Influences that have shaped early childhood curriculum in Australia
Since Early Childhood Education (ECE) has begun, the industrial revolution added a new challenge based on historical, social, political economic and cultural aspects. These have shaped and influenced current ECE sector in Australia. This essay will examine and analyse historical events and the current configuration of ECE. It will also evaluate the impact of these influences on contemporary viewpoints as well as support early childhood pedagogies and theoretical knowledge on different perspectives.
Prior the early nineteenth century, colonial schools were established by the government. During this time, Australia was populated with convicts from the British colonies. The government considered Australia as penal colony and were concerned that children would grow up to become similar the convict family members and as such, be uncontrollable and dangerous (Ailwood et al., 2016; History.com, 2021). The government believed in the power of education and aimed for the convicts’ children to be educated and cared for to became respectable and compliant citizens. Therefore, colonial schools were developed with structured moral and religious educational teachings. In addition, children learned basic skills such as writing, reading and arithmetic. Children were also taught work skills to prepare for their future lives. For example, the boys learned carpentry and gardening, and the girls were taught needlework (Ailwood et al., 2016). Nevertheless, these educational programs were impractical for most families. The reason for this was the lack of teachers, school costs and poor-quality educational environments including tight controls and often the use of corporal punishment (Ailwood et al., 2016). Thus, most children were taught essential life skills alongside their parents for survival as well as providing support for families’ working as labourers or working in home settings as servants (Ailwood et al., 2016).
In the late 1800s, the government put effort into public education due to having the purpose of building greater wealth for the nation. Therefore, children aged six, were required to attend school under Public Instruction Act 1800 (Ailwood et al., 2016; Britannica, n.d.). Due to this situation, young children under six years of age joined their siblings at schools as their parents needed to work. The government introduced the provision of public schooling as “free, secular and compulsory” based on state-funding (Ailwood et al., 2016, p.18). In the mid-1890s, a severe economic depression hit the colony. As such, children younger than six who were not required by law to attend school and, were targeted for work as a cost cutting measure by businesses. As a result of this, younger children were no longer allowed to attend schools (Ailwood et al., 2016). This historical event impacted and caused distress for a number of mothers who had disadvantaged backgrounds such as single parents, widows or those who were poor. Having to work and leave children at home while they were working (KU service, n.d.), as a result, children from disadvantage backgrounds during this time had to live with high risks.
Maybanke Anderson, an educator and a feminist, contributed to improve Australian educational system for children and women. She advocated educational practices should focus on individual children and age-appropriate development and learning. In response to this, schools attempted kindergarten methods into their curriculum. However, it was unsuccessful due to the lack of knowledge into kindergarten methods and pedagogical approaches (KU service, n.d.; Roberts, 2010). Anderson put effort into women’s suffrage and spent years working to establish free and high-quality kindergarten education for children from the ages of three up to six (Roberts, 2010; Ailwood et al., 2016). It led to the early kindergarten movement and a group of educational reformers supported Anderson’s camping to established Kindergarten Union (KU) of New South Wales in 1985. The Kindergarten Union was established with three main purposes in which “To set forth Kindergarten Principles. To endeavour to get those principles introduced into every school in New South Wales. To open Free Kindergartens wherever possible in poor neighbourhoods” (Ailwood et al., 2020, p.30).
In 1896, Kindergarten Union opened the first Australian free kindergarten in the poor area of Sydney in Woolloomooloo (Ailwood et al, 2016). At same time, the Kindergarten Union focused on the professionalisation of teaching and established staff training courses by offering free of charge tuition mainly for staff learning Fröbelian’s occupations. In 1902, the staff training course changed its name to Sydney Kindergarten Training College (SKTC). The college offered three years course and mainly taught child development and in 1904, SKTC provided qualifications as a reward to all graduates. This system can be seen as the one of the first ECE qualifications with graduates from the course who then went on and became qualified ECE educators (KU Services, n.d.). This qualification system can be seen in the current ECEC sector as proof of complete training program. ECEC Educators need a range of skill to give children opportunities to quality learning experiences. Educators’ qualification shows that higher qualified educators have a greater understanding of child development, health and safety issues and lead activities that inspire and engage children, which improves learning and development outcomes (Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority [ACECQA], 2014). Moreover, ACECQA sets out minimum qualification requirements for educators working in ECEC services. It became key dimensions of quality in ECEC services (ACECQA, 2020).
