This page discusses some of the current equity issues at play in early childhood education and the ways that using technology to create global learning experiences can help address some of these issues. Each issue is listed in green below and an example of the equity issue is listed in orange.
With raised consciousness and a determination to expose injustice, early childhood teachers can begin to create a more equitable society by teaching its youngest members to be advocates for justice.
~Nora E. Hyland
- A Global Education
- Equity vs. Equality
- Multiculturalism & Diversity
- Children’s Identities
- Culturally Relevant Teaching
- Critical Pedagogy
- The Influence of Technology
Why is Global Important? Next Equity Issue
Our world is becoming both increasingly diverse and increasingly connected, which means that children will need new skill sets in order to communicate and collaborate and to work and play together. Early childhood classrooms in the United States today often have children who speak many different languages (Nemeth, 2009) and who are part of numerous different cultures. Instead of just accepting this diversity in demographics, I believe that we should utilize it as an opportunity to engage young children in an ongoing exploration of the world. By creating global learning experiences¹, early childhood teachers have the ability to expose children to concepts of diversity, multiculturalism, and multilingualism at an early age. This type of early exposure can make issues of equity and equality, as well as global understanding, accessible and relevant to children and hopefully less of a struggle to understand and practice as they grow into adults (Hyland, 2010).
The topics discussed below are classroom components or teaching practices that teachers of socially just classrooms aspire to practice. In fact, they are also part of the pedagogy behind and support for global learning experiences. For example, a classroom that is using a digital presentation tool to connect with another classroom may be engaging in a global learning experience, but that experience will be more meaningful for the children if it is scaffolded with ideas of multiculturalism and culturally relevant pedagogy. Then, the technology becomes more than just a tool to cross geographical barriers, it becomes a tool to build new cultural bridges and engage in discussions of social justice. Likewise, by creating global learning experiences in the classroom, teachers can more easily create socially just classrooms because children will be exposed to new languages, cultures, and ways of thinking and doing which may contrast with their own and open up new avenues for discussion around equity and social change.
Educators Use Voicethread to Share the Impact of Participating in Global Learning Communities
A Discussion of Equity (or Equality?) Next Equity Issue
When thinking about education, in theory, many people would argue that they want everyone to have an equal schooling experience, with access to similar teachers and schools. Likewise, some people may promote the idea that every child and her or his home cultures and languages should be equally valued in an early childhood classroom (and all classrooms). The idea is that by making everything equal, they will also be equitable.
Yet, it is truly possible for a child’s education to be both equal to everyone else’s and equitable? There are inherent contradictions in the idea of providing an equal or identical education to all children and to valuing every child’s home culture and language. It is impossible due to the individualization needed to meet the needs of different children. The vignette below from a primary school in Norway will examine this in more detail:
One teacher told me about her experiences of teaching a controversial subject: Christianity, Religion and Human Ethics. Muslim parents at the school had been active in their resistance against the legislation that followed the presentation of the 1997 Norwegian curriculum for schools, which included this. This curriculum no longer allowed children to take an alternate subject. Following new legislation, children had to be present during the lesson unless parents came and took their child out of class. This created situations where children were instructed at home by their parents not to attend the class.
“A critical question here is: What is involved for a child in a situation where the school and parents demand totally opposite behaviors in important and sensitive matters about different cultural norms and values?” (Rhedding-Jones, 2010, p.79).
As discussed above, schools and schooling have a strong impact on how a child comes to see the world. Therefore, many parents feel concern that by sending their child to school, where a push for equality (the absence of differences (Secada, 1989)) might enforce singular ideas about cultural practices, holidays, and linguistic preferences, their child will lose their native identities. This concern is supported by Amy Gutmann’s writings on the “Family State” where the governing body takes full control over deciding how to define “the good life” and how to school children so that they achieve this, regardless of parental preferences. In essence, in an effort to make everything equal, the existing cultural practices and accepted social norms become privileged above others practices.
For this reason, equality is not always equitable. As Secada (1989) defines it, equity “refers to our judgements about whether or not a given state of affairs is just” and therefore educational equity is “a check on the justice of specific actions that are carried out within the educational arena and the arrangements that result from those actions” (pp. 68-69). Secada goes on to support the idea that equal does not mean equitable by stating that “the relationships of educational equity to equality of education is problematic.” Instead, of pushing solely for equality it would be more socially just to differentiate classrooms instruction and schooling practices to ensure the inclusion of every child and the integration of various global cultures, languages, and perspectives. As Gutmann (1999) discusses, to provide a “democratic education” to children, schooling must be non-oppressive, non-discriminatory, and involve participatory decision-making. To be equitable, learning and learning contexts need to be responsive to individual children’s needs instead of equalizing based on the preferences of a larger social majority. Global learning experiences can help facilitate this individualization by valuing diverse cultures and exposing children to a range of cultural and schooling practices instead of allowing existing school norms to overpower other perspectives.
