07 SES 13 A, Early Childhood Education
Within the European legislative framework (Lisbon Strategy, 2000; Barcelona Objectives, 2013), which aims at providing equal educational opportunities for children aged 0-6, and along with the willingness to implement the Rights of the Child (ONU, 1989), this paper will examine the professional development of early childhood educators in multicultural contexts.
European documents recognize the importance of developing high quality early childhood education and care (ECEC), and identify the promotion of early childcare services as a means of providing children with more equal opportunities, and better future integration into society (European Council, 2017). In a context of a growing number of immigrant children who attend childcare services, the benefit of ECEC for children from low income, immigrant, linguistic minority families are particularly emphasized, as well as the need of promoting the right to cultural and linguistic diversity from early childhood education to support the development of multicultural societies (European Commission, 2018). The Italian Educational Policy accepted these European guidelines (Law 107/2015; Decree 65/2017) in order to overcome the traditional split system between childcare (0-3) and early education (3-6), and implement an integrated system of education and instruction from birth to 6 years of age and, thus, qualify the professionalism of early childhood educators and teachers.
The paper will discuss nursery schools (from 0 to 3 years old children) in this time of transition, by outlining a great variety and discrepancy among types, distribution, and educational guidelines as well as in the presence of children from a range of diverse backgrounds in early childhood educational services on the national territory and also within the same cities (Miur, 2011) – all aspects that not rarely affect the opportunity to collect systematic data and also compare different local, at times intercultural, projects and experiences. Although early childhood educators are considered as critical components of the democratic project, a few and sporadic educational research projects have being developed to investigate 0-3 Italian multicultural services (i.e. Mantovani et alii, 2006; Bolognesi et alii, 2006; Gobbo, 2016) in order to explore the approach of early childhood educators towards diversity.
By critically discussing a wider political ‘discourse’ which often tends to focus on children from different cultural backgrounds in terms of ‘deprivation’ and ‘poverty’, this paper debates the point of view of early childhood educators. Such analysis is carried out by highlighting the meanings, questions and strategies these educators encounter in addressing diversity everyday.
A qualitative research methodology is adopted. An ethnographic research project is being carried out in a municipal nursery school, located in a high-immigrant and controversial suburban district in a city in northern Italy, which started in December 2017 and is still ongoing. The city shows a consolidated presence of immigrants – about 20,3% of the inhabitants – whose children represent the 29,7% of the total child population attending its nursery services. The service of this case study is attended by children between 6 and 36 months of age, who are enrolled in different classes according to different ages, and most of them (92%) are from families of first immigration, especially coming from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Romania and Philippine. I focus my attention on two classes (a babies class 6-12 months and a toddlers class). In order to voice the insiders’ perspectives and the gaining of a ‘thick’ description of educational reality, data is being collected by using participant observation during daily educational activities and projects - for at least two whole days per week, according to ‘a recurrent time mode’. To reach a holistic comprehension of the context, field notes are triangulated with informal conversations with the educational coordinator and Staff and, afterwards, with open interviews with early childhood educators to understand their professional beliefs, values and strategies in dealing with diversity.
Going beyond simplistic but common expectations of nursery schools as ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’ places of encounter, the emerging results show that the mutual understanding between parents, children and educators is not necessarily a given - different ways of considering childhood and care converge in a context that has a proper culture and rules. The paper will reflect on how this changing multicultural context may challenge the professional identity of early childhood educators, by arising intercultural educational dilemmas, which prompt these educators to shift from one position to another, from assimilation to culturalism and from universalism to pluralism. Finally, the paper will discuss which competence educators should improve to develop a critical approach towards assumptions about children in relation to diversity and social justice, and meet the rights of children, in order to promote ‘multicultural citizenship’.
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Bolognesi I., Di Rienzo A., Lorenzini S., Pileri A. 2006. Di Cultura in Culture. Esperienze e percorsi interculturali nei nidi d’infanzia [From Culture to Cultures. Educational experiences and projects within nursery schools]. Milano: Franco Angeli
Council of the European Unioni (20 october 2017). Proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights. Bruxelles
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European Commission (22 May 2018), Council Recommendation On High Quality Early Childhood Education And Care Systems. Bruxelles
Giorgis P. Pescarmona I., Sansoè R., Sartore E., Setti F. (2017), Identity and Diversity: the educational challenge in urban contexts. In G.W. Noblit, W.T. Pink (eds.), Second International Handbook of Urban Education, 2ndEdition, Dordrecht: Springer, part X, pp. 1233-1262.
Gobbo F. 2016. Educational Engagement, Care, and Inclusion: A Narrative about La Giostra, a Nursery School in Florence. In Studia paedagogica, vol. 21, n. 4, 2016, p.117-136
Mantovani S. et alii (2006), Nello stesso nido. Famiglie e bambini stranieri nei servizi educativi [In the same nursery. Foreign families and pupils in earlycare educational services]. Milano: Franco Angeli
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