Pre-schoolers in Chennai, India will now be able to experience a taste of the NZ approach to Early Childhood education thanks to a collaborative venture involving New Zealand’s CORE Education and Sunglobal Services in India.
KiwiLearners Early Learning Centre opened its doors in the area of Neelankarai, Chennai, India in January this year, serving a diverse community of expats and local Indian families.
As the Centre Director, I have had the privilege (and enormous task) of moulding and guiding the establishment of this centre with a New Zealand based early childhood curriculum (Te Whāriki). After 3 months of operation we now have a lively centre with 5 Indian teachers and 17 children (aged 15 months – 41/2 years) with more children about to start in May. About 70% of the children have English as a second language, including children of French, German, Irish, English, Australian, Indian, Portuguese, Greek, and Taiwanese descent.
The first month of our operations involved a great deal of teacher professional learning for the first three teachers. Our goal was for Te Whāriki to form the base for our programme. Those first weeks were very trying with my husband Keith and I ‘on the floor’ continuously to provide support and role modelling for teaching. By the end of 6 weeks we had established routines that shaped the day for teachers and children.
One of our original teachers is Indian, and had completed her qualification in New Zealand, although had never practiced. As our teaching team grew to 5 in the second month, this teacher proved a valuable asset during our PD sessions, as she could easily translate what I was discussing into language that the rest could understand. Two of the other trained teachers have early childhood experience and a Montessori qualification, one teacher is qualified and experienced in the area of special education, and one has her own parenting experience to draw from.
Bringing technologies into the curriculum
During the second month of operation teachers began to introduce digital technologies into the daily programme through the use of iPads, a camera, and iTV. While teachers themselves were digi-savvy, they had never before used technologies with children. We established our rationale together:
Technologies can complement teaching and learning in the educational programme. Digital technologies themselves are already a part of young children’s lives and children in early childhood can be supported to learn about how to use these to enrich learning.
We discussed what our learning goals for children would be through using technologies:
- Learning how to learn using technologies (metacognition)
- Enhancing communication and collaborative abilities
- Developing creative thinking and problem solving skills
- Developing a strong interest in literacies — verbal, written, symbolic, visual,
- Developing an awareness about online safety
Children and technologies
Two iPads were made available at various times of the day. With the support of Justine Mason (CORE facilitator), apps had been carefully selected and included interactive stories and puzzle type activities. The iPads attracted small groups of children who worked together assisting each other to problem solve and try things out. Teachers worked alongside the children to encourage discussion, support safe use and turn taking, and to support investigations. The children proved very confident about trying things, taking risks, and ‘giving it a go’.
We noted an increase in children’s verbal interactions as they worked with and alongside each other, particularly those children with English as a second language.
Teachers began to use YouTube clips in ways that responded immediately to young children’s interests. For example, video clips of traditional Indian dance added to a conversation some of the older girls were having about ‘dance classes.’
Another example was when children lined up a number of drums to play; we found a video clip of a group of Scottish drummers. The children were mesmerized as they watched the amazing drumming moves and listened to the sound of the drums.
To add to an exploration of dinosaurs that a few children had initiated, we read a book of information about dinosaurs, and then investigated further by looking at their physical characteristics and watching how they moved on a short YouTube video clip. We then downloaded an app, which allowed children to ‘build’ different dinosaurs and listen to their roars.
Other technologies that the children have been using include a digital camera and Skype. Skype enabled children and teachers to connect with Justine when she had returned to New Zealand, and for a child to connect with grandparents overseas.
Technologies and adults
We use an LCD screen mounted in the reception area of the centre to play the day’s slide show of children in action in the programme. This area is a regular meeting and chatting place for our parents and children, and we hear children squealing with delight when they see themselves, and answering queries about what the photos show them doing.
The unique New Zealand approach to assessment of young children’s learning via Learning Stories has been adopted at KiwiLearners. We use the online portfolio platform Storypark to share these stories with families. Every child has its own private portal. We do not use hard versions of individual learning journals/portfolios as do centres in New Zealand, as paper is both a scarce commodity and books tend to deteriorate in the high humidity of the climate. Instead, we upload individual and group stories to Storypark, only printing some group stories to display as the interest unfolds in the programme. These stories are later collated in clearfiles so we can revisit them with children and families at a later date.
The online platform is well received by parents, who, in turn, invite other family members to view. Comments now come from around the globe as many grandparents enjoy this opportunity to have contact with family. We have used the community space on Storypark to share our newsletters and important messages. Our explanation about the use of digi-technologies with children drew discussion from ‘both camps;’ those for and opposing technologies in education. The fact that we could present both arguments gave our parents opportunity to get a more balanced understanding so they could make up their own minds.
ECE Online, the PD platform established by the CORE Early Years team in New Zealnd, is used to enhance KiwiLearners teachers’ in-centre professional learning programme. They have their own group where discussion about resources and teacher practice can include our New Zealand based Early Years facilitators. Professionally, we can never be isolated, which is a tremendous advantage to this teaching team.
Kiwilearners is an exciting new development in which the use of digital technologies is seen as an important part of developing the attitudes and dispositions of young learners who will require these things as they grow to live and learn in an increasingly digital world.
That said, the focus of the initiative is not the technology, but the learners, their learning, and their families’ role in this. The embedded use of a range of digital technologies by the staff, the learners and their families is creating opportunities to establish a more integrated and seamless partnership among all involved in helping these young people grow to reach their potential as 21st century citizens.