Bridging the gap between curriculum guidelines and educational practices: Discussion across European countries
During the period 2011 – 2014 six European countries (Greece, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Romania, and Cyprus) participated in the project "Promoting the Professional Development of Early Childhood Educators" (Early Project; 517999-LLP-1-2011-1-GR-COMENIUS-CMP). In the scope of this project early educators were trained to use the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale- Revised Edition (ECERS-R; Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005) to evaluate the quality of early childhood environment. In addition, a wide range of 'good practices' implemented in early childhood classrooms in the participating countries was collected (Gregoriadis et al., 2014).
The project offered the opportunity to discuss the characteristics of preschool settings in those countries using the ECERS-R as a framework. Observational data obtained through ECERS-R subscales reflected varied patterns across countries (Grammatikopoulos, Gregoriadis, Liukkonen, et al, 2014). In order to understand these patterns, three countries started the discussion on their curriculum guidelines for preschoolers. Finland, Greece, and Portugal conducted content analysis of these documents and of the ECERS-R. Overlaps and gaps were identified between each national curriculum guidelines and contents of ECERS-R items.
This Symposium intends to discuss the process and the results of this joint work. It includes three presentations that address specific topics for discussion:
1) The gaps and overlaps between curriculum guidelines and contents of ECERS-R, illustrated by Finish context;
2) The gaps and overlaps between curriculum guidelines, ECERS-R contents and observed practices, with examples of Greek reality;
3) The use of the ECERS-R in professional development to create a bridge between curriculum guidelines and educational practices, using examples of Portuguese experience.
It is expected that the reflections on those topics might contribute to expand the concept of quality, its development and evaluation in early childhood education.
Teresa Leal Ph.D
Ana Madalena Gamelas, Ph.D
Discussant: Assunção Folque, University of Évora
Date: Thursday 30 June, 9 am to 13 am
The Invited Symposium includes the following papers:
1) The concept of quality in ECEC - reflected on ECERS-R, the Finnish ECEC curriculum guidelines and everyday practices
Raija Raittila, Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
In this paper, quality of ECEC and different views of the concept of quality are examined. According to the relative approach, quality is seen as a value-laden concept dependent on time and context. Moss and Pence (1994) remark that quality is socially and culturally constructed. Nevertheless, there is empirical evidence that studies of cross-cultural comparative ECEC quality are achievable and of great importance (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford, & Taggart, 2004; Tietze, Cryer, Bairrão, Palacios, &Wetzel, 1996).
In this presentation, the concept of quality in ECEC is discussed using as a framework the ECERS-R, the Finnish ECEC curriculum guidelines and everyday practices of Finnish preschools.
First, the decentralized, multi-level process of developing ECEC curriculum in Finland is described: national guidelines, municipality-specific curriculum, preschool-specific curriculum and individual ECEC plan for every child. The national curriculum guidelines are used as a basis by municipalities and preschools when they are designing their own curricula adjusted to their own circumstances and goals.
Second, selected examples of gaps and overlaps between ECERS-R and curriculum guidelines as well as between ECERS-R and observed everyday practices are presented.
Finally, the concept of educational quality is discussed considering the different views previously presented.
2) Quality in the Greek early childhood education: examining the relationship between ECERS-R and the national curriculum
Athanasios Gregoriadis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Vasilis Grammatikopoulos, University of Crete, Greece
Evridiki Zachopoulou, Alexander Technological Education Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece
Recent literature has confirmed that the quality of early childhood education (ECE) environments is directly associated with children’s development, well-being and academic performance (Burger, 2010; Sylva & Roberts, 2010). However, defining qualitative aspects of early childhood educational provision can be a difficult and culture-laden task (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2007; Kagan, 2004; Rosenthal, 2003). Interpretations of quality vary and are linked to individual perspectives and cultural differences.
One of the available methods for evaluating the quality of ECE environments is the use of observational rating scales. ECERS-R (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised; Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005) is by far the most well researched and used instrument measuring ECE quality in the US and international contexts. The ECERS-R measures the global quality of an early childhood program and has been applied in more than 20 countries.
The purpose of this study was to explore how quality of early childhood education environments is perceived in the Greek early years national curriculum. Without overlooking the alternative approaches and the existing criticism to ECERS (Douglas, 2005; Wortham, 2014), the authors’ assumption was that since it is an internationally used measure of the quality of ECE environments, an examination of which aspects of the ECERS’ definition of quality exist in the Greek early years curriculum could help improve various aspects of the pedagogical environment. The authors also acknowledge the different nature and aim of the two documents. So this study conducted a content analysis of the Greek curriculum in relation to the ECERS-R items to examine any similarities and differences in the way preschool quality is perceived.
The Greek educational system is characterized by centralization and bureaucratic administration, which is reflected in the curricula as well as in many other parameters of schooling. The national early childhood curriculum in Greece was introduced in 2003 and it includes five curricular areas, Literacy, Mathematics, Science and Environment, Creation and Expression and Computer Science.
The results revealed various similarities related to the program structure and the activities, but also showed absence of common ground regarding various aspects of quality like for example personal care routines, healthy lifestyle and promotion of diversity. The similarities and differences between the ECERS-R contents and the Greek national curriculum are interpreted within the socio-cultural context and are accompanied by examples of educational practices. Reflection on these findings might contribute to a discussion about how is quality perceived in the Greek early childhood education system and what percentage of these guidelines is actually “translated” into classroom practices.
3) Discussing quality in Portuguese pre-school settings: the use of the ECERS-R in professional development
Teresa Leal, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto
Ana Madalena Gamelas, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto
Sílvia Barros, School of Education, Polytechnic Institute of Porto
Manuela Pessanha, School of Education, Polytechnic Institute of Porto
Portuguese Curriculum Guidelines are based on the greater questions that today’s society poses for preschool education: citizenship and democratic participation, interculturality, ecology, nonsexist approaches to education, access to technologies, motivation to use the instruments of reading and writing, aesthetic and cultural participation. These Curriculum Guidelines are organized in content areas: Personal and social development, Expression and communication, and Knowledge of the world. They imply an organization of the educational environment, organization of the educational setting, relations with parents and other partners (Vasconcelos, 1997, p.10).
A content analyses of the Portuguese curriculum guidelines was conducted in order to compare the subjects approached and the contents of the ECERS items. A considerable overlap between the topics focused on both documents was identified, reflecting a common conceptual framework, namely the “Development adequate practices” (Lopes, 1997; Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005).
However, observational studies in Portugal using the ECERS-R (Abreu-Lima, Leal, Cadima, & Gamelas, 2013; Bairrão, Leal, Fontes, & Gamelas, 1999; Bairrão, Pinto, Aguiar, Pessanha, & Cruz, 2009; ECCE Study Group, 1997; Gamelas, 2003, 2006) pointed out some gaps between curriculum guidelines and educational practices (e.g.: explicit references to materials and activities in the official documents did not imply necessarily the existence of those materials and activities in the classrooms).
On the other hand, in Portugal, different experiences on in-service training using the ECERS-R as a tool for professional development of early childhood educators were taking place.
This paper intends to illustrate the use of ECERS-R as a tool to bridge the gaps between curriculum guidelines and educational practices.
The contributions of the ECERS-R to the development of educational intentionality and operationalization of curriculum guidelines will be discussed.