Multiculturalism and Diversity Next Equity Issue
Schooling has been found to be instrumental in shaping children’s understanding of the world and view of themselves and the society in which they live (Tesconi & Wright, 2009). As early childhood teachers, we need to be cognizant of the power we hold in shaping children’s views and the opportunity we have to expand their exposure to new languages, cultures, communities, and issues of social justice.
“As multicultural educators, we advocate for teaching strategies that highlight diverse perspectives in order to foster consciousness and acceptance of the vast range of cultures that have been created by human agency. Our multicultural education pedagogies counter prejudice and ignorance by building communities that highlight marginalized voices, make visible ignored images, and reflect a range of lived experiences” (Williams & Norton, 2008, p.105). These authors reminds us that by practicing multiculturalism in the classroom, we can help children understand how power and privilege affect who is heard and who is silenced, and through global learning experiences, we can give them all a voice in sharing about their home cultures and languages.
When children come to school with different cultural experiences, economic backgrounds, linguistic knowledge, and connections to diverse geographic locations, they bring varied social capital into their early childhood classrooms that can be shared with their peers and teachers (Bourdieu, 1983; Coleman, 1994). For some of them, this capital grants them greater ability and likelihood to succeed; however, some of them possess capital that hinders their likelihood to do well and thrive in school, especially when coupled with related feelings of fear and uncertainty because they cannot always easily associate with their classmates and cannot always understand their teachers (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987).
The existence of unequal levels of capital is one of the reasons that it can be so valuable for children to have role models who come from backgrounds similar to their own, people who can help children generate social capital that will help them professionally and academically (Noguera, 2009). This is something that global learning experiences enable, since technology grants students access to a much wider audience than the staff working in their school. Oftentimes, when students come from lower-class backgrounds and speak nonstandard English or foreign languages, assumptions are made about their academic potential and intellectual ability but as Patricia Cooper learned from Vivian Paley, this is truly a “crime against pedagogical fairness” (Cooper, 2009, p.113). Instead, every early childhood classroom should work to practice a Pedagogy of Fairness or “teaching to include within and between all of these relationships [between teacher and child, teacher and children, child and child, child and group]” (Cooper, 2009, p.94). This means that a child’s race, gender, ethnicity, economic background, or developmental difference from her or his peers should not prevent a child from being included, valued, or remembered.
When trying to create a multicultural classroom that is accepting of diversity, it is important to talk with families about their cultural practices, traditions, and beliefs and to consider your own culture and how that influences your views of education and teaching young children. Talking with families can help them know and understand that their culture is valued. Additionally, “teachers need to be open to and accepting of different ways of caring and teaching, and thoughtfully explore the many ways to help children and families feel welcome” such as visiting their home communities and inviting them into the classroom (Im, Parlakian, & Sánchez, 2007, p. 66).
We have been tweeting with KinderPals, our Kindergarten Around the World partners. Initially, the children were keen to know if their buddy class would be celebrating Halloween. The KC children tweeted out their question to the KinderPals and got a reply, directing the KC children to photographs on the KinderPals’ class blog. The KC children were fascinated by the photographs. We had a lengthy discussion about the differences and similarities between the costumes in the two countries, and the children marveled at the coincidence of a child in Abbotsford, Canada and a child in Yokohama, Japan both choosing to dress up as Buzz Lightyear!
More recently, the KC children celebrated Shichi-go-san. They spent ages making bags to carry their “long-life” candy, and I wrote a blog post describing the process. Ryan wanted to know how the KinderPals had made their bags. Maya thought we could look on their blog. The children thought this was a great idea. We looked on the blog but we couldn’t find a post about Shichi-go-san. Nikhil suggested we tweet and ask them to show us their bags and many others agreed. Phebe shared a reservation; “but maybe the KinderPals doesn’t know shichi-go-san?” There was a silence as the children processed this thought.
