Gender Issues in Early Childhood Education

Volume 3, Number 3 - November 2013

Editoral

Once again, He Kupu features a practitioner researcher section dedicated to student and teacher contributions, a special edition, with a focus on gender issues in early childhood education, and a book review section. The variety in the practitioner researcher papers continues to impress. Jeong Eun Yang, who has a Bachelor of Education from New Zealand Tertiary College, opens our edition fittingly with a study of why there are so few male early childhood teachers in New Zealand. Kirsty Weir, who holds a Graduate Diploma from New Zealand Tertiary College, has written on partnerships in early childhood, considering the potential barriers and benefits drawn from effective practice in community building. Mark Smith, who took the Bachelor of Teaching degree at New Zealand Tertiary College, provides us with a salutary report on gifted children in early childhood education and, finally, Pukha Dhawan, a Graduate Diploma graduate from New Zealand Tertiary College, provides an opinion on developing literacy, including a reworking of what may be meant by the term.

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Practitioner Researcher

In Aotearoa/New Zealand, less than 1% of male educators work in early childhood education [ECE], which is one of the lowest participation rates in the world (Farquhar, 1997; Farquhar, Cabik, Buckingham, Butler, & Ballantyne, 2006; Lyons, Quinn, & Sumsion, 2003; Ministry of Education [MoE], 2007). Researchers have identified the lack of male educators as a problem for gender equity in different ways. Te Whāriki, a national early childhood curriculum, encourages children to “experience an environment where there are equitable opportunities for learning, irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity, or background” (MoE, 1996, p. 66). However, there is actually no gender balance in early childhood programs in Aotearoa/New Zealand and children are often not able to experience having men as educators or caregivers. This paper will focus on reasons for the lack of male involvement in ECE and ways to encourage men into early childhood teaching. It will also explore how male educators may impact on children, families, colleagues and the early childhood sector.

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Early childhood is an important time for children, as the learning they gain during this period sets the foundations for lifelong growth and development (Giovacco-Johnson, 2009). It is also a precious time for families because they have aspirations for their children and have expectations as to what their children will gain through education that will support them now and in the future (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996). It is, therefore, pivotal that education during this time of children’s lives actively promotes and practices partnerships between parents and teachers. The first section of this paper identifies two critical points associated with the perspectives offered by the literature, while the other sections explore: characteristics of effective partnerships; barriers to partnerships; benefits of partnerships; and best practice.

Although an extensive amount of research has been carried out on early childhood education and on the ways in which children learn and develop in their early years, there is little research on gifted children in early childhood, from what I have found in the literature. Most of this research has been based on standards-centered assessment, which compares children to a ‘norm’, and rates them on a scale that compares them to one another. There does not appear to be a lot of learner-centered assessment, which focuses comparisons on the individual learner across time and context, rather than between individuals (Margrain, 2010).

This is important for ‘highly gifted’ children, as they invariably develop different skills and dispositions at different ages or stages [asynchronous development (Radue, 2009)] than their age-peers (Bruzzano-Ricci, 2011; Porter, 2005; Porter, 2006; Walsh, Hodge, Bowes & Kemp, 2010). Gardner (1983) has a more simplistic view, arguing that, in most cases, abilities across all domains are correlated and overlap, so children who are capable in one domain are usually just as capable in most other domains.

Gross (1999) points out that giftedness in children is so often misdiagnosed or even simply missed. It is, instead, passed off as precociousness, ‘just normal age-stage stuff’, or as parents pushing their children too hard. This paper will review the literature available on giftedness in early childhood education, with a particular focus on the New Zealand context. It will identify according to the signs and indicators of giftedness in children in early childhood settings, and how gifted children can be supported in their learning and development. The review will be structured using headings to group relevant literature and/or theories.

Early literacy is the acquisition of skills by children during their early years that precede literacy skills such as reading and writing in school (Makin & Speeding, 2003). A recent New Zealand review of international research pointed out the important link between positive early literacy experiences and successful reading and writing in school (Adams & Ryan, 2002; Mitchell, Wylie & Carr, 2008). From July 2000, the revised National Administration Guidelines in New Zealand prioritized children’s achievement in early literacy, especially during first four years of life (Education Review Office [ERO], 2000). In New Zealand, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996) was developed as an early childhood curriculum acceptable to a wide range of early childhood education services (ERO, 2000) which promotes child-directed approaches to early literacy.

Corrie (1999) describes a need to maintain continuity between the early childhood curriculum and the primary school curriculum by realizing the importance of teaching specific skills of early literacy to children through a teacher-directed approach. Cunningham, Zibulsky and Callahan (2009) propose it is important for early childhood teachers to know the importance of and be able to recognise children’s early literacy experiences and links to later achievement. The biggest challenge faced by early childhood teachers in New Zealand is to decide their role in children’s literacy acquisition and include appropriate literacy activities, especially in the light of government priorities for literacy (MoE, 2009). This literature review will look into current research on different approaches to early literacy that are child-directed, as supported by Te Whāriki (MoE, 1996) and teacher-directed, with a focus on the most appropriate approach for teachers to foster early literacy.

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Special Edition

In 2011, the European Union Communiqué on Childcare emphasised the need for high quality early childhood services that were accessible to all, and, as part of this, that there was a “pressing need to make a career in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector more attractive to men in all European Union countries” (EC, 2011, p. 7). In this paper, I explore some dimensions of making the early childhood sector more attractive to male workers. I argue, using data from recent studies and what still stands as one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, Men in the Nursery (Cameron et al. 1999) that the organisation and conceptualisation of practice in the early childhood sector itself is highly gendered and has had the effect of rendering male worker participation problematic. In this paper, ‘gender’ is seen, following earlier work, as a phenomenon of difference that structures individual life chances and social institutions, and as a difference that is conveyed within the structures and discourses about everyday life (Cameron & Moss, 2007).

