Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 3

Play-based and Child-centered Pedagogy

Chapter 3 is focused more closely on this policy shift from a traditional approach to a play-based and child-centered pedagogy. The chapter begins with the definition of a “child-centered” pedagogy as constructed within the progressive education framework in the “west”. It further includes a description and discussion of where, how and to what extent the policy changes in Asia are/are not being reflected in local classroom practices with regard to teachers’ perceptions on play, the classroom environments, and curriculum planning.

Passages from Chapter 3 (pages 22-24):

"...Within the western discourse of play in early childhood education, however, there seems to be some consensus on very fundamental characteristics of play such as: play is incompletely functional and the actions involved do not contribute to a goal; play is spontaneous, rewarding or voluntary; it has a repetitive quality; it can be fragmented and exaggerated; it is initiated in the absence of acute stress; and there is a preference for performance over outcomes (Burghardt, 2011; Smith, 2010). But with national debates focusing so intently on play-based pedagogies there is no doubt that early childhood educators world over feel the intense pressure to justify that play is learning, and activities done in the classrooms are characterized and labeled as learning through play.

            The above ideas that accompany the conceptualization of a child-centered and play-based pedagogy are, nevertheless, still challenged in their actual implementation in the classrooms of most schools in the developing world. The practical application of child-centered approaches is consistently challenged by the difficult ground realities of classrooms...

• cultural incursions that occur due to conflicting worldviews;

• political contexts that do not support the democratic essence of learner-centered education,

• inadequate space available in schools and classrooms;

• inadequate basic health care and nutrition available to all children;

• scarcity of basic supplies in schools and classrooms such as furniture, running water, electricity and sanitation facilities;

• inadequate classroom resources including learning materials, time and space;

• teachers who have inadequately, or never, been trained in the pedagogy of play and child-centered approaches, and who are unable to make classroom decisions on a regular basis with regard to the use of classroom materials and the use of classroom time.

• teachers who have been inadequately trained and equipped with the tools and time to document children’s voices/experiences to create assessment portfolios which are key to assess individual children in a learner-centered classroom. Assessment techniques recommended in the “western” discourse of child-centered education include capturing moments of children’s play and work using tools like cameras, camcorders, anecdotal reports, and observations of children in centers like the block area, book corner, writing center, dramatic play, art center;

• large class sizes which do not support the one-on-one teacher child instruction that is central to learner-centered pedagogy, children in classrooms of 40-60  cannot voluntarily engage with activities related to their interests;

• children who do not start school equipped with decision-making skills that are essential to successfully navigating a child-centered and choice-based classroom, and are unfamiliar with making choices with regard to their engagement with classroom life

...The last two items on this list are, perhaps the most challenging in terms of cultural differences and reflect on the fundamental nature of the Asian worldview regarding the child-adult relationship: first, there is generally, a longer dependency period and a more extended child-adult continuity within Asian families; and second, the right to choose according to one’s own interest is based on an individual-orientation worldview, whereas general childrearing practices in Asia are based on a group-orientation worldview.

Tobin et al (2009) demonstrate that schools in urban China have embraced an emphasis on dramatic and imaginative play in the early childhood curriculum because the stakeholders there are now viewing imagination and creativity to be the prerequisite skills for later success in entrepreneurship. But here too, as is to be expected, the full implementation of this pedagogy is challenged by factors such as teachers’ own inexperience in play and play methods; and parents’ expectations for skill mastery in playing musical instruments, writing Chinese characters, and knowing how to use the abacus to solve math problems (Vong, 2012)..."