BLURRING BORDERS, RESPECTING CULTURE
Paper presented at the AARE 2001 International Education Research Conference, Perth, Western Australia, December 2-6th, 2001
Victoria Banham, Edith Cowan University & Dr Lily Wong, Advent Links-SAUC
The international community recognizes that curriculum for preschool teacher education includes similar issues in childhood development and education. However, as collaborations between international institutions are increasing, of greater interest is how different cultures address generic and culturally specific curriculum issues and present these to their students to avoid the downloading effect. Singapore with its Asian and Confucian approach and Australia with its European approach collaboratively developed a curriculum framework that enabled teachers to be exposed to developmental and educational issues across the lifespan thus meeting the needs of the child, family and community. This paper examines the thinking and the actions that two international institutions underwent when creating a pre-school curriculum that ensured the socio-cultural determinants of both countries were met.
Worldwide, the impact of globalisation has created major economic, technological, political and social changes which has had a profound effect on societies over the past twenty years (Emy, 1993). Science and technology have played a major role in changing lifestyles, enhancing productivity, and propelling people ahead of their time. Many societies have been quick to adopt the advantages of others research and development and with their earned foreign exchange reserves, bought themselves a place in their global village, a seat on the information exchanges of the world. Both Australia and Singapore have been transformed into a complex society which has in turn, impacted on the decisions made in the curriculum created for early childhood teacher education in child care and kindergarrten/preschools.
Education has played a very vital role in this development. As populations become better informed and trained, the increased capacity to generate useful goods and services, has resulted in sustained positive growth narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. With the development of knowledge-based economies, education will continue to take center stage in national and regional development. Each country must determine its place and pay its dues, if it hopes to enjoy its benefits. Indeed the Asian regional political leaders are so convinced that they are placing premiums on higher education and schooling in a massive way.
If one was to look critically at developments in education one might suggest that higher education seems to be going through a metamorphosis. During the last twenty years, the changes can be readily characterized by multi-syllabled words such as massification, universalization, diversification, privatization, cooperation, industrialization, internationalization, virtualization, networking, parallel processing, and trickle down effect.
Massification is a trend toward making education available and accessible to all in a non-discriminatory way, with flexible entry and exit points, and an optimal range of choice. Learning no longer involves academic pursuits, but focuses on coping with the pressures of modern living and recreational opportunities regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic
status. Governments in Australia and most Asian countries are making efforts to help all its citizens cope with the high tech demands of the information and knowledge society for a highly education workforce. This is the process of Universalization. Diversification refers to the change in education in terms of structure, delivery modes, and standards. Multi-traced university entrance- junior college, TAFE, polytechnic, A levels, Special entry programs - coupled with distance learning programs, afford students the learning opportunities. Many governments are looking for ways out from shouldering the financial burden of higher education and trying to shift budgets to lower levels of education thus moving towards privatisation of education. Governments, most notably in Singapore are more willing to share the task with private partner-entrepreneurs, who want to enter into the educational arena. There is a gradual relaxing of long time firewalls of control between private and public education giving 'private schools' with adequate funding and financial support a change to provide quality curricular offerings. Cooperation between institutions has increased resulting in innovative joint ventures twinning programs, consortiums, exchange programs, joint ventures, credit transferamong institutions of higher education in different countries, offering more opportunities for students to move across national systems. To overcome the many existing unresponsive academic structures and rigid curricular traditions that do not readily lend themselves to supporting industry, many educational institutions have formed alliances with industry. These alliances or the industralization of education, bring great mutual benefits in terms of up to date equipment, professional practitioners, and cutting-edge ideas as well as a cheap source of trainable labor from the existing education structures. Internationalization has occurred as the world becomes more of a global village and the community demands a more international orientation as strangers work alongside each other. National borders are broken down by technological advances and an international orientation becomes a truly portable skill advantage.
The most recent direction has been virtualization or elearning. With the increasing use of electronic communications and miniaturization of technological tools in the delivery of education networks and parallel processing are developed, where knowledge and information are not physically stored or retrieved at a single location.
The trickled down impact is an interesting phenomenon that relates to the movement in higher education where the barriers for entry come down and secondary and elementary education are undergoing reforms to return to basics in education. There is an increased focus on life skills or lifelong learning rather than examination oriented curricula designed to funnel the brightest and the best into the elicit world of higher education.
It is apparent that higher education has undergone change but has curriculum direction kept pace with this change ? It may be suggested that perhaps within all this development, the role of curriculum appears to have made less progress. Indeed, creating curriculum to keep pace with these changes is no easy task especially when the rhetoric of curriculum is used so broadly across so many contexts that it appears to have lost its credibility. The words of Nurot (1993) could become the conscious in reminding architects to be vigilant to avoid becoming too prescriptive in curriculum development and not keeping pace with the diversity and flexibility of current education directions..
This paper suggests that curriculum has been provided with the opportunity to take its place in the global village. It will demonstrate how two cultural contexts collaborated to create a curriculum that met the socio-cultural and determinants of both cultural contexts to deliver a program that withstood academic rigor and scrutiny. It provides a framework that directed the thinking underpinning the curriculum. This paper presents a journey from conception to delivery with questions and dilemmas that faced the architects throughout the process.
