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Pre-school must have educational focus, says UK early learning expert

Media release 3 minute read

For immediate release 24 March 2009
Pre-school must have educational focus, says UK early learning expert

Early childhood learning and school systems should promote young children’s cognitive as well as social and emotional development and focus on improving transitions for young children, UK early childhood learning expert Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford will tell educators in a series of seminars for the Australian Council for Educational Research in March and April.

“Young children are learning all the time, and however implicit or hidden it may be, the content of this learning – the curriculum – is determined by the adults who care for them,” says Siraj-Blatchford, who is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of London and President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education.

“The notion of a totally free play environment in pre-school is a myth, but this does not mean that teaching and learning should be formal, it should be ‘playful’,” she says. “Pedagogy and curriculum are two sides of the same coin, and every learning episode has both. Staff require good training in order to undertake this important work with very young children.”

Approaches to early childhood learning have tended to distinguish between ‘care’ and ‘education’, a view Professor Siraj-Blatchford describes as ‘erroneous’.

“Social pedagogy in kindergarten must be reconciled with emerging demands for school readiness in order to enhance social justice.”

Professor Siraj-Blatchford’s research shows that effective early childhood education must include a strong educational focus, and that practitioners must have strong curriculum knowledge as well as knowledge of how young children learn within their social-cultural context.

The research found that children who attend an effective and higher quality pre-school have significantly better outcomes in mathematics and reading at the end of primary school than those who attend a low-quality pre-school or stay at home.

“There is evidence of a continuing positive effect of attending effective pre-school on children’s subsequent outcomes,” says Professor Siraj-Blatchford.

“We know that children’s reading at 10 is partly predicated on their vocabulary at three. Effective pre-school is vital, especially for disadvantaged children who might not always have a rich early learning environment at home. Working with parents is vital”

These findings have contributed to the development of England’s national Early Years Foundation Stage, a statutory framework for the early learning and care of children from birth to five. Australia’s federal government is currently trialling its own Early Years Learning Framework.

Professor Siraj-Blatchford will speak at early learning state conferences to be held by the Australian Council for Educational Research, together with Early Childhood Australia and Gowrie Victoria and Gowrie NSW, in Sydney on 26 March and Melbourne on 2 April.


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