“Of course they know!” said Ryan firmly. “Because they do Halloween” said Nikhil. He sounded a little less certain. “Everybody do Halloween” said Trenton, and Rika agreed. It was clear from the children’s facial expressions that Phebe had planted a seed of uncertainty. “In England we don’t do Shichi-go-san and in Ghana too” said Olivia with authority. This started an energetic and rather heated discussion about whether or not people in other countries, and specifically KinderPals in Abbotsford, Canada celebrate Shichi-go-san. In the end Hal suggested that we Tweet KinderPals to ask them if they celebrate Shichi-go-san and everyone agreed that this should be the next step. I typed as the children dictated. ~ T. Cowdy, Kindergarten Teacher
Through the use of technology (i.e. Twitter, blogs) these kindergarten children are being exposed to different cultural practices and customs. They are engaged in a collaborative global learning experience with other kindergarten classes around the world, including a partnership with a Canadian class that allows them to question their existing knowledge of the world, ideas of universality and shared holidays, and world cultures. As discussed above, this questioning and expansion of understanding and perspectives, allows children to breakdown stereotypes and ideas that might create unfair or inequitable situations for other children they work and play with and increase their acceptance of diversity in others.
Children’s Identities Next Equity Issue
Although research on children’s identities in early childhood education and their intersections with race, ethnicity, culture, class, sexuality, and gender has been limited, it is clear that children can take on varying identities subjective to their different contexts (Grieshaber, 2008). Additionally, there seems to be an interconnected relationship between the effect of a child’s identity on her or his literacy practices and the effect literacy practices have on a child’s identity (Marsh, 2005). When a teacher constructs a child’s identity as a person who struggles with specific skills, perhaps dependent on the teacher’s view of the child’s class, race, or gender, the child’s sense of self is deeply affected. Once a child is labeled as struggling with a certain skill, he or she can quickly become marginalized and separated from other children.
“As well as being marginalized by the status ascribed by his teachers to his literacy and numeracy learning, Nate’s ethnicity and skin color also marked him as different from the dominant group” (Grieshaber, 2008, p.97).
Technology and new media provide students with a new context in which to express and define their identities. Although a child may be thought to struggle with literacy or other academic skills in the context of the classroom, the child could construct a more complex, literate identity when using technology tools. As Grieshaber explains, “New media texts are instrumental in the construction of young children’s social identities, with information and communication technologies, popular culture, and media offering opportunities for exciting pedagogical work and deep intellectual engagement for even very young children” (2008, p.86). Nate, the child mentioned above, demonstrated sophisticated literacy and numeracy work when using a computer program for a class project even though he had been labeled as struggling in those areas. In this case, his academic strengths were subjective to the context of computer work.
Early childhood teachers have the opportunity to work with children during a period in their lives when they are actively engaged in constructing their different identities. Providing a variety of contexts for this identity construction to occur, while also being aware of and careful to prevent the privileging of some identities and marginalizing of others, is an important role for ECE teachers. To get a better sense of how children construct varying identities, I reference an example from a two-year study of gendered play at an early childhood center in Australia:
Nalin, a young Indian-Australian boy, was observed taking part in a spectrum of gender play (Taylor, 2007). To gain the acceptance of the dominate White boys in the center, Nalin initially performed a macho identity based on Ninja Turtles and other popular superhero characters. Over time, with his reputations as a “real boy” well established, Nalin discarded his masculine superhero persona, along with turtle shell and cape props, and donned a red dress (complete with super powers). He eventually became a self-proclaimed girl superhero, finally identifying himself as “Kim Possible.”
This example and related studies demonstrate that the dichotomy between genders may not be as rigid as previously assumed and the research reiterates that “children can do gender in multiple ways,” including the creation of completely new gender identities that are neither fully “girl” nor “boy” (Blaise & Taylor, 2012, p.94).
Global learning experiences provide children with an opportunity to connect with a larger population of children, from a greater range of cultures and locations, increasing the possibility that children in any one classroom will find a peer or friend with whom they feel their identity or home culture relate. Meanwhile, other children in the class can establish relationships with children whose identities and understandings of the world are quite different from their own, which may not connect them to someone else like themselves but can expand children’s conceptions of the identities and cultures that exist in the world. These global learning experiences also provide children with a completely new context in which to express their academic and social skills, perhaps allowing them to redefine the labels they have been assigned, similar to Nate in the example above.
Culturally Relevant Teaching Next Equity Issue
Examined extensively by researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994), who coined this terminology, culturally relevant teaching works to create a pedagogical practice that is relevant to specific groups of children and their cultural and political contexts (Hyland, 2010). This means that children’s personal and cultural knowledge is valued and incorporated into the teaching practices used in the classroom. This may force teachers to re-examine their own cultural practices and norms and adapt their teaching style to be responsive to the needs of children in specific communities.
