10 SES 04 D, Learning to Teach: Classrooms and Differentiation
In a European comparative perspective, Belgium is situated in the middle bracket of child poverty rates. Nevertheless, Belgium follows the European tendency of increasing child poverty. Recent numbers of the OECD show that the amount of Belgian children living below poverty level, increased between 2007 en 2010 from 10 up to 12,8% (OECD, n.d.).
Growing up in poverty has a negative impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). This leads to an educational disadvantage for children from low-SES and immigrant backgrounds starting from their first day at school.
Flemish education has an emancipatory objective aimed at enabling each child to maximally develop its abilities through education, independent of his or her background (Aelterman, 2007). Despite this aim, the socioeconomic inequality and achievement gap in education in Flanders is among the highest of the Western countries (OECD b, 2006).
In other words: social inequality is reproduced in Flemish education. This reproduction starts already in the early years of formal education. Flemish research figures show that children from a disadvantaged background have already in the third year of preschool education, lower scores for language and numeracy skills. A similar pattern is revealed for social competencies, self-esteem and well-being (Poesen-Vandeputte & Nicaise, 2010).
When improving preschool education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the initial training of preschool teachers is a key factor that needs to be addressed. Therefore, the Center for Diversity & Learning (CDL) conducted a research project on the implications of child poverty reduction for teacher training programs (Roose, Pulinx & Van Avermaet, 2014). The main research question was: How can teacher training programs adequately prepare future preschool teachers to cope with child poverty and socio-cultural inequality? The research objective was to detect the necessary competencies for future preschool teachers and to determine how the development of these competencies can be adequately integrated in the curriculum of teacher education.
This paper focuses on the first aspect: What are the necessary competencies graduated preschool teachers should master to adequately provide equal educational opportunities for children from a low SES-background?
To answer this question, a competency framework was elaborated. This framework is based on two principles. The first is that of an integrated special needs policy (Struyf et al., 2013). Hence, each graduated preschool teacher should be able to recognize, acknowledge and cope with child poverty, and not only the so-called ‘special-needs teachers’.
The second principle is that of progressive universalism. A targeting approach is therefore abandoned. So, the necessary competencies to provide equal educational opportunities concern the educational development of all children. Where necessary, additional efforts should be made to empower and support the most vulnerable.
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