigm. The two actions did awaken practitioners in the field of childcare with regards to the awful treatment the children of colour have endured and that by accepting and bringing together their culture into the curriculum can improve and benefit them in their learning and achieving success (Carter & Goodwin, 1994). Consequently, these paradigms have influenced development and how services are offered to children today. Needless to say in the 21st century the effect of childcare though is child- centred, there is still interest on the disadvantaged who need policies to improve their lives, hence the Green Paper Every Child Matters (DfEE, 2003b). This is to ensure every child reaches their full potential by being safe, enjoy and achieve, economical well being, make a positive contribution and being healthy.
Furthermore, the introduction of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice and Special Educational Needs and Disability Act ( DfEE, 2001) which deals with identification assessment and provision in the early year’s education settings all of which are expected to have regard to the Code of Practice.
Another policy which has swept the UK by storm has been from the influence of Reggio Emilia from Italy and Te Whariki from New Zealand which has had some influence on the Early Year’s Foundation Stage. More so the Te Whariki as it also a government led initiative intended to work with children of diverse groups. It’s take on holistic view of the child and empowerment of the child and family and the fact that the family is at the heart of the well-being of the child has captured the mind of the UK government as they seek ways of improving childcare and education in Britain.
Britain is and has always been a multicultural society, which is evident as before it became United Kingdom. The history of slavery confirms that Africans were in Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon (Fryer, 1984). India was also associated with Britain over 10,000 years (Visram, 1986). Due to mass immigration from many parts of the world children come from diverse backgrounds into nurseries and schools. It is therefore very important that practitioners first of all learn to respect these children and then teach them to respect each other irrespective of disability, gender, skin colour, religion and beliefs or economic background. It is crucial that practitioners see children as part of society because they are vulnerable and need adults to care for them, value and protect them.
This can be addressed when early year’s practitioners work in partnership with parents. The research of Siraj-Blatchford (1996) for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) believe in schools having close contacts with parents. In my previous school, we made home visits before the children start in order to meet with the parent’s of the prospective child and the rest of the family. This is an opportunity to chat informally and gather information about the child, likes and dislikes in terms of food and things they like to do or not, as well as any medical concerns, dietary requirement and many more. It is also an opportunity to learn about the child’s culture and language used at home and to make an initial assessment of what they are capable of. Above all this is the time when the practitioners and parents or carers establish mutual trust and identify any infringing barriers which can upset the child’s development.
Even though the nursery has an open-door policy for the parents to visit whenever without prior arrangements, if they take the initiative unannounced the teacher in charge gets cross which instantly creates a barrier and it goes against the policy.
According to research children learn about their feelings from the way people treat them. If children are treated with love and respect, they gain a positive feeling about themselves and like to please the adults in their environment and work hard to be successful. However, if on the contrary they are treated poorly or know the adults in their environment do not appreciate their presence, they will feel down and have low self esteem and not make any attempt of striving to achieve anything in their life’s but see themselves as failures. This is in relation to my presentation regarding is my setting inclusive of children with social emotional and behaviour difficulties.
Before children start nursery or school they have developed a culture in their homes where customs and traditions have been part of their lives so as practitioners we have a duty to know of the various cultures they come from.
What is culture? It is about attitudes and values underpinning patterns of tradition and custom which determines everyday aspects of life, such as: role of men and women, bringing up children, language, how we eat, wash and care, furnish homes, religion, dance, music, art, literature, festivals and attitude to death and dying (Griffin, 2008).
As culture is of great importance to the children and their families, we can unconsciously or without thinking create problems for the child through ignorance of the exact details regarding maybe their religion and other aspects of their culture. Therefore, we as early year’s educators have to be aware of the legislations and guidance which set out the framework of our responsibilities. An example is the Race relation Act of 1976 which is aimed to protect people from being discriminated against. Next, is the Children’s Act 1989 and Care Standard 2000 which set out for the registration and inspection of early year’s provision. The Equality Act 2006 made it illegal to discriminate in providing services based on the ground of religion. Subsequently, the Childcare Act 2006 requires an effective implementation of policies on equal opportunities and how a nursery is advocating diversity and differences.
Children have basic human rights which according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are food, water, shelter, love and care, safety and protection. Because children have not got a voice they need other forms of protection as they are vulnerable and unable to ensure those who care for them take the responsibility to keep them safe. Notably the UN Convention specifies the rights of the child with regard to childcare and education that, children have the right to be with their family or those who care best for them, to provide enough food and clean water for their needs, adequate standard of living, health care, to play, kept safe, special care and training, not used as cheap workers or soldiers and to have a right to free education.
