Dr John Bennett
Head of the Early Childhood and Family Unit at UNESCO from 1989-97, John Bennett has worked in the early childhood policy field with the main international early childhood organisations, and with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee for the International Year of the Family. In 1998, he joined the OECD as senior consultant to the Early Childhood Policy Review, where he co-authored two comparative works on early childhood policy in twenty of the OECD countries. The reports entitled Starting Strong: early childhood education and care were published by the OECD in 2001 and 2006. John has reviewed early childhood policies and services in over 50 countries worldwide.
Author of many book chapters and articles, including contributions to the International Encyclopaedia of Education and the Encyclopaedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, John is a member of several international juries and committees in the field of early education and children’s rights. He also sits on the editorial board of leading European research journals, including the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal (Routledge) and is a contributing editor to the Early Childhood Development Encyclopaedia (Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Montreal).
International Forum on Kindergarten Education
Investing early for “Exceptional Returns”
The scientific evidence
The research evidence from countries in all continents concurs that high quality, early childhood programmes for young children enhances the development, school-related achievement and behaviour of young children. These effects are strongest for poor children and for children whose parents have little education. For this reason, governments have been advised by the major international organisations to fund and organise early childhood programmes for children from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds. An early start is generally recommended.
Countries differ, however, in deciding when that start should be made. Some few countries allow crèches to receive infants from the age of one month. Extensive research from the National Institute for Child Health and Development in the United States shows some negative effects for infants separated from their mothers at such an early age, especially when babies remain in childcare all day and the quality of care and stimulation is poor or mediocre. Possibly, the best compromise has been reached in the Nordic countries where the State funds maternity and parental leave for about one year after birth. Infants have then an entitlement to a preschool place from the end of parental leave, generally in a high quality nursery preschool. A conclusion reached by EPPE (Sylva et al, 2004) and many other studies is that quality counts. The presentation will examine some of the policy and structural characteristics of an integrated, high quality early childhood system.
Parent Seminar on Kindergarten Education
Can children really learn through play?
In the early years, learning is meaning-making, that is, the central intellectual task of the young child is to make sense of the world around one. It is about the construction of knowledge, “learning by doing” rather than the verbal transmission of knowledge. The natural learning strategies of the young child are forming relationships with significant others, imitation of adult behaviour, play (in particular, make-believe play), active discovery through freedom to move and explore, and finally, interaction with other children.
Interaction with other children generally takes place through play, but education systems differ in the importance they give to the child’s world. Kindergarten teachers in a number of countries teach the curriculum directly and may give little attention to the spontaneous play and expression of children. The teacher is central. She instructs, shows by example, asks the questions and covers the curriculum.
In other countries, the early childhood curriculum stresses both the educator’s role and the child’s activity. Teachers take the play of children as the first matter of their work, a choice that requires a pedagogy that puts children’s participation and activities at the center of curriculum. This calls for specific training of educators in initiating and supporting constructive play, class layout, unobtrusive class management, project work, and learning how to listen and observe. The various knowledge strands of the curriculum, which a particular society identifies as important, become not the subject of prolonged direct teaching but emerge rather for discussion from the stories and concerns that children express in their play or project work. An experienced educator will expand the children’s understanding of these themes through questions, shared thinking, appropriate explanations and other pedagogical approaches. Some examples will be provided.