At beginning of the Free Kindergarten, educational practices were influenced by Friedrich Fröebelian who believed that children learn through their play. The Fröbelian method highlighted that child-led play encourages children’s curiosity and explores their surroundings and how things work. He also emphasised the importance observations take into activities to support children’s learning and development (KU services, n.d.; Kearns, 2014). The Fröebelian methods created a foundation of ECE and influenced current ECE methods. The one of fundamental features influenced by Fröebel’s theory about play-based learning and the holistic approach used in current Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009; Bonnay, 2017).
In 1915, new ECE perspectives were passed onto Australia from overseas. Kindergarten Union started a kindergarten followed by the work of Maria Montessori (KU Servicse, n.d.; Press &Wong, 2013). Montessori believed that culture is an important element in the curriculum and in respect to the learning environments (Bonnay, 2017). The work of Montessori can be found in the EYLF the principle 4 “Respect for Diversity” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 13). It requires educators and teachers to provide learning curriculum and environments based on children’s interests and needs, as well as families’ perspectives (DEEWR, 2009).
Kindergarten Unions succeeded in creating environments where they could continuously train teachers and provide high-quality kindergarten education. Therefore, by 1911, Free Kindergartens were opened all across Australian states and territories (Ailwood et al., 2016; KU Services, n.d.). However, they were unsuccessful in supporting women who had to work. The reason is that Free Kindergartens were operating only for a few short hours from 9:00am to 1pm and 2 to 3:30pm. In addition, they provided education for children aged older than three years (KU Services, n.d.; Press & Hayes, 2000).
At the end of nineteenth century, a wide range of families lived in poverty. Due to this situation, many mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds were forced to join the workforce and without financial support, those mothers had to leave their young children unattended when they were working. As a result, the ratse of infants’ mortality, morbidity and injury were high. In order to support working mothers’ needs, the Sydney Day Nursery Association was established in 1905 to provide care for children younger than the age of three (Ailwood et al., 2016; SDN Children’s Services, n.d.). The nursery movement emphasised children’s health and wellbeing (Press & Hayes, 2000). The Kindergarten movement and the Nursery movements were spread across Australia and separated early childhood education and care. Until the present time, this separation of services in the ECE field has shaped policy development as well as the provision of ECEC services (Ailwood et al., 2016).
In the 1930s, the Great Depression affected a worldwide economic downturn. It was the longest and most severe depression in the world. Due to severe unemployment, there were many families who could no longer pay their rent and were forced to live in camps (Trading Coach UK, 2018). During this time, early interventions into children’s development concerning children’s health and well-being as well as, adequate early years’ education (need clarify). In respond to this situation, the Commonwealth Government involved in the provision of ECEC committed financial support to provide best practice in ECEC (KU Services, n.d.). It resulted in establishing the Australian Association for Pre-School Child Development (AAPSCD) in the late 1930s. AAPSCD obtained funding to establish child development centres, known as the Lady Gowrie Child Centres, in each state capital city (Press & Wong, 2013; Aliwood et al., 2016).
The first Lady Gowrie Centre was open in Victoria in 1939, followed by five centres in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Hobart. The centres aimed to demonstrate best practice standerds for preschools regarding qualifications, ratios of educators to children, operating hours, learning environments, and staff’s professional development, especially in, children’s development and growth (Ailwood et al., 2016). These practices and standards link into the current National Quality Standards (NQS) (Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority [ACECQA], 2020). The centres were purposed to support healthy children who were born in Australia of Australian-born parents therefore, children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds were excluded (Ailwood et al., 2016).
While AAPSCD and the Lady Gowrie Centres developed, World War II had been declared in 1938. As the World War II came closer to Australia, the centres were concerned with children’s safety. Then soon afterwards, the Perth and Brisbane centres were closed. During World War II, the Perth Kindergarten shared the idea of doing kindergarten by radio. The Kindergarten Union of Western Australia and ABC agreed to trial a daily educational program radio called Kindergarten of the Air (Ailwood et al., 2016). This radio became a popular educational program in Australia and overseas in countries including Britain, South Africa and the United States. These educational programs can be seen through digital devices to provide early education at home (Press & Wong, 2013). In addition, during the war, some preschools were established by middle-class families. Since 1950, parent owned preschools were a growth area. Due this shifting environment, the AAPSCD became the Australian Pre-School Association (APA) in 1954 with three main purposes including supporting parents and families, advocating age-appropriate development and encouragement high standards for preschool services (Ailwood et al., 2016).
