The new Early Years Framework (at least in theory) and the federal government’s long overdue acknowledgment that early childhood education is important gives us hope that Australia at last is moving in the right direction. Time will tell if this rhetoric translates to meaningful changes and not a scenario where the profession moves two steps forward and then three steps back! However Australia still has a long way to go when we consider it continues to lag behind most western countries in many areas of early childhood focus and expenditure.
It is disturbing to find government ministers claiming that schools don't teach to the test and children and teachers don't become stressed about NAPLAN when it is clear that across the country they do ("Brands cash in on pupil test fear", 11/5). It is even more concerning that an ineffectual test, which measures so little in a narrow and meaningless way for individuals, pretends that it can capture the essence of what is happening across a county as diverse as Australia.
So it begs the question ... why does the Federal government insist on placing such emphasis and credence on the NAPLAN?
Australia has a history of looking outside of itself for inspiration and models of expertise in many professions and disciplines of study. Perhaps in part because we are, in relation to Asia the Americas and Europe a young country in terms of white settlement, and also because in geographic terms still deemed, "a long way a way".
The education sector's default position is to "look beyond" and the "grass must be greener" approach. In a climate of limited funding for professional learning we still find that when principals and leading teachers do finally receive funding for study leave, they are eager to leave Australian shores to view "best practices" and models from others countries. There is no doubt in the importance of being aware of and experiencing other cultural contexts and influences and other political and educational perspectives. Returning from such trips provides the opportunity to reflect and review current practices in ones own school, community and country and to evaluate and grow as a teacher or leader. To gain ideas and to enter into dialogue with others from other countries is also a unique opportunity for deepening ones own understandings.
Educating our children for success in life - one of the major aims of successful parenting and education - often eludes or challenges us due to a misunderstanding of what education for success in life actually means.
The 2013 school year has begun with more promises and assertions from the Australian Government that quality and effective education will be a priority for the nations children. While this is promising at one level unfortunately at a realistic level it is very disappointing. The Australian Government's apparent understanding of effective and quality education is at odds with evidence based international best practice. In this editorial we take the opportunity to comment upon what international studies and experience highlights as some of the major elements of ensuring effective learning outcomes for students.
Early Life Foundations has had a wonderfully exciting, productive and adventurous 2012. We were all excited that the beginning of the year was marked with Kathy being nominated for Australian of the Year. Early Life International got underway with gusto this year with our work in two international schools in Beijing and Abu Dhabi supporting the teachers to implement personalised learning through the WLA.
Over the past 10 years we have supported primary school teachers to finally let go of term based topics and projects about the "sun, the moon, the planets, the gold rush"! In this process we have provided the pedagogy to replace "topics" with authentic personalised learning that starts with intentions for the development of skills and learning alongside a wider range of children's interests and concepts.
Early Life Foundations works with children, families and educators across years birth to aged 12 years and our main group of families and children are toddlers and preschoolers. Developmentally, the most common and "normal" aspects of young children as they grow and develop are demonstrated by their early brain development, language development and early elements of temperament.
Building a strong foundation in the early years: Prevention is better than cure! Working across Australia in so many diverse communities and increasingly with our international connections, our team is constantly reminded of how important the early childhood years (particularly birth to age 8) are in relation to setting early patterns of attitudes, skills, beliefs and learning. So much discussion and deliberation, money and research is spent on adults; how to fix, educate, alter and improve conditions of health, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, unemployment, speeding on roads, the list goes on! It is so much easier to learn and develop in the early years than to unlearn and then to re learn, as we get older!
I was concerned recently to hear a keynote speaker at an early childhood and primary educators conference refer to the current concern about children’s “screen time” as being a bit of ”an over reaction”. The speaker attempted to compare the issue of our concern about excessive screen time to past concerns about being a left-hander (where normal practice was to tie children’s left hand behind their back!). The speaker then suggested that children who were visual learners needed to have screen time. These comments are not supported by data nor are the claims and links made supported by past or current research on children’s brain development.
Early Life Foundations supports the fact that religious expression and the freedom to follow a particular religion is one of the great aspects of living in a democracy. It is however, concerning and inappropriate, that some states and territories within Australia allow through their education Acts, specific religious groups to come into state, not religious schools, in teaching time as well as children's lunch and recess times, to explicitly instruct children in their own groups religious beliefs.
Early Life Foundations takes particular pride in upholding our mission to an independent voice throughout Australia for children, parents and educators. In our efforts to maintain independence, we utilise national and international research and evidence-based practice in order to ensure that the practices we recommend and the information we provide are based upon valid and credible sources rather than political or economic flavours of a particular time in history.
The early childhood profession has undergone a range of significant changes in the past couple of years. The intention of these changes has been to professionalize and increase the quality of care and education for children and families. The aim being to increase the conditions, enhance the qualifications and professionalism of the teachers and carers who work in early childhood and to ensure that curriculum and teaching and learning in early childhood has a greater consistency and quality overall.
In recent years we have observed significant shifts in thinking and perspectives in how adults view children. In many respects this shift has resulted in great gains for children; we are less likely to patronize children and no longer assume they know nothing; we are more inclined to listen carefully and take into account their perspectives, needs, feelings and issues.
It is timely to have this month's editorial focus upon the issue school readiness; this is a time when many parents are feeling the angst about making the right decision for when their children start school; Kathy's latest book Ready Set Go? has just been released (for parents and teachers on the issues of readiness for school and preparation for school) and our organisation continues to speak to the media, parents and teachers across the country on the issues and confusion about school readiness.