Teachers in today’s schools have to be aware of how globalized and culturally diverse their classrooms might be and work to be sensitive to that cultural diversity. As Stires and Genishi (2008) recommend, teachers can encourage students to value their home cultures and practice their home languages instead of losing that knowledge to focus solely on English and American culture. Teachers can also invite other languages as well as cultural practices and holidays into the classroom and discuss openly with students issues of power related to different cultures. Finally, early childhood teachers can help young children to begin thinking about the rich benefits of maintaining their home culture and learning a multiplicity of cultures through peer sharing and exchange.
After finishing her degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE), Marcy began working as a preschool teacher back in her hometown in central Ohio. The population in her hometown was predominantly White and middle-class, as were her preschool students. She taught there for two years before moving to New Orleans with her fiancé. Marcy soon found a new job teaching preschool in New Orleans but she quickly realized that things were quite different down in Louisiana. Her classroom had much greater diversity in terms of language, race and ethnicity and social and economic status. Marcy had assumed that with her degree in ECE and her experience as a teacher, she would easily be able to move to a new city and use the same classroom management and teaching practices she had always used.
Instead, Marcy found that her class was not responding to her as their teacher. Many times, they would not listen or follow her instructions, which created chaos and disruptions in the classroom. At first, Marcy was lost but soon, another teacher in the school began to stop by Marcy’s classroom and talk to her after the school day about her teaching. This colleague had been in New Orleans for years and she helped to explain that many of the children in Marcy’s class might be used to a different form of guidance at home than Marcy was providing. Additionally, since some of the children were not fluent in English, she advised Marcy to begin using more visuals in her teachings and to ask her students to teach her words in their languages. Over time, Marcy realized that she had been applying a White, Eurocentric form of instruction to her classroom, which did not take into consideration some of the cultural norms and instructional practices (often more rhetorical in nature) of the children in her class. As she began to adapt her teaching practice to incorporate her new cultural knowledge of New Orleans that she was learning from her students and living in this new community, her class became more settled. Marcy felt that she was finally building a class community and that she and her students understood each other better.
Marcy’s experience in New Orleans helps us to remember that “culturally relevant teaching requires teachers to learn about children’s home cultures and use that knowledge to make schooling relevant to the children’s lives” (Hyland, 2010). Teachers cannot assume that their own backgrounds, upbringings, or experiences in one culture or group will seamlessly apply to another culture and context. Early childhood teachers need to listen to their students, visit their home communities, and engage with family members to better understand the culture their students experience each day. From there, teachers can adapt their existing practice to engage in culturally relevant teaching that infuses children’s home life and culture into their pedagogical practice.
Multilingualism Next Equity Issue
As Pedro Noguera (2009) explains, for education to be beneficial and productive for immigrants “schools must not treat immigrant children as though their inability to speak fluent English is a sign of cognitive or cultural deficit. They must reach out to parents and work with them, and they must find partners who can provide the resources and support that children need” (p.179).
In One Classroom, Many Languages, Karen Nemeth helps teachers to understand the importance of supporting dual language learners and the inherent connections that exist between social and emotional development and language development. By utilizing intentional, developmentally appropriate teaching in everyday classroom practice, teachers have already started down the right path in making their classrooms inclusive and welcoming for multilingual children. It is also important to remember how much change dual-language children might be experiencing and to provide extra support through these challenges:
“New country, new language, new people, new schedule, new food, new rules – children face all of these things while they are away from their families for hours every day. This is one reason why supporting a child’s home language is so important” (Nemeth, 2009, p. 19).
The story below provides a vignette of a dual-language learner engaging in a writing activity in his Kindergarten class:
Russian-speaking Kostya comes to kindergarten speaking no English but is very willing to use gestures and facial expressions to communicate with adults and classmates. He usually looks very serious when he opens his writing journal and sits down to write—with intention. One morning, his story is about the truck his father drives. Like all good writers, Kostya uses detail in his piece—from lug nuts in the tires to the steering wheel, to the exhaust floating out at the vehicle’s rear. He even includes the passengers’ arms dangling out of the windows. When asked about his drawing, Kostya explains in Russian, but knowing I cannot understand, he supplements his verbal explanation with pointing, movement, and gesture. Our exchange of conversation helps his language development, as I continue to guess his meaning, supplying English words for car (he shakes his head no), and bus (no again, but with a smile this time). But then I am rewarded with an emphatic yes when I offer the word truck.“Yes, truck!” he repeats, which draws his neighbors, Luis and Tony, into our conversation, sparked by Kostya’s writing (Shagoury, 2009, p.54).