In order for children to learn and develop well the provision has to adhere to standard 18 of the Guidance to the Standards for the award of Early Years Professionals Status (EYPS) which states that; EYPs’ commitment is to having strategies in place to meet the needs of all children, advocating for and upholding their rights and actively promoting equality of opportunity and anti-discriminatory practice. These are key to improving outcomes for children.
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In support of children to have admission to a quality provision there has to be equality of opportunity policy in place which will outline the admission criteria. This means opening up the right of entry for every child and their family so that they can make a full contribution in the educational settings. It is therefore important for practitioners and early year’s workers in every establishment to work according to the principles of equality and inclusive practice; these should be at the focal point of every setting.
Seeing that early year’s workers are responsible for ensuring equal opportunities within their educational settings, it is very important that we support the children in our care to have the need to feel they belong in the nursery, as it is often the first establishment the child joins. Subsequently it is fundamental that the families are made to feel welcomed and to experience a sense of belonging. The Early Year’s Foundation Stage (EYFS) say’, All families are important and should be welcomed and valued in all settings. In practice this is evident on entering the main entrance of the school I work at, there are displays of welcome posters in all the languages spoken by the children who attend. There is always a member of staff to greet the children and their parents on arrival; this gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns or a share interest of their child. Equally during registration the children are encouraged to respond to their names in their first language. Furthermore, the school encourages parents of children in the upper years to befriend the newly arrived through the organization of coffee mornings or after school activities. This is organized by the EAL (English as an additional language) teacher.
Due to the diverse and multicultural society we find ourselves in it is important that we all learn to appreciate, understand and respect the different cultures and religions these children and their families bring to the school or nurseries. We need to reflect on the various cultures and a multilingual approach in the environment the children are in. A typical example is that of my school where there are displays on the walls in the hall of flags of the various countries where these children come from. Similarly each child in the school has painted their portrait along the corridor which depicts the diverse nature of children who attend the school of their uniqueness and individuality. Each day of the week has a specific music played as the children enter the class to associate it with which day it is. On every Monday the music played is Disney, Tuesdays is Caribbean, Wednesdays is Classical, Thursdays is Asian and Fridays is African music. Also in the home corner of the nursery are dressing up clothes from different cultures, variety of food from different countries as well as pots and pans, chop sticks, wok, calabash and many more artefacts of other cultures. Children who are Bilingual are supported through the use of Makaton, Pecs and picture time tables, object of reference and use of key words from their first language by staff.
The nursery has cookery sessions once every week where by the children are introduced to food from around the world. During the month of the Chinese New Year the children visit the Chinese supermarket to purchase the cooking ingredients required to prepare a stir-fry, which is a type of dish from the Chinese community. In the shop the children get to experience all the different vegetables and fruits that come from China. The school supports the various cultures in the school through celebration of festivals. During the festival seasons the school and nursery participate fully by engaging the children in various projects. Two years ago when we had some children from the Chinese origin in the school, we put on a show of a dragon parade around the school grounds. There was a build up to this occasion as the children made and decorated the dragon. Parents were invited into the school to tell stories about the celebration of the Chinese New Year and support the children with art and craft, and read a story in Chinese during assembly.
Last year all Waddon schools celebrated black history together, with each school choosing an activity to plan and execute. The representatives of my school chose to prepare food with the children to give them the experience of some African dishes. Some of the schools did art and crafts, whilst the others engaged in African dancing. A member of staff read an African folk story to the children during assembly. I was selected along with a colleague as are both from Ghana, to organise the cookery session. It was great fun as the children engaged in the activities with excitement. This took place in the hall because there were more children to accommodate. Nearly half the group were from either from Africa or the Caribbean or of mixed heritage, they felt confident to discuss the dishes which they were familiar with, with their peers. I feel this type of initiative brings everybody in the community together and broadens the children’s horizons as the activity involves hands on. However I feel that a similar activity should be provided for the other cultures so that the children do not perceive that one culture is more superior to the other.
Although the nursery I work at is part of the school, it for children with special educational needs, their abilities vary from physically able to wheel chair users. The children are taught to value each other and those more able bodied are challenged with responsibilities to support the wheel chair users. All the children have access to the same activities however there are differentiated to accommodate the needs of every individual child. During physical education, children who are not mobile will be assisted in floor activities such as bouncing on a ball or gently rocked in a fabric or receive exercise prescribed by Occupational Therapists.
