At Playcentre we continuously strive to provide quality education to our tamariki. However in order to strive to do better, we need to know what better looks like.
In a report recently published by the Early Childhood Education Taskforce (2011), it stated that “Quality in early childhood education encompasses both structures (e.g. adults’ qualifications, group size and ratio of adults to children) and processes (the patterns and interactions that occur between adults and children).” [Page 49]
This report has taken the traditional top-down approach on evaluation quality. While valid, it’s not the only measure of quality. Lillian Katz (1993) suggests there are four possible angles to review the quality of an early childhood education programme:
- A top-down perspective: Looking at quality from an adult perspective.
- A bottom-up perspective: Looking at quality from a tamariki perspective.
- An outside-inside perspective: Asesss how the program is experienced by the families it serves.
- An inside perspective: From this angle we consider how the program is experienced by the staff responsible for it.
TOP DOWN PERSPECTIVE
Most of the literature examines quality by identifying selected characteristics of the setting, equipment, and program as seen by adults. Both The ECE Taskforce report (2011) and the Competent Child Study (2001) took this angle on quality. The Competent Child Study identified the following indicators for quality early childhood education (Wylie,Thompson, & Lythem, 2001):
- Adults are responsive to children.
- Adults join in with children’s play.
- Adults ask children open ended questions.
- Adults guide children in the use of activities.
- The learning environment is print saturated.
- Children are allowed to complete their work.
- Children can select their own activities from a variety of options.
- Children work together and support one another.
BOTTOM UP PERSPECTIVE
In a bottom-up perspective we would try to determine how the programme is experienced by the tamariki. Lillian Katz (2001) suggests we answer the following questions:
- Do I usually feel welcome rather than captured?
- Do I feel that I belong or am I just one of the crowd?
- Do I usually feel accepted, understood, and protected, rather than scolded or neglected, by the adults?
- Am I usually accepted rather than isolated or rejected by the majority of my peers?
- Am I usually addressed seriously and respectfully, rather than as someone who is “precious” or “cute”?
- Do I find most of the activities engaging, absorbing, and challenging rather than just entertaining or exciting?
- Do I find most of the experiences meaningful, rather than frivolous or boring?
- Do I find most of the experiences satisfying rather than frustrating or confusing?
- Am I usually glad to be here, rather than eager to leave?
In a research study in Northern Island Walsh and Gardner evaluated the early years’ classroom from the perspective of the child’s experience (Walsh and Gardner, 2005). A number of key features emerged as indicators of quality learning environments for children:
- Children are actively involved and engaged.
- Children are able to make independent choices.
- Children feel secure.
- Children learn in the company of others.
- Children’s learning is holistic and cover a variety of skills, knowledge and dispositions.
- Children are encouraged to think and develop their own ideas and theories.
A literature review (Walsh and Gardner, 2005) identified nine key themes that would be integral to any high-quality learning environment, and these are summarized by the following keywords:
- social interaction
- multiple skill acquisition
- higher-order thinking skills
At Playcentre the outside-inside and inside perspectives combine as whānau are teachers and teachers are whānau. Two key questions to ask here is ‘who holds the knowledge?’ and ‘how do we operate as a community?’.
Who holds the knowledge?
- Do we have one or two people who hold all the knowledge and it is not shared with others? If that person moves on it will all fall down.
- Do we have a core group of people hold the knowledge? Sometimes they are open to share the knowledge, but often information is not shared?
- Is the knowledge distributed among all adults? Is knowledge freely shared and are efforts made to share information? Are new members inducted efficiently and given appropriate information?
How do we operate as a community?
- Are individuals disconnected from each other? Is everyone doing their own thing?
- Do we have a core group of people who express a sense of community? Is this group sometimes open to include others, but sometimes seen as cliquey? Do we have a sense of insiders and outsiders?
- Do we have a strong sense of community that permeates individual support, decision making, teaching and learning, and beyond? Do we have a strong sense of manaakitanga and whānaungatanga at the centre?
If we consider our practices from these angles, rather than just the adult perspective we can feel confident that we are on our way to provide a good quality learning environment for our tamariki.
ECE Taskforce. (2011), An Agenda for Amazing Children. Final report of the ECE Taskforce. Available at http://www.taskforce.ece.govt.nz/reference-downloads/ Last assesed 26 July 2011.
Katz, L. (1993). Multiple Perspectives on the Quality of Early Childhood Programs. Available http://www.ericdigests.org/1993/multiple.htm Last accessed 21 July 2011
Walsh, G and Gardner, J. (2005). Assessing the Quality of Early Years Learning Environments . Available: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v7n1/walsh.html Last accessed 21 July 2011.
Wylie, C., Thompson, J., & Lythe, C. (2001). Competent Children at 8 – Families, Early Education, and SchoolWellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Available at http://www.nzcer.org.nz/pdfs/13217-competent-children-at-5.pdf Last accessed 21 July 2011.