The quality of education in Pacific early childhood services
The quality of education in Pacific early childhood services The early childhood education sector includes many different philosophies and approaches to providing education and care for young children.
All ERO education reviews in the early childhood sector focus on the quality of education. For ERO this includes the quality of:
- the programme provided for children;
- the learning environment; and
- the interactions between children and adults.
In this review, ERO based its introductory statements and findings about the philosophy, programme, learning environment and interactions on evaluation indicators produced by ERO,6 and signposts and explanations of the Desirable Objectives and Practices (DOPs) produced by the Ministry of Education.7
The philosophy of each service expresses the fundamental beliefs, values and ideals by which the service chooses to operate. Each chartered 8 service must have a written statement of philosophy. This statement provides the basis for decisions by management and should be reflected in the services‟practice.
How was the philosophy expressed in Pacific early childhood services?
- The uniting aspect of the philosophies of the Pacific early childhood services was their strong emphasis on Pacific language, culture and traditions. In 14 services cultural identity was expressed through skilful modelling of language structures, extending children‟ vocabulary and the expectation that children would respond in the Pacific language. In 10 services, adults did not use the Pacific language often or well enough for children to develop fluency.
- Education Review Office The Quality of Education and Care August 2007 in Pacific Early Childhood Services 6 significant strength of five services. The philosophy of eight services, of which five were Cook Island Māori, did not demonstrate any links to a religious faith.
- Pacific early childhood service philosophies promoted family and community relationships, valued each child for his or her uniqueness, treated them with respect and without judgement. The influence of the principles of the early childhood curriculum - Te Whāriki (1996),9 the importance of children learning through play, a clear commitment to biculturalism, and the use of New Zealand Māori language, were part of the philosophy of some services and were evident in practice.
- ERO found that practice and philosophy were aligned to each other in 13 services. In 15 services, practice was inconsistent with philosophy, or the philosophy needed review. Usually this was because much less Pacific language was spoken than would be expected from the written philosophy. As a result of external or self review, some services had adjusted their philosophy, while others had worked to raise expectations for language use by teachers and children.
- Although services generally had a vision for high quality early childhood education, the development of strategic plans to achieve this was less evident.
An example of the expression of philosophy in a Tongan early childhood service, from an ERO review:
The centre was established to offer families an opportunity to involve their children in early childhood education provided in the context of Tongan language and culture. The concept of ‘fakatouato’, to be bilingual and bicultural, and to acquire knowledge and skills in two spheres, is the foundation of the centre’s philosophy.
The environment and programme strongly reflect Tongan language, protocols and customs. Displays and gardens with Pacific themes and plantings are special features of the centre.
The licensee’s philosophy and vision for the centre are shared by staff and parents. Practices have contributed to a sense of stability and distinct family atmosphere, and have helped to maintain effective community links.
High quality programmes in early childhood services promote and extend the learning and development of each child through focusing on their strengths and interests. Effective planning, assessment and evaluation processes help teachers to provide high quality programmes. Parents and teachers use assessment information to identify and value children‟ learning.
In early childhood education, literacy and numeracy concepts and understanding are developed through meaningful, real, learning situations. High quality programmes promote bicultural outcomes for children through acknowledging and supporting Māori language and customs, and the cultures and ethnicities of all children attending the service.
High quality learning environments are responsive to the learning interests and strengths of the children attending. In these environments, children select learning resources and make choices about what they want to do, in a culturally relevant setting that stimulates their curiosity to explore and learn. Good design for children‟s physical activity is particularly important where children spend much of their day at the service.
What was the quality of the learning environments?
- The learning environments in about one fifth of the Pacific early childhood services in this study were of good quality. These services were well appointed, attractively set up, effectively resourced and celebrated the cultural heritage of their community through enriching displays of artefacts and images. In addition, some services had well-maintained, high quality teaching and learning resources that were easily accessible to children. Displays on the walls included photographs of children engaged in ongoing learning projects. Such environments supported sustained, complex play and learning.
- Eleven of the 46 Pacific early childhood services that enrolled infants and toddlers had well organised spaces where younger children could play separately from older ones. Teachers in these services allowed the younger children to choose whether they remained in this area, or mixed with older children. Only one service had good quality, appropriate learning resources for children under two. These environments suited the ages and learning stages of the children attending.
- The layout of beds and bedding for sleep rooms, and the supervision and monitoring of sleeping children did not meet Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998 in half of the services. Concerns included: spacing of beds; making regular checks; maintaining good records; provision of individual beds; separate storage of linen and use of waterproof mattress covers. One service used an unflued gas heater in an unventilated sleep room. Three services allowed infants to have fluids to drink in bed. These practices did not provide a safe, hygienic environment for children‟s restful sleep.
