Young children’s freedom to enact agency for learning in early childhood settings in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Year: 2019

Author: Rajapaksha, Niroshami, R.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Young children’s agency has been an evolving construct in the field of early childhood education (ECE), which has significant educational benefits for children’s well-being, development, and learning and human-rights values. Agency supports children to be attentive and active (Johnston, 2004) and competent and confident learners (Carr & Lee, 2012). The United Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, positions children as having the right to be agents of their lives and to influence what matters to them. Te Whariki (Ministry of Education, 2017), the New Zealand ECE curriculum focuses on equity and respect for children’s rights and responsibilities and offers a framework for competent and confident learners who have agency to create and act in an empowering environment. Empirical evidence, however, is limited regarding how children freely enact agency for learning in such empowering ECE settings. In this presentation, I will describe how young children experience the freedom to be agentive for their own learning and how such agency supports them to be competent and confident learners. The data are drawn from an ethnographic study on children’s agency for learning in ECE settings in Aotearoa New Zealand using a combination of Vygotsky's (1978), Rogoff's (1990, 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008), and Bandura’s (1997, 2000, 2001, 2008) perspectives. I observed and video-recorded young children (2.5-5-years old) individually, in pairs, and in small groups in a kindergarten and an Education and Care centre for a 10-week period. I also interviewed parents and teachers, took children’s photographs of their learning experiences, and collected documents related to their learning. Video-recorded episodes were transcribed where similar episodes were combined as a series of experiences and re-read to identify indicators of their agency for learning. Preliminary findings indicate that changes in children’s agency over time support competent and confident learning depending on the opportunities available in different settings. Children’s agency for learning, which, I argue is beyond their everyday experience of agency, is fueled by the freedom they are given and shaped by the socio-cultural context and their self-efficacy. Implications suggest considerable and continuous concern towards identifying the agentive learning process of children and acknowledging their uniqueness as well as valuing their diversity in a growing diverse society, such as Aotearoa New Zealand.