Diversity in Early Childhood

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Introduction

Inclusive practices in the context of education in general underpinning the basic principle of fairness and equal rights to education regardless of race, language, family and socioeconomic background, culture and ability. Touching on the issue of inclusion in the early childhood context, it is important to consider who are the children or the group of children that are being included. Also, taking into consideration how inclusive practices are being enabled and what knowledge of the early childhood educators, practices of the centres and resources that are evident and made available in the centres. In relation to inclusive practices, the sociocultural theory states that learning and development occur through a process of changing participation in dynamic cultural communities, in which there are active contributions from individuals, their social partners, practices and tradition (current and historical), cultural tools, technologies, and materials, and values and belief systems (Ragoff, 1995, 2003). Sociocultural theorists therefore recognise that cognition is not an individual construction. It is a collaborative process between the individual and his social partners to participate in relevant activities. As such, cognition involves collaborative process as people engage in thinking together with others (Rogoff & Toma, 1997). Hence, the aim of the case study is to find out to what degree of inclusiveness, in particular working with children with disabilities or special needs (both strength and weaknesses), has been practiced in the local (Singapore) early childhood setting.

The case study on the inclusive programs for children with disabilities or special needs was done in a childcare centre situated in the northern residential part of Singapore. It has a total of seventy-three childcare students and seven infants under the infant care program. Out of the seventy-three childcare students, five attend the half a day program. There are a total of nine childcare teachers and six infant care teachers. Under the centre’s philosophy, the centre believes that the key role of early childhood education is to prepare children for the journey of lifelong learning. The centre’s role is to provide a caring and conducive environment by providing facilities and programme to stimulate the child’s inquisitive mind and optimize his social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional development. The centre aims to foster strong links within the local community by incorporating the resources available in the neighbourhood.

The research was done in the kindergarten level, K1 and K2, five and six years old respectively. There are seven Malays, two Indians and nineteen Chinese students in total for both K1 and K2 class. Each of the kindergarten classes has their own lead teacher who teaches them mathematics, language arts, art and crafts, science and music. Both the classes shared one language teacher (Chinese language). These two classes share the various learning centres such as language and literacy, art and craft, and construction (wooden blocks and legos). The learning environment is not very conducive for the K1s as the allocated space area was a little too cramp for fifteen children but the space area for the K2s is sufficient enough to accommodate the eleven children. The centre adopted a structured, teacher centered curriculum approach where most of the teachings (hands-on or modeling) done by the teacher. There is also no flexibility in carrying out the lessons as the teachers have to follow strictly the lessons planned for them by the curriculum department from the head quarters. As such, if any of the children displayed great interest in a certain topic, the teacher could only extend the topic / theme for just one more day. Out of the total twenty-six kindergarten children (K1 and K2), there are two special needs children – children living with autism, one from each class. Both the children attended external,...
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