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In 1997, Glenda MacNaughton wrote the paper ‘Feminist praxis and the gaze in the early childhood curriculum’. In her final paragraph, MacNaughton challenged early childhood educators to revisit the ‘gaze’ after twenty years, in the hope that “it will not be as possible to find teachers who fail to ‘see’ gender” (p.325). By 2014, new theoretical perspectives on gender and education encourage teachers to widen their understandings of gender, and challenge dominant discourses of heteronormativity and heterosexuality (Blaise 2005, 2013; Blaise & Taylor, 2012; Robinson, 2005; Gunn 2004, 2008). This paper explores the implications of this new research for teachers and teacher educators drawing on feminist research informed by poststructuralist theory and its continued application in the context of gender and early childhood education.

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Early childhood teachers are part of an institution that plays a vital part in teaching the dominant ideology of the state. In Japan, teachers position themselves as experts on childhood, despite generally being young and childless. As a means of managing, shaping and monitoring a mother’s behaviour, tasks are assigned to ensure mothers are meeting the expectations placed on them by the education system. It is implicitly expected that mothers will embody the good wife/wise mother construct. While, in the past, Japanese mothers have shown little resistance to this ideology, less competition for kindergarten places in rural areas has led to mothers gaining the power to challenge teachers’ demands. Based on fieldwork conducted at five Hokkaido centres as part of a Masters thesis, this paper examines the pressures placed on mothers in the Japanese early childhood context.

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The Kindergarten shall be based on fundamental values in the Christian and humanist heritage and tradition, such as respect for human dignity and nature, on intellectual freedom, charity, forgiveness, equality and solidarity, values that also appear in different religions and beliefs and are rooted in human rights. The Kindergarten shall promote democracy and equality and counteract all forms of discrimination.

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In 2011, the Swedish National Agency for Education initiated a national project to test and try out teaching methods that focused on achieving gender mainstreaming in preschools and schools in Sweden. With a mandate from the Swedish government, preschools and compulsory schools could apply to enhance gender equality in their institutions. The participating preschools and schools were required to cooperate with colleagues and other school staff in order to try out different methods aimed at achieving gender mainstream teaching. The national project was mainly carried out during the spring of 2012 and the project was completed that autumn. This paper presents the results from this national development endeavour and reflects on the educational, gender related challenges such a project raises. The aim of this paper is to show what a national project can achieve, and what effects a relatively short project can hope to have, in terms of teaching and teachers’ level of knowledge concerning gender mainstreaming.

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Demographics continue to change in the United States, with the Hispanic1 population growing at a rapid rate. It is anticipated that, by 2030, Hispanics will make up 45% of the nation’s population growth (Passel, Cohn & Lopez, 2011). Within less than 4 decades, by 2050, Hispanics are expected to make up 29% of the US population (Passel & Cohn, 2008). As the growth of the Hispanic population has risen, the population of English language learners (ELLs) in schools has increased, with early childhood programs being impacted the most. In 2010, 75% of Hispanics five years or older spoke Spanish as a native language at home (US Census Bureau, 2010). In fact, ELLs are the fastest-growing demographic group in US public schools today (Uro & Barrio, 2013).

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Book Reviews

he Growing Child is the second of the four-book series Foundations of Child Development, which covers cognitive, physical, social and emotional domains. It is written by Clair Stevens, who is a senior lecturer in early years at Canterbury Christ Church University in England.

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Pamela May, an early years consultant and former Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom, has written a publication that is practical and accessible for early childhood teaching practitioners and students focusing on children’s cognitive and intellectual development. This concise book is part of a child development series specifically emphasising the necessity for understanding cognitive strategies and characteristics that children use as part of their daily learning experiences. The central focus being on children’s understandings and the processes involved in children’s learning. In addition to the thinking child, the series includes the feeling, growing and social child, written by three other authors, all in a well formatted, user friendly size.

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Outdoor learning is an integral part of a child's development process, where the natural world can enhance experience and awareness. Outdoor Learning Through the Seasons provides advice to practitioners on how they can encourage young children to engage and learn from the natural environment. The book highlights the need to offer young children natural experiences that schools should offer children everyday within their grounds. The author, Ann Watts, suggests ways in which teachers and children can enjoy and interact with the natural world throughout the year. The book has many suggestions for settings that do not have adequate space for children to explore, and also provides suggestions about layout and design that maximises children’s learning.

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Written by Durriyah Sinno, Lama Charafeddine and Muhamad Mikati, with contributions by Rebecca L.Holt and Aravindhan Veerapandiyan, this book offers readers the different facets of child development and early interventions in a range of children. Whilst all the six chapters in the book deal with enhancing childhood development, each chapter focuses on children facing various health issues, ranging from cerebral palsy and autism to behavioural and psychological disorders. The chapters on enhancing childhood development in normal children and on nutrition for better development of all children is a useful resource for caregivers, teachers and parents of young children.

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Contributors

Leif Askland, Dr. Rachael Burke, Dr. Claire Cameron, Pukha Dhawan, Yinan Fan, Michelle Gillespie, Sujatha Gomathinayagam, Dr. Mia Heikkilä, Vivienne Hogan, Beverly J. Irby, Dr. Rafael Lara-Alecio, Barbara Polnick, Dr. Lata Rana, Mark Smith, Trish Thomas, Dr. Fuhui Tong, Kirsty Weir, Jeong Eun Yang