Framework for thinking
Two words - meaning and direction - underpinned the development of the curriculum. Consequently, the questions that predicated all thinking throughout the development focused equally on how the curriculum would be designed and for whom it was being designed. These questions were:
Is this meaningful to both cultural contexts?
Does this provide direction to the action?
As Wood (1987:2) noted,
..intercultural education broadens the range of reasons for our actions, for we learn to think in terms of the dynamics of social systems, to get enough inside the thinking of others to respect their values (which is not the same as accepting them), and to grow in our imaginative capacity to identify with people different from us.
By focusing on these questions the architects determined that the curriculum needed to be an action and a developmental framework that was culturally relevant and had a social purpose.
The process first required an examination of the meaning of curriculum. Smith & Lovat (1993) have provided some direction in suggesting that when examining the meaning of curriculum one needs to be cognizant that:
1. People use the word to mean different things and it is important to understand the meaning of the word when it is used.
2. Each usage of the word is embedded in ideology or set of beliefs about education. 3. Different usages and meanings of the word suggest a number of issues and
concerns that are central to the nature of curriculum work itself.
What Smith & Lovat (1993) were reminding the architects of was that is not meaningful to contexts to either import or impose a curriculum framework that has not been developed within a socio cultural context. That is, what has been developed in one socio cultural context may not be meaningful and relevant to the context to which it is being imported. This presented the first dilemma.
Dilemmas for action
Dilemma 1: The thinking
How to develop a curriculum that would meet the determinants and cultural diversity of the two contexts as each context possessed its own determinants and ideological perspective. The situation as presented to the architects is outlined in Figure 1.
The curriculum needed to meet the requirements of the main players being:
However, as demonstrated in Figure 1, there were some threads that were universal and others that were diverse and different across the contexts. It is this diversity that brings richness to the curriculum. The threads that weave the diversity together can be seen as being acknowledged by all educators of teachers of children.
Figure 1: Common threads within diversity
Australia Common threads Singapore
Current course: Bachelor of Social Science (Children & Family Studies)
Target: Children and family service workers
Primary focus: Ecological issues in development of children, family &
Knowledge informs action
An understanding of development
Skills in working with children
Current course: Diploma in Early Childhood Education
Target: Teachers in child care centres
Primary focus: curriculum issues; child development; teaching process
community; play as a vehicle for learning; curriculum as an action
Macro issues: University guidelines/structures/
Child Care worker recognition from State Government;
National Childcare Accreditation guidelines
Research as a basis for change
Requirements of macro and micro environments need to be met
Academic honesty and rigor
Macro issues: Advent Link-SAUC guidelines/ structures/processes;
Department for Community Development & Sports guidelines and accreditation;
Cultural expectations of teacher in child care
Process to solve dilemma 1
To begin to solve this dilemma the architects utilised a four step process (Banham, 1999).
Reflection - on what was currently required in early childhood care and education in both contexts
Assessment - of whether the proposed curriculum accounted for this refection Reconstruction - of the proposed curriculum to ensure a balance was created across
both contexts Action - to create a curriculum framework that was accepted by both contexts.
For this process to be functional the architects needed to be clear about what is said needs to be undertaken (description) and what is really undertaken (action). Action only has meaning in context and it only has meaning when the requirements of the contexts are part of the action. Action does not simply happen but it is rather a conscious decision about such things as content, teaching and learning styles and organisation of the learning environment (McLeod, 1987:19). What McLeod was suggesting is that we need to examine our proposed curriculum from two perspectives. First a macro perspective (broad cultural/ contextual environment) and second, a macro perspective (student, children & community) to ensure that all players take an active role in the development process. These are conscious decisions.
As can be noted in Figure 1 the two curriculums, although offering education for teachers in child care centres, possessed different foci. The direction and meaning were similar and resulted in the identification of common threads. These common threads were used as a basis for the collaborative curriculum.
Dilemma 2: Action - articulating the meaning and direction to meet many masters
The architects needed to have an understanding of the perspective being represented by both cultural contexts in order to provide meaning and direction to the common threads identified in Figure 1.
The Australian context
Australia has an interesting divide in early childhood care & education. On one hand is child care and on the other is pre-school education. People who work in child care, caring and educating preschool children in development and life skills are called 'childcare workers' or' carers'. People who work in preschools or pre primary centres, caring and educating preschool children are called 'teachers'. Why does the care/education dichotomy exist as both interact with young children. The debate, in its simplist form, is presented as follows. First, the child care workers have traditionally undertaken a course of study consisting of two years from a TAFE institution, whereas the teachers have traditionally undertaken a three year - now four year - course of study from a Teachers College or now university. Second, it is suggested that child care workers are taught more applied skills in play and nurturing behaviours whereas teachers are taught curriculum approaches in a range of subject areas that facilitate future academic learning. The latter appears to be given more recognition than the first. Third, the accreditation/recognition of child care workers (in Western Australia) resides with the Department of Community Development whereas for teachers it resides with the Department of Education. Fourth, relates to definitions - of curriculum and of education. Both words are weighted by contextualisation and it has been these particular issues in the debate that appears to has kept alive the care/education dichotomy. The debate still continues in Australia so a course, that ideologically sat somewhere inbetween seemed a way forward. It was within this context that the degree in children studies was created.
The theoretical fr...