07 SES 13 A, Early Childhood Education
Over recent years, the status of early childhood education has greatly improved. One significant driver is the “discovery of early childhood as a key phase in autobiographical education acquisition” (Stamm & Edelmann 2013, 11). In this context, the results of the Starting Strong II report (OECD, 2006) led to measures being implemented in many European countries in order to establish “early childhood as the first integrated stage in the education system” (Stamm & Viehhauser 2009, 406). The manifestation and consequence of these efforts include the quantitative expansion of care infrastructure, with children spending more and more time from an increasingly early age in non-familial care contexts; indeed, it is possible to speak of a growing institutionalization of early childhood and a fundamental change in the “interplay of private and public responsibility” (Helm & Schwertfeger 2016, 9) regarding children. Consequently, it has become more important to establish whether early attendance at an extrafamilial care institution has a positive effect on a child’s educational career. Although there are scant studies on the long-term effects of early extrafamilial care on children’s later (educational) careers (ex. in Germany and Austria), research shows that positive effects of early childhood education depend on the quality or rather the interplay of various quality dimensions found in these institutions (cf. Tietze & Viernickel 2016).
In early childhood education, there is comparably little focus on migration-related diversity. Indeed, Diehm (2016, 342) detects a “marginalization of the fact of migration.” Overall, there is little empirical evidence to explain how early educational processes occur in the plurality and heterogeneity of the institutional care context, how early educational processes are constituted between the individual and social group and what role the approach to difference (as one aspect of migration-related plurality), as well as constructions of difference, plays on the part of the professionals. It can be assumed that the (professional) approach to difference occurs “at the intersection of two conflicting demands” (Betz & Bischoff 2017, 114): on the one hand, professionals face the challenge of factoring in heterogeneity so that cultural, religious, ethnic-national or linguistic differences as well as associated aspects for identity creation can be addressed and children (and parents) can feel that their individuality – which may also include aspects of culture, religion, language and ethnic-national background – has been acknowledged (cf. Siraj-Blatchford 2010). According to a “Pedagogy of diversity” (cf. Prengel 2006), professionals are obliged to treat children (and their parents) “equally” by acknowledging their “difference”; in other words, they should not negate, taboo or minimize their difference. On the other hand, this necessarily implies consolidating differences, which can itself lead to individuality being denied; this does not honour the principle of equality. In brief: acknowledging differences in this way risks reinforcing stereotypes and generalizations of difference and hence confirming structures of inequality, which are embedded in and/or reproduce (power) discourses in society as a whole (cf. Mecheril 2016). Processes of differentiation and the pedagogical approach to differences thus produced are therefore linked in everyday practice to the requirement to strike a balance between these two poles (cf. Betz & Bischoff 2017, 114f.). To do so, professionals need a self-reflective approach to their own (socio-)culturally and biographically influenced value and reference systems, since such notions explicitly and implicitly influence pedagogical actions – also in terms of how professionals deal with heterogeneity.
However, the empirical findings on these issues are minimal. There is a particular lack of studies that spotlight the deep dimension of educational attitudes and actions and hence also focus on the (subconscious/implicit) subject logics of the actors who have a significant influence on practical actions (cf. Cloos 2016).
After a short introduction to the topic (I), this contribution presents research into attitudes and practices regarding heterogeneity/plurality, focusing particularly on religion and religious diversity, in Viennese day-care centres (cf. Hover-Reisner et al. 2018) (II): First, the multi-perspective and multi-method research design is presented: a (quantitative) questionnaire was carried out at all Viennese kindergartens, which on the one hand yielded data on the structure of the field (professionals’ training, languages and religious orientations of children and professionals, etc.). On the other hand, the questionnaire’s analysis provided a sample for the qualitative part of the study, in the context of which observations in select institutions and group discussions with professionals were conducted. For the participatory observations (in a total of eight selected institutions), the research was led by how plurality is construed and lived in educational practice. The observational data was analysed using Grounded Theory (cf. Strauss & Corbin1999). Furthermore, four group discussions were conducted with professionals from institutions with different confessional (Muslim and Christian) and non-confessional orientations. The group discussions aimed to render empirically accessible milieu- and occupation-specific orientations (in the sense of habitual orientation) as well as virulent feelings that might be socially marginalized or tabooed. The transcribed group discussions were analysed with the help of depth-hermeneutic text interpretation (cf. Leihäuser &Volmerg 1979). After describing the study’s methodological approach, there is an account of some of its key results: (1) identified/documented structures as well as processes of exclusion are presented, which are revealed especially in the area of collaboration with parents, but also in the approach to linguistic and religious diversity. (2) In accordance with a cross-section issue, the investigation shows just how challenging professionals experience/describe educational practice to be in terms of dealing with (religious) diversity. (3) The aforementioned exclusion practices can be understood firstly as a manifestation and consequence of this, while secondly the study clarifies that professionals can draw on only limited specialized knowledge of this subject area. Moreover, the results of the study show that the professional skills of understanding oneself and others are hardly developed. In addition, it must be noted that there is only minimal awareness among professionals of those social discourse practices that influence educational practice and can manifest themselves as structures of inequality. The paper closes with some thoughts on consequences for educational practice as well as for the field of training and further education (Conclusion) (III).
In general, the project indicates that professionals succeed to an insufficient degree in conceptualizing and arranging everyday life in kindergartens such that plurality is given space and children are encouraged to develop plurality competence. The interaction of several aspects should be considered here: As a result of their current level of training, professionals are arguably inadequately prepared for the heterogeneous field of early childhood education. Thus, neither a specialized theoretical nor a reflexive examination of aspects of diversity is currently anchored in the curriculum and reflexive spaces in which skills of reflexive perception of the self and others could be taught are either lacking or are too limited. To this extent it can be assumed that professionals in the context diversity have reached the limits of their educational ability and knowledge. Furthermore, professionals’ actions and habitual orientations are also always embedded in institutional conditions and dynamics that themselves can be part of pan-social discourses. In combination with the abovementioned insecurities associated with heterogeneity, this can be linked to threatening feelings: feelings that are suppressed in order to regulate affects, to “then subconsciously delegate [them] and idealize, despise, oppose them in the other” (Prengel 2006, 189). In professional contexts, this is connected to the danger of not fulfilling the primary task (caring for and supporting children). The challenges presented by (religious) diversity are therefore highly complex. This generally raises the question of how the subject can be integrated into training and further education curricula and in what way which reflexive spaces should be structurally implemented in order to establish professional forms of reflexion.
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