Background: Ross Gwyther and Janny Boersma have both had extensive involvement in early childhood education, and are very committed to ensuring that our QLD State Government is able to ensure positive development of early childhood education in Queensland.
Ross has been involved closely through his mother Lil Gwyther. Lil was one of the founding members of the Early Education Reform Group (EERG), which was very active in the 1980s and 90s in promoting play-based, child-centred and developmentally appropriate early childhood education. Lil was Director of the West Ashgrove Pre-School for 25 years, and then worked as an advisory teacher in the Education Dept.
Janny spent her working life as an early childhood teacher and was active in EERG from its inception. The EERG group was instrumental in two major developments in Qld education, the growth of multi-age education in early years teaching in many State and private schools, and in the establishment of the Prep year in Qld State Schooling.
Our Current Concerns: The current Prep year of schooling is aimed at children aged between 4.5 years to 5.5 years, as a preparatory year before Grade 1. The basis of the Prep year is play-based learning - the now well established educational principle that young children develop at very different rates, and play is the most important way in which this development can be assisted, (using appropriate oversight) appropriately facilitated by trained early childhood teachers. The Prep Year curriculum when established in 2007 was explicitly play-based.
However there are a number of pressures which are currently restricting this approach in many early childhood classrooms. One pressure, as we understand it, is the requirements of the national curriculum to have all children at set levels of reading and writing competence by the end of Prep year, even if they have not yet developed physically and emotionally to that stage. The second major pressure, again as we understand it, comes as a result of the appointment of "Prep teachers" whose knowledge and expertise is solely in the upper Primary levels of schooling. These teachers, and many of the Principals of Primary schools have little or no expertise, specialised training, nor knowledge of best practice in the early years. Another pressure comes from parents who do not understand the educational principles of play-based learning, but whose interest/understanding is defined by the publishing of results from standardised testing (of literacy and numeracy).
We hear widespread anecdotal evidence of very "formalised" teaching in many early years classes, to the extreme concern of many early childhood educators. We feel this is a very retrograde development, especially considering all the relatively new research, including in the areas of neuroscience, which also support quality play as the best vehicle for early years learning. We feel that this new State Government should institute a thorough review of early education in Qld.
We would like to suggest:
- A formal presentation to the Minister by three people we feel sure have the expertise and experience to explain these concerns in more detail. The three people are: Noelene McBride, Past-President of Early Childhood Australia, Megan Gibson, a lecturer in QUT Early Childhood School, and Michelle Scheu, NationalTeaching of Excellence award winner and Early Childhood teacher at Chevallum State School. Michelle has produced some excellent videos on good early childhood teaching practice - see for example "Let the Children Play"
- An in-depth Review of Early Childhood Education in Queensland, established by the Queensland Government and conducted by people with expertise and experience in this field. We are confident such a review would recommend "putting the play back into prep".