A New Debate About Children and Childhood. Could it Make a Difference to Early Childhood Pedagogy and Policy?
The study analyses constructions of childhood within early childhood education pedagogy and policy in New Zealand. Constructions are evaluated against criteria for an education based on a concept of the "child as citizen" and children's rights. Qualitative research methods were used. Constructions of childhood in pedagogy were examined through analysis of pedagogical documentation and discussions of teachers who met together over a year within a teachers' network. The teachers' aims were to base their practice on notions of the "child as citizen" and extend their thinking and practice from this basis. Constructions of childhood in policy were studied within two arenas: focus groups of government officials and representatives of early childhood organisations who met to discuss key issues in early childhood education policy; and early childhood education policy documents and commentary produced during the period 2000-2007. The analytic approach enabled an evaluation to be made of how children were represented within policy and practice, and the implications of constructions of childhood which would lead to democratic citizenship. Constructions of childhood were found to be dominant influences on thinking about early childhood pedagogy and policy, and were associated with views about the purposes and breadth of early childhood education; the roles of teachers, children, families, community and the government; and favoured pedagogical and policy approaches. I argued that organisational cultures exert a pervasive influence on participants' assumptions and values. Three main areas where policy could be developed to better support democratic citizenship were identified. First, citizenry rights should be established as a predominant goal for policy as it is for pedagogy. Where policy and pedagogical goals are integrated, both can work together to reinforce each other. One contention is that the process of making meaning of beliefs and critiquing them within collective forums can enable participants to contemplate what the child as citizen means conceptually and in practice and policy, and in this way incorporate the beliefs into the ways children are treated in these domains. Secondly, I argued for inquiry into the nature of early childhood education provision that we want in New Zealand society and within communities. Institutional thinking can raise barriers to envisaging new forms of provision that cater well for all children, and contribute to a wide range of outcomes, including dispositions for participating in a democratic society, support for families, social cohesiveness and community building. A third challenge is for policy frameworks to support teaching and learning. Action research approaches with support from a professional development adviser were shown to enable teachers to explore the value base of their pedagogy and experiment with change. Although such approaches are being supported by some Ministry of Education initiatives in New Zealand, working conditions are not conducive to these approaches in many early childhood settings. I have argued that structures are needed to support debate in pedagogy and policy and enable all parties, including parents, to participate in it. A new debate could enable different voices to be heard and new possibilities constructed for early childhood services as sites for building a democratic society.