Tuesday, 16 July 2013

What is a curriculum?

Because of the growing awareness of the importance of early years, countries around the world have constructed and developed curriculum framework documents  for their early childhood education sector. New Zealand published its national curriculum, Te Whariki, in 1996. Recently, I moved to Melbourne, Australia. The national curriculum is the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), which seems to be quite similar to the New Zealand's, which prompts me to investigate further...

While researchers tend to study the curriculum documents of their own country, a cross country comparative research on curricula has the potential for strengthening the international knowledge base on the early years. I believe, this kind of study enhances our understanding of the contexts in which children learn; and we are able to learn from each other's curriculum and teaching practices.

In New Zealand, the curriculum is defined in terms of learning. Te Whariki uses the term curriculum "to describe the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children's learning and development."

Unpacking it, "the sum total of experiences, activities, and events whether direct or indirect" reflects what actually happens in a quality centre, where teachers do more than setting up a variety of activities and events to engage children and extend their interests, the teachers  also make sure that children experience an environment which values, empower them and their family. 

Just share a little story here...

A nearly five year-old child, Victor, who usually preferred to stay inside to draw and write "suddenly" showed enthusiasm about the outdoor play one day. He asked a teacher to watch him while he climbed up the ladder to the top of the biggest box. And then, he cautiously walked across the wood plank. He walked sideways, showing coordination and balance. Probably, he was safety conscious?  When he came to the end of the wood plank, Victor made a leap for the soft mat and landed firmly on his feet.
Victor looked happy enough. 

Noting that Victor was surely gaining confidence and competence in his physical abilities, the teacher documented the story and invited the mother to comment on it, prompting her by asking her whether Victor has been more active at home too? The mother felt welcomed to contribute and she revealed that the Dad had come back and took Victor out, complaining that he had been doing wild things and was spoilt with a new pair of sports shoes. The parents were separated, and we understood that learning how to read and write was her aspiration for Victor. To extend the child's emerging strength and confidence in physical play, we invited him to join us when setting up the outdoor equipments, giving him an opportunity to set himself challenges. At the same time, we set up art easels, white boards and writing materials outside, The interests in write/draw and physical play are not in conflict at all. Also, Victor has been shooting up lately, he might be exploring and discovering what his growing body was able to do. This is an example of how children grow holistically. Afterwards, Victor participated in a foot race and passionately recorded who came first on a whiteboard, applying his literacy, numeracy and physical skills.

Regarding "designed to foster children's learning and development", Te whariki acknowledges the socio-cultural and ecological models of learning. So, learning encompasses skills, knowledge and dispositions. It's also about extending children beyond their current level of ability, as inspired by Vygotsky's concept of zone of proximal development (ZPD). Furthermore, the Curriculum reflects the holistic way children grow, acknowledging that "cognitive, social, cultural, physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of human development are integrally interwoven". In practice, the teachers are obliged to plan beyond the essential skills required for schooling.

Similarly, in the Australian framework, the term 'curriculum' means " all the interactions, experiences, activities, routines and events, planned and unplanned, that occur in an environment designed to foster children's learning and development," as adapted from Te Whariki.

The EYLF also affirms that all aspects of learning are interwoven and interrelated, and specifically, they include "physical, social, emotional, personal, spiritual, creative, cognitive and linguistic" aspects of development. Interestingly, while the Australian Framework specifies  'respect for diversity' and " high expectations and equity" as its principles, it doesn't include the "cultural" dimension of human development. Probably, because of the cultural heritages of both Maori and European, New Zealand sees the importance of everyone to learn and develop their understanding of its dual cultures?

While New Zealand and Australia are neighbours, the social, cultural and historical contexts are not the same, Will I find more differences in the two curricula when I keep reading?

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