Early Childhood Education
By Kylie Thomas
Planning for equity can be a difficult task for early childhood educators across Australia. According to Sims (2009), equity in early childhood education refers to fairness and is based on a balance of two different sets of rights: every child’s right to an opportunity to attend an early childhood environment and every child’s right to participate and be represented equally within that environment.
Children have diverse needs and belong to different cultures and social groups which results in children participating in early childhood environments differently. Children’s access to quality early childhood programmes which address issues of equity and social justice are crucial in maximising children’s participation in the learning experiences (Robinson & Diaz, 2006).
Equal Opportunity in Early Childhood Education
Under the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education, states and territories have committed to achieving universal access to early childhood education for all children by 2013 (Council of Australian Governments, 2008). The Agreement targets a child’s right to have an opportunity to attend an early childhood environment, by stating that by 2013 children will have access to quality programmes organised by four year university trained early childhood teachers (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011). However throughout Australia there is currently a shortage of teachers, so will these goals be achievable? While this is a positive agreement addressing each child’s right to the opportunity to attend an early childhood environment, it neglects the need to address each child’s right to equal participation. Opportunity alone will not improve the quality of early learning experiences provided to children.
Every Child’s Right to Participate
Equality of participation is an issue in early childhood education that is concerned with early childhood educators, together with children, creating a diverse range of cultural and social learning activities and experiences for all children to access in the early childhood environment (Elliot, 2006). Images of the child as less competent or developed than adults can lead to a misconception that children do not have the emotional or cognitive capability to make rational choices. This thinking may lead to the voices of children being left out of decisions that affect them, denying children their right to participate equally in their early childhood environment. More importantly, this does not align with pedagogical practices fitting the United Nations’ Conventions of the Rights of the Child (The Convention) (1989).
How Can Educators Ensure Equal Participation in the Early Childhood Environment? According to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), through their practices educators should reinforce the principles laid out in The Convention (Council of Australian Governments, 2009). The Convention states that all children have the right to participation. This includes educators involving children in decisions that directly affect them (United Nations, 1989). The issue of equal participation involves educators collaborating with children about all matters affecting their lives and respecting children’s family, culture, language and other identities by representing these diversities in everyday activities and learning experiences. Including children’s cultural and social backgrounds into the programming and planning enables children to successfully participate equally in the early childhood environment. In today’s early childhood environments, a vast array of spaces will be available and they may change depending on the children’s interests. This can include spaces that allow children to express their knowledge and understanding of the world, by providing a range of activities within different spaces.
Activities supported by spaces include but are not limited to:
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