“I became we”: Contesting marketized discourses of child-centred practices in early childhood education.

Year: 2021

Author: Shin, Anne-Marie, Sisson, Jamie, Whitington, Victoria

Type of paper: Symposium

The current discourse of child-centred pedagogy and practice has been dominant in early childhood education following an understanding that childhood is a unique period in one’s development. It acknowledges the role of play as important to learning and development as well as children’s rights to feel happy and secure (Hartley, 2009). Informed by Piagetian developmental psychology, child-centred pedagogy places emphasis on children’s individual developmental needs. In western countries like Australia, United States and United Kingdom, the discourse of child-centeredness has been infused with a market discourse of consumerism that places emphasis on the needs and interests of the individual as a marker of quality. Moss (2017) argues for critical examination of dominant discourses, such as these, for how they create false certainties, hide complexities and marginalise alternative ways of thinking and acting, necessary for democratic education. Within the universal assumption of the ‘rightness’ of child centred pedagogy, how do early childhood teachers/educators wrestle with the complexities of honouring the individual while also creating a sense of connection and belonging within a democratic community. These complexities are the focus of this paper.  Early childhood educational settings are well placed to enact democracy through acts of daily living rather than purely as a form of government (Dewey, 1916). This view of democratic education as ‘experienced’ throughout many interconnected practices taking place within a setting, rather than as a topic to be ‘taught about’ in an epistemological way, highlights the importance of examining teacher practices and how they enable or constrain children’s experience of democratic participation. Stories of democratic practice cannot however be told in isolation without engagement with and deconstruction of the policy context which may enable and / or constrain their possibilities (Moss, 2017).  This paper will use a critical, post structural stance to reveal tensions between representations of child-centred discourse and discourse of democratic practice within the Australian National Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards. Second, it will present an Australian early childhood case study of democratic pedagogies within a preschool classroom. This case study will include the perspective of teachers, leaders, children and families and will offer recommendations for future policy and practice.