For people working in the ECD field (trainers, practitioners, policymakers), how much do we think about how we think about children? Particularly ECD trainers, who are often given the more elevated status of ‘teacher’, and whose every word we are taught to hang onto. In a country where authority is still positional – and where being the (white) ‘teacher’ commands respect irrespective of what this teacher knows and how she goes about sharing it.
A recent experience highlighted for me how important it is for us working in this field, and particularly for ECD trainers, to make more explicit how we think about children – what is my dominant perception of their competence emotionally, cognitively, physically; how did I get to this understanding; how does this influence how I talk about children, what I expect of them, what I do with them. And then, if I am a trainer, how do I share this understanding with others in the field and allow this understanding to shape and be shaped.
When I am told ‘there is nothing constructive happening in free play, you need to structure everything with a child’, and ‘the number 1 skill you want to train children in, is accuracy’, and ‘children don’t do anything (right) naturally – sleeping, eating…’, then I sit up. I sit up very straight! This is not my experience of children. Nor is it what the most recent research tells us.
It worries me – not only because this is out of step with what we are learning about children, but because in a country that needs to make a break with its past, this is the past marching firmly into the future. When our hope is that, through early childhood development, we will build children – not break them. We will build them to be curious, to ask questions, to try something new, to explore, to experiment – most importantly, we will trust them and their competence. And we will trust the adults who we are working with, and who will work with these children.
It also worries me because how do we assess our trainers, and training institutions. Who gets to do this? And what criteria do we use? Including those influential groups that recommended this training. Those of us who continued to sit up straight in the training session. Or those of us who left.