By Kirran Khan
The importance of early childhood education is rapidly increasing in the world. Researches have shown that the early year’s experiences shape a person’s whole personality and people have also started realizing the lifelong effects of early life experiences. Thus keeping in view the importance of ECE in 2002 the national curriculum for Early Childhood Education (ECE) has been properly implemented in some areas of Pakistan by the government. It focuses on the high scope approach.
This is important to note that curriculum is not just a document with written content; it includes overall experiences which are performed inside and out of the school under the guidance of a teacher. The work of Piaget, Athey, Burner, Vygotsky, and Isaacs is characterized by the notion that children learn best when they are interacting with their environment, with their peers and with adults (O’Hara, 2004). We have good curriculum document for ECE but the concerned bodies, especially in the public sector, do not take interest in the proper implementation of that curriculum.
Our national curriculum for ECE has been implemented in some rural areas of Pakistan like interior Sindh, rural areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) (where the curriculum has been implemented in Chitral). In Chitral, katchi classes have been started but the implementation has not been so successful, according to my understanding. As in the implementation of the formal curriculum, teachers’ role is very much crucial. However, in Chitral the teachers are facing a lot of problems while implementing the ECE curriculum in rural context. I have observed that there are challenges as I had an opportunity to visit some of public schools situated in Chitral and to listen to the feedback of some parents.
Here are some of the factors that are creating challenges for teachers to implement the ECE curriculum:
Infrastructure is the base for quality education. If schools are built in the open space, and classrooms are spacious, with windows and open to fresh air, the children will learn things with a fresh mind.In a High Scope setting the learning environment will be set out in areas where children can play alone or together with other children or adults. If I compare the conditions of public schools (the ECD Classes that are underway) in the context of Chitral, with the requirements of the High Scope Approach in mind, the situation looks bleak. The public schools do not have rooms with adequate facilities. They do not even have the local materials (handmade dolls, caps of bottles, or stones for counting, kitchen related things for home corner) in the classroom for the children to manipulate. Lack of the infrastructure invites so many problems (congested environment, lack of teachers’ interest, demotivation of parents etc.) for the implementation of curriculum.
It is very important for the teacher to be knowledgeable about and empathetic towards the children’s learning styles. Also they should be aware of the practices they use and be able to develop those practices as and when needed (Korkeamäki & Dreher, 2012). Teachers should be competent enough to understand and implement the curriculum. There should be on the job as well as refresher courses for them to keep them updated with new research and approaches. For proper implementation of the ECE curriculum, the competence of teachers should be ensured by the curriculum wing. I have observed in Chitral that the teachers in the Katchi classes are not ECD trained. And what they do is they simply come into the classroom and teach counting, English alphabets, and Urdu alphabets. However, this could be a harmful practice as according to Bennett (2005) using the method of instruction of just reading and writing too early may actually harm young children’s self and it promote anxiety, rather than supporting their later reading performance.
The assessment system for early age children in these public schools is also very traditional. They have to appear in paper pencil test, but according to our national curriculum formal tests and examinations are not at all correct when measuring young children’s abilities. Children do not perform well in the situation where they have to answer specific questions. They may be afraid of the new situation or they may be tired, bored or upset on the day of the test (National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education, 2007). Moreover, in public schools the same teachers are teaching Katchi classes who are hired for elementary classes. I believe they will have difficulty in understanding the developmental domains (social, physical, emotional, cognitive, moral, and linguistic) of a child and in applying proper assessment techniques for pre-primary school children.
Community involvement in school matters is also very important for a better learning environment. Parents should be aware of the sensitivity of children’s age, their needs, interests and demands. ‘According to the pre-school teachers parents do not understand early childhood education but see it as time wasting when they involve themselves.As an ECD teacher I have seen that most of the parents send their children because they have to do a lot of household work and do not want to keep the children with them at home. They do not even know how much this period (0 to 8 years) is crucial for the holistic development of their children and that is why they do not involve themselves in school’s matter. Consequently this creates difficulty for teachers to implement the ECE curriculum.
Ministry of education is planning an implementation strategy which will be benefit young children 4 to 5 years old across Pakistan (National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education, 2007). If we see in public schools in the rural context, it has been observed that parents bring their children to school with a predetermined mind as in which class shall their child be enrolled. Some parents would say their child’s actual age is 9 years but they want to enroll him/ her in the katchi class so he or she may not face difficulty in numeracy, English alphabets or Urdu Alphabet when they move to class 1. This makes the ECE curriculum implementation a difficult task for the teacher.
In a nut shell, I would say that our national curriculum is very rich document. It is full of activities for the development of different domains. It is a brief guide book for the teachers to make their pedagogy more effective. All the efforts are being made for the learners to encourage them and provide all the possible learning opportunities. Moreover, since our national curriculum for ECE is based on high scope approach. I believe that the curriculum development wing, our senior scholars, educationists and we as teachers should all try our best to implement the curriculum in all parts of Pakistan. To make that possible the curriculum development experts should consider the context and the needs of the people. In addition they need to train the teachers, give them access to the curriculum document and guide them to understand the aims of the curriculum. First of all, the teachers should be ECD trained and secondly there should be refresher courses for teachers.