Introducing Social Justice Issues to Early Years Practitioners in HE



In her pre-conference post, Anna Colgan is sharing how her findings on white EY practitioners' beliefs led her to reflect on her own practice and programme of studies she delivered. At BECERA, she will explain why attending to early childhood practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs through a “pedagogy of discomfort” is a 21st century imperative.

According to the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (2014, pg.8), undergraduate Early Childhood Studies (ECS) programmes are underpinned by “an anti-bias approach, which considers early childhood as a site for democracy, sustainability and social justice.” This is reflective of current thinking among many early-childhood scholars (see Beneke & Park, 2019; Hyland, 2010; Mistry & Sood, 2013; Pillay, 2018) of the need to equip early-years practitioners (EYPs) with the intellectual and practical tools for working with children who are ethnically, linguistically, culturally and economically different from those in the mainstream (hereafter ‘diverse children’).
However, evidence from research findings on early years practitioners’ (EYPs) beliefs about ethnically, culturally, linguistically diverse and low-income children is unequivocal: EYPs, and in particular white EYPs, often hold negative beliefs about and dissimilar expectations of, diverse children and families, which cause them to treat diverse children in ways that repress their learning and produce self-fulling prophecies (Fives & Gill, 2014; Robertson et al., 2014). If practitioner-educators are to remedy this situation, attending to EYPs’ beliefs and preparing them to develop socially-just teaching practices must be a key consideration in practitioner-training programmes (Guerra & Nelson, 2009; Ukpokodu, 2016).
These findings led me to reflect on my own role as Lecturer and Programme Leader for Early Childhood Degrees at Abingdon and Witney College, and I realised I had failed to confront students who expressed such views towards diverse children and challenge them to examine their own values and beliefs. Indeed, I was not involving EYPs in the process of critical reflection that leads to ‘conscientisation’ or “the liberating process of consciousness‐mobilization that enables critical thinking about how we live and how the world we live in is ordered that […] transforms the person into an ethically conscious citizen.” (Montero, 2011, pg.240). I also recognised that our early childhood courses did not bring to the fore issues of equity and social justice, as they are steeped in outdated models of inclusion that associate equality with sameness and advocate providing remedial measures for those children outside ‘the norm’.
My presentation will report on the findings from a small research study carried out with early years practitioners enrolled on a higher education programme and a BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies Top-Up course. The presentation will explain why attending to early childhood practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs through a “pedagogy of discomfort” is a 21st century imperative. I will set out how our student-practitioners responded to the inclusion of social justice content designed to transform their attitudes towards diverse children and the extent to which they were inspired to challenge the cycles of oppression of race, culture, language and class. I will then outline the implications of my findings for early-years practitioners and their educators.
Anna Colgan is a Programme Leader for Early Childhood Degrees with Abingdon and Witney College and is presenting her research in Symposium 4 (Wed 17th February 12.30 - 2.00pm) . Anna has worked in early years education for over 15 years, is a qualified Montessori teacher and has been teaching adults in higher education since 2005. Her research interests include social justice education, empowering early-years practitioners, children's rights, children's spirituality, and impact of the learning environment on children's learning and development.


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