This story highlights the value of giving bilingual and multilingual children time to try and express themselves through different mediums and of patiently working with them to understand their ideas. Simply because a child speaks another language than the native English language privileged in the United States, it does not mean that the child does not have a very clear and specific understanding of concepts (e.g., car vs. truck). Making space for multilingual children to share their native language, sounds and expressions with other children in the classroom helps non-English speakers to know that their language and way of speaking is also valued. Providing opportunities for these children to connect with other native speakers through books, cultural activities, and global learning experiences (e.g., Skyping with Kostya’s grandparents or a partner class in Russia) further validates children’s native languages and helps English speakers to experience a greater variety of languages, as well as learn new perspectives for thinking and expressing themselves.
Critical Pedagogy Next Equity Issue
In addition to examining specific groups of students and their home communities, it can be valuable for early childhood teachers to use a critical lens when defining their pedagogical practices. As Hyland clearly describes “critical pedagogy examines the ways that everyday school and classroom practices create and sustain both marginalized and privileged identities” (2010, p. 85). So what does this mean for your classroom? Critical pedagogy can be a means for you to help your students reflect on and discover social justice issues that exist in their communities and in the world (e.g., racial discrimination, the privileging of certain languages). To help bring these issues to life, you can use global learning experiences to connect with children, as well as experts, in other areas of the world to discuss how race, gender, class, and other issues are dealt with in other communities. Through this work, children can begin to see themselves as change agents who can impact the marginalization or privileging of certain identities. The vignette below discusses how a project developed in a classroom where the teacher practices critical literacy and how this led the children to realize how they could create social change:
Context: This story is taken from a half-day preschool class in Ontario, Canada where the children were discussing a recent school barbecue and the fact that one of their classmates (Anthony) was a vegetarian and had been unable to eat any of the food there.
“The children were upset that no one had thought about having food for vegetarians at the barbecue and that no one had asked if there were vegetarians in our school community. Led by Stephanie, the group decided to act on their concern and problematize the marginalization of vegetarians at “our” annual school barbecue. We started by reading the announcement flyer that the children took home advertising the School Barbecue. ‘Join us for our Annual School Barbecue’ was the first line of text. ‘The invitation says our but doesn’t really mean Anthony so it’s yours and mine (pointing to other children who are not vegetarian and herself) but not his (pointing to Anthony) and that’s not fair’, Melanie commented. … The children agreed to have Stefanie write a letter to the chair of the school barbecue expressing our concern.” – V. Vasquez, ECE Teacher
Ultimately, the children had to write a second follow-up letter and Stefanie was then invited to meet with the chair of the school barbecue committee. The children then decided to learn more about vegetarians from the library but found that they did not have any books on vegetarians, leading to another letter to their librarians requesting new books be added. Eventually, vegetarian books and food options were added to school events. In the process, the children learned about working together to create change; about numerous new literacy concepts; and they began to think about how others in their community could be marginalized in different ways (Larson & Marsh, 2005, p. 55-60)
This vignette demonstrates how even very young children can use events in their communities to examine issues of marginalization and discrimination and then become practitioners of social justice. As Hyland argues, “It is essential that teachers help children see that gender, race, culture, and sexual orientation can be expressed in multiple ways and that some of these ways have more power than others” (2010, p.87). Global learning experiences can further help develop children’s understandings of different issues of marginalization and discrimination and can encourage children to become agents of social change. By engaging in a global collaboration project, children could have the opportunity to participate in raising money, collecting resources for, or simply raising awareness about a social justice issue somewhere around the globe.
As Gutiérrez and Nixon (2008) discuss when examining a K-5 after-school program that helps children use digital storytelling to express themselves, “creating, speaking, writing, and performing digital stories using multiple language tools empowers the children to think about their linguistic toolkit as meaningful to their identities as learners” (p.124).
“Digital storytelling is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. As with traditional storytelling, most digital stories focus on a specific topic and contain a particular point of view. However, as the name implies, digital stories usually contain some mixture of computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips and/or music” (University of Houston, 2011).
The technology helps children to envision who they are and who they might become and it provides an opportunity for English language learners to use play and imagination to create language rich learning experiences.
Here is an example of digital storytelling project that a Kindergarten class completed after studying the author Mo Willems and the adventures of Knuffle Bunny:
Technology can also be instrumental in connecting young children with service and learning projects being conducted in other countries.
For example, a third grade classroom in Canada is using Skype to connect with two non-profit leaders from two different organizations (The Q’ente Textile Revitalization Society and MOSQOY) working in Peru to build a library.
Through these Skype conversations, students are learning more about becoming “change makers”, starting a non-profit organization, the life of a child in Lima, Peru, and much more! The opportunity to have these conversations with someone working in Peru, to see pictures and artifacts shared through technology of the work being done there, and to be actively involved in supporting the construction of the library, makes being a “change maker” much more relevant and meaningful to these young children.
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