- Where children could use a wide range of appropriate equipment, materials and other learning resources, they engaged in sustained, focused play. Although a quarter of the services were well resourced, a similar number were not. Many services lacked resources in particular areas of the curriculum restricting the teaching and learning opportunities available. For example, where services lacked science and carpentry material, teachers found it difficult to introduce concepts of science and technology. In 10 services children could make choices about their play, and access materials and equipment independently. In another 10 services children‟s choice was restricted.
- The lack of good quality teaching and learning resources, and appropriate systems to store and care for them, had a significant negative impact on children‟s learning. In services that lacked sufficient materials and equipment children developed boisterous, noisy play, and lacked opportunities for uninterrupted, complex play. In six services, the staff did not model or reinforce basic practices for caring for equipment.
- Teachers in some services made strong efforts to share the learning programme and service philosophy with parents. Noticeboards were used well to display information for parents. Services had displays that showed their commitment to biculturalism, including photographic displays showing children at the service and colourful displays of individual children‟s work. These features helped communicate the vision and philosophy of the service to parent and visitors.
An example of good practice in a Pacific early childhood service, from an ERO report:
The learning environment is attractive and inviting. The tone is welcoming and homely. The learning environment is very well resourced and strongly reflects the multicultural nature of the centre and community. Displays and artefacts reflect Māori and Pacific culture and Christian values.
Resources are carefully presented, of good quality and are readily accessed by children. An attractive, highly interactive natural science area is a feature of the centre. The spacious outside area is effectively supervised and set up to provide children with a variety of interesting experiences.
Children’s physical development is promoted through the good provision of challenging activities requiring gross motor skills, hand eye coordination and teamwork. Children benefit from long periods of uninterrupted play and move purposefully between play areas and activities. Their opportunities to play and explore are well supported.
In a high quality early childhood service, adults respond to children with warmth and affection, and promptly comfort and reassure children. Adults working with infants and toddlers respond to children‟s verbal and non-verbal communication, and give careful explanations. Conversations between children and adults encourage and extend thinking and learning. Children are confident in their interactions with others. They engage adults in conversation, and meet expectations for respectful, helpful and cooperative behaviour.
What was the quality of the interactions in Pacific ece services?
- Interactions in Pacific services were characteristically warm and caring. Staff members were both positive and enthusiastic, and nurturing and respectful as they worked with children. Where interactions were more effective, adults listened carefully and had learning conversations with children. In 14 services, children were settled, busy and engaged in sustained play. Children were positive and confident, and enjoyed relationships and conversations with others.
- Some services had effective practices for managing children‟s behaviour. In 13 services, adults worked alongside children, teaching them about friendship and negotiation. In these services, teachers valued play strongly and encouraged children to make choices. In nine services, older children accepted responsibility for supporting and encouraging younger peers. However, in 11 services, adults appeared unaware of inappropriate behaviour and did not actively help children to learn about negotiation and being part of a group. Where behaviour management practices were effective, children knew adults‟ expectations for behaviour, and staff provided positive guidance.
- In six services, the quality of interaction between adults and infants and toddlers was high. Adults were warm, sensitive and encouraging. In some of these services, high quality interactions were also evident between older children, and infants and toddlers.
- Although teachers facilitated children‟s thinking in some services, this needed to be improved about half of the services. In these services children had limited support to explore ideas, to think and reason, and develop theories about their world.
- Children engaged in self-directed dramatic play in eight services. However, in 17 services, children‟s play was simple, with little dramatic, imaginative or other forms of complex play. When teachers do not facilitate and enrich children‟s thinking, opportunities to promote creative and critical thinking are lost.
An example of good practice in a Pacific early childhood service, from an ERO report:
High levels of interaction show the growing richness of children’s Samoan language, the development of which is sensitively and skilfully supported by teachers. Children express their ideas and feelings clearly, confidently approach adults for assistance, play together cooperatively and sustain reciprocal conversations with adults and each other.
Interactions between children are often caring and mainly positive. Adults’ interactions with children and each other are positive, respectful and encouraging. Adults engage with children in meaningful conversations that are relevant to home and community experiences and are about familiar subjects. Teachers foster children’s learning through reflective listening and the use of open-ended questions that prompt children to extend their independent thinking and reasoning abilities and to find solutions to problems. They often build on children’s prior knowledge through in-depth discussion and encourage them to extend their own ideas.
These practices support the development of children’s language and vocabulary and provide a sound foundation for literacy learning. As a result, children are capable, confident communicators.