K. And the U.S. can both learn from these emerging nations and their dedication to improving the lives of their children.
Brazil, for example, leads the E-9 countries in per-capita expenditures for young children (Levin 2005, p. 198). China has committed to the universalization of preschool education (children ages 3-6) in urban areas by 2015, to increasing enrollment in one-year programs in rural areas, and increasing overall enrollment in preschool education. India has likewise committed to improved programs and access for its 3- to 6-year-olds, but has not established a timeframe in which to accomplish its goal. Indonesia has no standardized a preschool program, although there is a curriculum for public kindergartens. Schooling for preschoolers tends to emphasize creativity and good hygiene, and strongly support informal playgroups and parent education (Levine 2005, p. 199). In many ways, these programs do not compare with programs in the U.K. And the U.S. For many children in emerging nations, the focus of early childhood is survival. Development of programs that provide education and enrichment for cognitive and social aspects of the child, for example, are less urgent than reducing infant and child mortality. Basics of nutrition and hygiene are important, education of parents is important and many of these cultures also demand that religious education be part of the programs as well, as is the case with many Muslim schools, for instance, in Indonesia (Levine 2005, p. 200). However, where the merging nations are ahead of U.K. And the U.S. is in their commitment to ECE and the apparent willingness to fund sustained efforts that will truly make a difference.
Davis (2010, p. 286) argues that there is so much controversy about programs and implementation in the U.K. because of long-standing philosophical traditions about the period of time in a child's life from infancy to age seven, the so-called "age of reason." Earlier models of ECE were framed largely from the aristocratic perspective, in which "relatively distant parental figures have outsourced their educational and emotional responsibilities to a range of professional nurses, tutors and mentors " (Davis, 2010, p. 286). Although this has not been as true in the United States, given the nation's shorter history and heightened efforts, particularly in the last fifty years, to make programs and access more equitable, it does remain true that both the U.S. And the U.K. must redouble their efforts to bring quality ECE to their nations' children.
One of the issues at the heart of quality ECE programs is the debate between pedagogical traditions, which tend to focus on developmentally-oriented practices, and the curriculum-based structure of primary school (Walsh, McGuinness, Sproule & Trew 2010, p. 53). Researchers in Northern Ireland found evidence to support the first approach, yet note that teacher education and in-service professional development have yet to fully embrace this shift in focus.
Hegde and Cassidy (2009, p. 846) cited research on U.S. programs that correlated stringent program regulations, consistently enforced, with better-quality ECE programs. It makes sense. Bracken and Crawford (2010, p. 421) explored the development and implementation of early childhood educational standards, particularly with regard to the inclusion of basic concepts into state standards throughout the U.S. They cited the importance of ensuring that all children acquire foundations in language arts necessary to "explore, comprehend, and discuss topical concepts in all content areas if they are to succeed academically" (Bracken and Crawford 2010, p. 422). It is especially true for children with special needs and those from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds where languages other than English are spoken in the home. As the U.K.'s population becomes more ethnically diverse, standardized curriculum building foundations in language arts will be essential there as well.
Feldman (2010, p. 233) argues that early learning standards can be universally incorporated using state benchmarks as an umbrella structure to support curricular planning. Feldman asserts that benchmarks have a hierarchical structure permitting educators to think about benchmarks "as embedded within educational goals, spanning different age-ranges, and involving activity across multiple domains of child development." In this way, educators can identify benchmarks for particular activities and assess whether the activities are age and/or developmentally appropriate. These ideas are new and, as of the writing of this paper, untested. It seems like a solution that would satisfy members of opposite camps. The standards-based curriculum would satisfy those who are calling for standardization across ECE curricula while meeting the requirements of others who maintain that local and state agencies should have control over content and delivery methods to best meet the needs of their young students.
Early childhood education programs around the world have proven to be effective in enhancing the cognitive, emotional, social and physical development of children. Although there remains some debate, particularly in the U.S., that children fare better under total parental care in the early years, there are no longitudinal studies that support this claim. There are too many variables, from parents' educational, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to the myriad variables inherent in the ECE system, including program responses to diverse needs of different populations. Experts agree that children benefit from quality ECE programs; the challenge is to bring such programs into existence and ensure their sustainability.
Neuman (2005, p. 189) points out that, unlike K-12 schooling, early childhood education is characterized by delivery in diverse settings, including community-based organizations, homes, schools, and centers, both for-profit and non-profit. The goal -- and the challenge -- is how to govern and coordinate ECE to make programs most effective for young children and their families.
It is impossible to reach a national, much less global, consensus on what is best for children with respect to their early education. Different sub-populations have different needs. Best practices are those that help children learn, develop and grow so they can mature into productive members of society. There is no simple answer. As a start, Bertram and Pascal (2002, p. i) suggest a number of key issues that warrant future study. Their work in the U.K. mirrors what is needed in the U.S. As well and includes a call for national curriculum frameworks, improved pedagogy for early childhood education, improved assessment strategies, more effective partnerships between educators and parents, and the achievement of universal access and equal opportunities for children in ECE settings.
As has been stated and as has been demonstrated by emerging nations' commitment to ECE, all countries must make strong, consistent and sustained efforts with respect to the needs of their children. The future depends on it.
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