25 SES 11 A, Children's right to participation - Early Childhood Education
Participatory education supports development of democratic society (Dewey, 1916, McKenna et al., 2015) through giving children opportunity not only to express and fulfill their ideas but also to influence on the decisions about educational process and different aspects of their life (Flutter, 2007; Sheridan, Pramling Samuelsson, 2010). In our research we consider children's influence on decision-making as the main criteria of participation that distinguishes it from "tokenism" and nonparticipation (manipulation, informing etc.) (Arnstein, 1969). Participative teaching and learning changes teacher's position from directive to partner and supports development of collaboration, helps to discuss and take into account different and even opposite interests and needs, creates “the space of child’s realization”, (Sheridan, Pramling Samuelsson, 2001; Veraksa, 2018). Recent research shows that preschool may be the context where children’s rights are recognized and respected (Theobald, Kultti, 2012; Kangas, 2016). And provision for participation in preschool is one of the key aspects of high quality of education and at the same time one of the main challenges for preschool teacher (Siraj-Blatchford, Sylva, 2004; Theobald, Kultti, 2012). Participative interaction between teacher and children is one of the main focus in the field of development of the quality of preschool education. Researchers point out that there is a deficit of real participatory practice for young children and very often participation is distorted and turns into “play in democracy”, children don’t have enough free time and freedom to choose materials, activity and partners and teachers are too directive (McKenna et al., 2015, Shiyan et al, 2018). Problems with the support of participation may be caused by different teacher’s understandings of the concept, lack of competences for dialogue with children and interpretation of their intentions, deficits of cultural tools that can help children of different age to express their needs and ideas (Johansson, Sandberg, 2010, Veraksa, 2018, Church, Bateman, 2019, Manassakis, 2020, Le-van et al., 2020 ). The aim of our research is to study preschool teacher’s beliefs about participation and analyze their interconnections with real practice and environment in russian kindergartens. Key questions are: 1. How do preschool teachers understand the concept of participation and its role in teaching and learning? 2. Do preschool teachers provide conditions for participation in their classrooms? What are the main strenths and deficits of practice?
40 preschool teachers took part in the research. All of them provided voluntary consent for participation and could withdraw at any stage, confidentiality was guaranteed. 27 classrooms were observed (sructured non-participant expert observation, duration of each observation = 3 hours). The design of the study includes 2 stages: structured interviews with preschool teachers, structured observation in classroom. Methods: structured questionnaire, based on earlier pretests and surveys on preschool teacher’s view on children’s learning and participation (Broström et al., 2012), scale for observation of provisions for participation. This scale was elaborated by the authors according to ERSI standards and Vygotskian theory. The scale includes 7 levels of quality: 1 - false participation, unsatisfactory conditions for participation, 3 - minimal conditions for participation, including child's free choice and expression child's voice, 5 - good quality, participatory interaction between teacher and children, including using different cultural tools for scaffolding of participation, 7 - empowerment and extension of children's possibilities to influence decision-making, involving the whole community. Testing in contrast groups and interrater reliability showed sufficient validity of the elaborated scale (differences in means are significant at 0.01, P-value=0.002168, interrater reliability 80%, Me=0.8, sd=1.375). According to the results of observation all the classrooms were divided into 2 clusters: low and high quality. Answers of teachers from each cluster were analyzed quantitively and qualitatively.
Analysis of surveys didn’t show significant differences in preschool teacher’s beliefs about participation. All the teachers ranked participation as very important for child’s learning. Differences between clusters in the quality of provisions for participation are significant (P-value=1.84Е-05). Average score for “low quality” cluster = 2.42 (sd=0.67, md=3, p-confidence interval 2.09-2.75, α=0.01), for “high quality cluster” = 4.67 (sd=0.87, md=4, p-confidence interval 3.70-5.64). Qualitative analysis showed that there are such common aspects between clusters as children pictures with author's names in visual display of classrooms, free choice during free play (but there are differences in duration of free play betweeen clusters: in low quality cluster - mean amount of time for free-pley is about 25 minutes, in high quality cluster- about 1 hour). But teachers from “low quality” in comparison with “high quality” cluster don’t provide children opportunity for free choice and expression of ideas during group time don’t give children feedback about their influence on decision-making. Teachers from “high quality” cluster much more often give children different opportunities to express their opinion, emphasize the importance of child’s ideas and show respect to different points of view. But there are also common deficits for both clusters: extension of children’s possibilities to influence decision - making and spread participation beyond the boarders of the classroom. There were only few classrooms with the score higher than 4, and no classrooms with the score higher than 5 (max. score=7) in the sample. The overall level of provision for participation remains rather low. Results of the study show that there is the gap between teacher’s beliefs about participation, its role in learning and real practice. In-service trainings with teachers and administration including team discussions of the concept of participation and reflection on strengths and deficits of practice with experts can help to shift this gap.
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