Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education
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Troubling Outcomes – A Challenge for Early Childhood Education. 66 th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference University College Cork July 2014 Nóirín Hayes School of Education, Trinity College Dublin [email protected]

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Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education

Troubling Outcomes – A Challenge for Early Childhood Education

66thOMEP World Assembly and International Conference

University College Cork

July 2014

Nóirín Hayes

School of Education, Trinity College Dublin

[email protected]

Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology

[email protected]


Troubling outcomes

Troubling Outcomes

  • Title reflects a growing personal concern with the aims and direction of education

  • Topic informed by:

    • The conference theme – children’s cultural worlds

    • Evidence from research on young children’s learning and the quality early educational practice

    • Influences on practice in early childhood education


Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education

Education should not be the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire’(W.B. Yeats)


Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education

  • Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact ……… but it is an excellence’(Dewey, 1916/1967)


A perspective on early educational practice

A perspective on early educational practice

  • Considering early childhood educational practice within the frame of learning goals and outcomes

  • Revisiting the importance of process and the dynamics of day to day interactions within a rights framework

  • Referencing the concept of democratic practice [Dewey and Moss] and the  Capabilities Approach articulated by Sen and Nussbaum.


The importance of quality early childhood education

The importance of quality early childhood education

  • Longitudinal studies show positive impact on children for both school and social outcomes

  • Availability improves access to education, employment and social networks for parents

  • Powerful and lasting impact on child development

    • Key learning - aspiration, task commitment, social skills, feelings of efficacy [Sylva, 1994]

  • Brain research has highlighted the importance of the 0-3 period in overall child development

  • Enhances wellbeing and flourishing


Young children learning

Young children learning

  • Rights-based lens

    • Participation; Voice; All children

  • Dynamics of human development

    • Beyond Bronfenbrenner – dynamic systems approach

  • Neuroscience

    • The brain is only partially mature at birth and continues to develop over the first years of life.

    • The quality of early experiences can determine how sturdy or fragile the foundations are for learning and behaviour over time….. particularly the integrating function of the pre-frontal cortex


Un committee on children s rights

UN Committee on Children’s Rights

  • The aims of education:

    ‘…. not only include literacy and numeracy but alsolife skills such as the ability to make well balanced decisions; to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner; and to develop a healthy lifestyle, good social relationships and responsibility, critical thinking, creative talents, and other abilities which give children the tools needed to pursue their options in life (UN, 2001, para.9)


Rights and young children s learning

Rights and Young Children’s Learning

  • Build from the focus of child wellbeing

  • Recognise children as competent, strong, active meaning-makers

  • Facilitate real[istic] participation

  • Attend to the development of ‘softer’ life skills towards strengthening foundations of all learning


Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education

Children’s cultural contexts


Dynamics of learning

Dynamics of Learning

  • Proximal Processes – engines of development

    • progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between an active bio-psychological human and the persons, objects and symbols in the immediate environments [B&M1998/2006]

  • Generative [or disruptive] dispositions

  • Dynamic interplay of the Person, Process, Context and Time [PPCT]


Dynamics of learning1

Dynamics of Learning

  • Biological and Cultural influences

  • Harmony between Individualisation [rights] and Socialisation [democracy]

  • Development - a process of holistic non-linear, emergent self-organisation [Kim & Sankey, 2010]. A dynamic systems approach

  • Pedagogy directed towards the ripening function [children’s knowing] rather than the ripe [what do you know?]


Neuroscience and brain development

Neuroscience and brain development

  • Early brain research confirms the interconnected nature of social, emotional and cognitive capacities

  • Babies and young children require stable, caring interactive relationships for healthy brain development

  • Social brain development depends on and enables complex social interactions.


Early brain development

Early brain development

  • Stress can compromise optimum brain development

  • Skills necessary to control and coordinate information are developed in the early years

  • These skills are known as Executive Functions and map on to life skills

  • Development of executive function skills depends on the biological maturity of the child


Executive functions

Executive Functions

  • Executive functions help us self-regulate, plan, manage, attend, problem solve, manage our world

  • Develop dramatically during infancy and early childhood

  • Seem to underpin later success in school, health and income

  • Quality early years practice important to the development or inhibition of executive functions


Quality early years practice

Quality early years practice

  • Integrates care and education

  • Reflects respectful and engaged interactions

  • Adults are proactive and attuned

  • Shows evidence and application of Pedagogical Content Knowledge

  • Provides rich learning environments

    A “nurturing pedagogy”


Nurturing pedagogy

Nurturing pedagogy

  • Learning environments are

    • Respectful

    • Reflective

    • Risk Rich

  • Pedagogical process is

    • Relational

    • Responsive

    • Reciprocal

  • Wellbeing of children a primary concern


Unrealistic expectations of early education

Unrealistic expectations of early education

  • Economic

    • End poverty

  • Social

    • Improve labour market participation

  • Educational

    • Combat educational disadvantage

    • Improve literacy and numeracy

  • Not a magic bullet


External demands

External demands

  • Setting learning goals

  • Identifying child outcomes

    • Cognitive skills predominate over life skills

  • Outcomes focus on specific competencies

    • Vocabulary of literacy and numeracy

  • A focus on outcomes influences practice

    • Is the tail wagging the dog?

