Government wants under-fives taught to be politically correct
By Susie O'Brien
April 14, 2009 12:00am
- Discrimination lessons for very young
- Tackle reconciliation, exclusion issues
- Divides early learning experts
BABIES, toddlers and preschoolers across the country are set to become political activists under controversial new Federal Government guidelines.
The April 2009 draft Early Years Learning Framework
wants teachers to make under-fives:
* Contribute in a meaningful way to reconciliation, including flying the Aboriginal flag and inviting elders to give talks.
* Use "social inclusion puppets" and "persona dolls" to explore exclusion and ethical issues.
* Challenge and resist bias and discrimination.
* Take action in unfair situations and learn to act when injustice occurs.
* Assess and act on power dynamics as they get older.
The political emphasis of the guidelines has divided early learning experts.
Some, such as leading Melbourne educational consultant Kathy Walker, have questioned the merits of such issues being "rammed down the throats" of two, three and four-year olds.
"Although I welcome the emphasis on play-based learning, there is an air of political correctness about the document overall," she said.
Others, such as Kindergarten Parents Victoria CEO
Meredith Carter, believe it is merely an attempt to "include and welcome all families to join in preschool and kinder".
"It's not as if children will be harmed for life by this focus on difference and commonality," she said.
Under the $700,000 new approach to early childhood education, the goal will be to "promote children's civic participation and nurture socially responsible citizens for a future world," a Federal Government February 2009 briefing paper states.
"The early childhood years are a time when children are developing understandings of community and citizenship and learning about democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizens," it says.
There is also a strong emphasis on caring for the environment and reconciliation.
The briefing paper notes that "such a society values Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as a core part of the nation's history, present and future" and stresses this as a key tenet of early childhood education.
Less controversially, the guidelines also focus strongly on play-based learning, the importance of communication and language, the role of the family in children's lives, and social and emotional development.
But psychologist, author and speaker Evelyn Field questioned the need for role modelling using puppets and dolls, instead preferring teachers "keep it simple through encouraging children to play together".
Melbourne clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller agreed the emphasis should be on children playing and learning through play.
"If we overwhelm children with a sense of broader issues, we could make them anxious and confused," he said.
Welcoming the guidelines, Association for Children with a Disability CEO Elizabeth McGarry said the key was not to highlight negative differences between children, but positively promote diversity.
Community Childcare executive director Barbara Romeril also welcomed the focus on equity and getting children to challenge discrimination and disadvantage.
"Children are already dealing with these issues," she said.
If adopted, the Department of Education guidelines would cover all kinders, childcare centres and other early childhood settings, and would provide the basis for the education and care of all Australian preschoolers.
The guidelines have just been tested in 29 settings, including a range of childcare centres.
Online consultation is still taking place.
They are due to be implemented in July.