According to the Early Year’s Foundation Stage, Every child is a unique individual with their own characteristics and temperament this relates to a particular child who was expelled from a day nursery he attended prior to coming to us. He was deemed challenging, a danger to himself and his peers. When the other members in my nursery read his report and made a home visit they built up misconceptions that he would be a challenge from the behaviour they saw. However, after making close observation of him I realized what he needed desperately was lots of emotional support. This could be because there was problem at home as well as been told off by practitioners who did not see his needs but just thought he was a liability, not forgetting their attitude toward him may have made him feel insecure and that the only way he knows how to get attention was to be on his worse behaviour. The nursery worked with him to gain back his confidence and self esteem through listening to him, acknowledging his needs and making sense of his gestures and providing him with the right support he needed. In a matter of weeks this child had gained self esteem and now imitating the role of the teacher caring for his less mobile peers. He is now a competent signer as can now make his needs known through that instead of exhibiting negative behaviours.
Language is a powerful tool, in order for practitioners to use a language which will rid us of discrimination and prejudices we have to turn to the work of theorists to assists us to reflect on our practices. The work of social justice enables us examine the way we use language and that of our colleagues to bring about fairness in our settings. This will require equal treatment and devotion on the part of every practitioner as well as to be able to reflective on incidences which otherwise could have being tackled better. How would you feel when you have a strong feeling of someone not liking you and whisper remarks to their colleagues about you or make unconscious gesture? Don’t we have an ethical obligation to these children? Or think for a moment how they feel? As practitioners we must always strive to show dedication in our roles by promoting social change in using language of fairness and respect then we will be providing a safe environment for the children in our care. Notably Fennimore (2005) brings to our attention that language is undoubtedly a very powerful instrument for social justice which is at the hands of every early childhood practitioners.
The placement where I am doing my work placement has nearly half the class of black African and Caribbean origin; however the employed staffs do not reflect the community.
This does not matter if they are working with the children to reach their full potential. Even though all the children seem to cope, I have noticed the children of colour were missing out on a role model. This is evident as when I am there, some of the children of colour come to me and request to play with me most of the time. Furthermore, I have realized the books and puzzles do not reflect the community either. This is a big surprise as the manager has children of mixed race which should give her incentive to providing the nursery with a wide range of books and wide range of resources. Alternatively, I am impressed with other aspects such as the stock of African drums which was supplied to the nursery through a form of grant. However, to my dismay the staff will not join in play with the children, even though each and everyone have been trained to use the drum. Similarly, I feel that some of the employees are not devoted to the roles as they spend most of their time chatting amongst themselves. The only interaction I have witnessed is during focus activity, when they have to tick boxes to evident an accomplishment. I do not feel they treat their jobs seriously; instead they treat the nursery as a social environment.
According to Vygotsky children learn with the support of an adult or an older child who foster the development of knowledge and ability to interact which will benefits the child. Nevertheless children in the nursery are left on their own to explore by themselves. The only contact these children receive is during activity sessions which are very brief. I have also discovered that these children are not encouraged to take risks during play as they are quickly stopped by the staff. The EYFS on the other hand says that children should be given opportunities to take risks and make mistakes.
In order to provide a successful inclusion of children, there has to be an intervention which will take on board the holistic needs of children as well as working in partnership with parents and multi-agencies. Most importantly there has to be adequate training given to the staff, the ratio of children and practitioners has to be considered carefully, enough provision of necessary resources and equipments, but above all everyone willing to commit fully in their roles and to work as a member of a team. Inclusion is possible if we all discard prejudice and embrace everybody irrespective of who they are.
Research from the UEA and NCB (2007) and Edward et al (2006) have provided evidence to support that Children’s Trust Pathfinders and Children’s Fund interventions have produced better inclusion of young people with disabilities through fun and safe places to interact, resulting in increased sense of community among the children and young people as well as improved access to schools, mainly for refugee and asylum seeking children and a reduction in children taken into care. The other strategy which is early intervention means when problems are detected in its earlier stage, it is dealt with promptly. This can be related to the child who was expelled because the staff did not work hard in finding what issue he had which made him behave the way he did. But once identified he is one of the loveliest children I have known.
In conclusion I have explored the history of multiculturalism in Britain and the research paradigms that have underpinned early childhood education. Equally I have explored practices in my previous employment as to how policies are affecting the settings or not.