    • Schoolification?


Support for the outcomes approach

Support for the outcomes approach

  • Reflects the economic discourse

    • ‘causal link between cognitive learning outcomes and economic growth [World Bank]

    • The quality of education, as measured in terms of learning outcomes - - -

    • ‘What works’ to raise learning outcomes

    • Importance of product; future focused


And what of the child s now

And what of the child’s now?

Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment (Tom Stoppard, 2002)


Making the most of children s moments

Making the most of children’s moments

  • Wellbeing is key to realising children’s rights and a central element of democratic practice

  • Children’s wellbeing recognised as a central dimension of sustainable development

  • Kickbusch (2012) notes that children’s wellbeing:

    • Is a value in its own right

    • Contributes to a better and just society

    • Is about our present and our future


An enabling environment

An enabling environment

  • Positive environments enhance young children’s positive sense of self

  • Wellbeing is a basis for mastery and a belief that one has a certain degree of control

  • Adults can enable children’s engagement and democratic rights through hearing their voice and encouraging active participation

  • The Irish curriculum framework - Aistear ‘offers potential to promote active citizenship and values of social justice’


Wellbeing and learning

Wellbeing and learning

  • UNESCO’s four pillars of learning

    • Learning to know

    • Learning to do

    • Learning to live together

    • Learning to be [DeLors, 1996]

  • Process and context of early learning enhances a children’s mastery and capabilities thus strengthening sense of wellbeing and belonging.


Impact of enabling environments

Impact of enabling environments

  • Valuing children’s strengths empowers them in their development and learning

  • Children often know what helps their positive development and wellbeing

  • Framing early years practice within this idea of providing opportunities for children to be and to do links the pillars of learning to the ideas behind the Capabilities Approach [Sen; Nussbaum]


The capabilities approach ca

The Capabilities Approach [CA]

  • CA emerged from development economics, now applied to a number of context – limited educational research

  • CA stresses the importance of individual and group freedoms and functions

  • CA asks what a child is actually able to do and to be

  • Capabilities are the possibilities for acting and doing

  • Nussbaum identifies 10 central capabilities


Capabilities approach and education

Capabilities approach and education

  • CA highlights the importance of education in

    • Assisting children develop fundamental capabilities which, in turn

    • Help children think critically and creatively

    • Solve problems

    • Make informed decisions

    • Manage change

    • Communicate effectively

  • A life skills rather than a cognitive skills focus, particularly relevant in early education


Ca in early education

CA in early education

  • A rights based approach to early educational practice can provide opportunities that strengthen children’s capabilities

  • We can protect ‘particular capabilities now in a way that reduces the need for the state to support related capabilities in the future’ [Dixon & Nussbaum, 2012)


A new language of early years practice

A new language of early years practice

  • Attend to creating opportunities that enhance children’s capabilities and grow the executive function platform necessary for future achievement and success

  • Orient early years practice towards the child’s present continuous [process/opportunity] - not towards the yesterday of child development [product/outcome]


A powerful potential for change

A powerful potential for change

  • Understanding child development and how children learn is a key ingredient to quality early years practice

  • Attending to the day-to-day, ordinary opportunities provides for children to be and to do in their now

  • Strengthening the development of young children’s executive function empowers them to avail of the opportunities to be and to do


From competencies to capabilities

From competencies to capabilities

  • An outcomes focus emphasises

    • Competence

    • Product

    • Past learning

  • An opportunities focus emphasises

    • Capabilities

    • Process

    • Present continuous


A capabilities approach for all

A capabilities approach for all

  • Aspiring to equality of opportunity is more than improving access to early childhood education

  • Real equality of opportunity focuses on the quality of the day-to-day, the ordinary early educational opportunities

  • Quality practice happens in the now and provides children with rich opportunities to do and to be

  • Let outcomes frame the system but look to opportunities in the now to guide early educational practice.


Troubling outcomes a challenge for early childhood education

Thank You 


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