In the 1960s, numerous state governments began to pay attention to preschool education through reports from the United Kingdom in the Plowden Committee Report and the United States from the Headstart project. The Department of Education recognised the importance of preschool education enhancing children’s academic achievements and potential at schools (Ailwood et al., 2016). In respond this situation, Tasmania and Western Australia started managing pre-schools through their education departments. While in the Australian Capital Territory, the provision of pre-school began to see cooperate between the Department of Education and Science, community and the National Capital Development Commission (Ailwood et al., 2016). In Victoria and New South Wales, the provision of pre-school learning mainly continued through local voluntary agencies (Press &nWong, 2013). Consequently, the provision of preschool services developed in different directions in each state and territory. There was not universal access to preschool education for children on a national level and therefore, universal access to ECE became part of the Early Childhood Reform Agenda (Ailwood et al., 2016).
In the early 1970s, social issues impacted childcare, such as health, housing, gender equality and education were managed collectively in the state. During this decade, the workforce participation of married women continued to rise and feminist advocacy for women’s rights (Aliwood et al., 2016; Ting, 2017). The Australian government became directly involved in the ECEC sector for improving outcomes for participating women in the workforce and young children’s health conditions. The Federal Government introduced the Child Care Act 1972, provided funding for non-for-profit preschools (Ailwood et al., 2016; Mclntosh & Phillips, 2002). However, this funding was for preschools and not for the childcare sectors. Furthermore, the APA was working with the government and pointed out agendas and based on this, the Commonwealth funding moved mainly into children’s services. Consequently, the APA made a decision of changing its name to the Australian Early Childhood Association (AECA) (Ailwood et al., 2016; Press & Wong, 2013).
In the 1980s, Australia fell into unfortunate economic circumstances and the current ECEC provisions were influenced by political and economic agendas from the government and this influenced the sector. The Commonwealth Labor Government made a decision to provide subsidies to families whose children attended private childcare services. These approaches influenced a large number of ECEC services and the number of high-quality of services increased (Ailwood et al., 2016; Press & Wong, 2013). In the end of the 1980s, ECE professions, organisations and parents requested for an accreditated national system to ensure ECEC services provide high-quality services. In response to this, the government agreed to their voices and announced the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) in 1990 (Ailwood et al., 2016).
In the 1990s, Prime Minister, Robert Hawke stated for the government to develop a system of accreditation for ECEC sectors. This condition led the development of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) and OLAS for all early childhood organisations was supported by the Commonwealth government. However, at the beginning, QLAS was only for long day care centres and slowly QLAS was developed for family day care and outside school hour care centres (Press & Wong, 2013; Logan et al., 2016). (Link to contemporary ACECQA to support analysis of continue to influence)
In the 2000s, the ECEC sector progressed with the notable national reform to develop high-quality ECEC services. In 2003, the AECA changed its name to Early Childhood Australia (ECA), aimed to focus on supporting and advocating for ECEC services including children’s welfare, parents and ECEC educators (Press & Wong, 2013). In 2009, Australia’s first national framework for guiding ECEC pedagogy and curriculum was introduced. The aim of the EYLF is to enhance children’s learning and development and provide high-quality ECEC services for young children aged birth to five years of age. It also includes smooth transition to the school programs (Sumsion et al., 2009; DEEWR, 2009). Furthermore, the reform organisation replaced the NCAC with an independent national authority the ACEQA. The ACECQA takes responsibility to implement and design the National Quality Framework (NQF) which provides guideline and standards for ECEC organisation and services (ACEQA, n.d.; Udy, 2011).
The provision of ECEC is not simple. Currently, several different types of services such as long day care centres, family day care, occasional care, preschools and playgroups are open and parents have several choices based their perspectives as well as the needs of their children. The ECEC operating system that provides funding, legislations and regulations are based on two levels of government, state and federal. A wide range of ECEC organisations and services still add changes to meet nation trends and children and families’ needs to provide high-quality education for children for the future of the nation.
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