Ontario did not release many documents related to the early years until recent decades. The Day Nurseries Act was used as a guide in child care centres until 2015. A great review of influential documents in Ontario's early childhood education field has been compiled in Dr. Elaine Winick's Exploring an Historic Transition in Early Childhood Education in Ontario (2013). Winick explains the timelines and importance of each document released in Ontario in recent years, particularly in chapter two (2013).
Winick's research was published in 2013 so it is my hope that I can fill in some timelines for educators since 2013, to help set the stage for further understanding of recent history in early childhood education in Ontario.
How Does Learning Happen: Ontario's Pedagogy for the Early Years was introduced in 2014, along with Excerpts from ELECT. Excerpts from ELECT provided educators with a condensed version of the 2007 version of Early Learning for Every Child Today. The "Continuum of Development" makes up the majority of the Excerpts from ELECT document (2014).
It is important to mention here that Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from Research about Young Children was released in 2013 and appeared to be ahead of its time (MOE, 2013). It is a combination of research articles written from a variety of theoretical perspectives. My assumption here is How Does Learning Happen? was already in development when Think, Feel, Act was released.
The Ontario Ministry of Education introduced How Does Learn Happen: Ontario's Pedagogy for the Early Years in 2014 as a pedagogical guide for early childhood educators, working with children and families in a variety of early learning settings (2014). How Does Learning Happen focuses on four foundations that children should experience in an early learning setting including belonging, well-being, engagement and expression (2014, p. 7). How Does Learning Happen contains a brief history of the ELECT document, which was developed in 2007 by the Best Start Expert Panel under the direction of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (2014, p. 9). Ontario’s history of the development of early learning documents is important because so many impactful changes took place in a very short time period, including a change in Ministry and a new legislative act for child care and the early years. The child care and early years division moved to the Ministry of Education in 2010, acknowledging child care and early learning as education, rather than a social service for children (OME, 2010). Contributions from the ELECT (2007) and the Early Years Study (1999) must be recognized in pushing this transformation forward.
How Does Learning Happen? supports educators in understanding the image of the child, the family, the educator and the community (OME, 2014). The six principles of the ELECT document are embedded into How Does Learning Happen?, including positive experiences as the foundation for lifelong learning, partnerships with families and communities, respect for diversity, equity and inclusion, an intentional planned program for learning, play and inquiry, and knowledgeable reflective educators (OME, 2014, p. 10). Questions for reflection are provided throughout the guide to encourage critical thinking in practice (OME, 2014). The four foundations are well laid out with goals for children, expectations for programs and considerations for educators (OME, 2014). An important aspect missing from How Does Learning Happen? includes the underpinning educational theories of the document and their place in the history of early childhood education.
Jackson, B. (2018, pp. 24 - 25)
The introduction in How Does Learning Happen? provides us with a summary of the document, briefly introducing social constructivism, “As we question, research, reflect, respond, and co-construct our understanding of the world around us with children and families, we gain new perspectives and new and more complex questions arise” (MOE, 2014, p. 5). The images portrayed of children, families and educators in How Does Learning Happen? begin to touch on a theory that is socially constructed by using terminology such as competent, capable of complex thinking, and valuable contributions made by children, families and educators (2014). While diversity and culture were embedded into the ELECT principles, the focus of valuable contributions had not been touched on in previous documents until How Does Learning Happen?, separating the brief mention of sociocultural theory in ELECT to a socially constructed pedagogy in How Does Learning Happen?. Excerpts from ELECT describes partnerships with families and the community and briefly touches on democracy but appears to describe these opportunities from a teaching standpoint, where families are learning to adapt to the underpinning curricular theory of developmentalism. Discussion points such as, “Parents benefit from having a say in what is offered in the program and what goes into the curriculum” (MOE, 2014, p. 4) are indicating that parents are benefiting by being part of an early learning setting but there is no mention of the early learning setting benefiting from the knowledge and contributions of the family. A lot of examples in the updated ELECT (2014) document support using the early learning environment as a way of connecting families to community services, assuming this is what families need or want from an early childhood education setting.
Excerpts from ELECT does touch on a socially constructed pedagogy for children when it speaks to children constructing knowledge through physical activity, social interactions, their own active thinking and by learning strategies from exchanging views with peers and adults (MOE, 2014, p. 9). Unfortunately, the document continues on to discuss the importance of developing these skills for academic success in school, giving rise to the “schoolification” of early childhood education. Schoolification is the notion that children need to be prepared for academic success in school by learning concepts valued in the primary school setting. Schleicher, the director of education and skills at OECD, recently stated, “We need to do more on making schools ready for children, not children ready for school…probably the first years of primary should look more like ECEC” (Gaunt, 2017, p. 1). I suspect the Ontario Ministry of Education continues to lean on the idea of schoolification by pressure from parents, participating in a neoliberal society that values competition, comparison and individualization. Moss describes the story of neoliberalism as dominating early childhood education with its stories of quality, high returns and markets (2014, p. 67). Moss states:
"…recasting everyone as economic actors, competitive entrepreneurs of the self and reserves of exploitable human capital; reducing everything to a calculation of economic costs and benefits; foregrounding relationships of exchange and contract; and making the maximisation of returns the central criterion for deciding how to relate and behave" (2014, p. 67).
The capitalistic nature of Canadian and American economies drives the direction of education, resisting the ability for democratic pedagogical practice in our school systems, resulting in a flow to early childhood education. How can early childhood education have the strength to continue to push for a more democratic practice, or lead the way for primary and secondary education? Ontario education may need to continue to look to the international community for guidance in educational theory.
Jackson, B. (2018, pp. 25 - 28)
We are fortunate to have access to research from so many scholars in early childhood education, particularly over the last twenty years. Many of these researchers have proposed changes that would reconceptualise or revolutionise our current practice in early childhood education, but we have not fully been able to bring these discoveries to fruition in Ontario. Many educators have been researching and engaging in professional learning to seek alternative ways of becoming as an educator in the early years profession in Ontario, yet we continue as we always have in our daily practice. As Peter Moss would ask, “why can’t we get beyond quality” (2016, p.8)? Moss proposes our obsession with quality lies in the language of evaluation or the use of technical terms that are derived from universal standards by which performance should be assessed (2016, p. 10). Do educators in Ontario have the skills and confidence to advocate for alternative pedagogies? As Dahlberg et al (2007, p. 82) stated, “The pedagogue is seen as a researcher and thinker, a reflective practitioner who seeks to deepen her understanding of what is going on and how children learn, through documentation, dialogue, critical reflection and deconstruction” (Langford, 2010, p. 121). The profession of early childhood education in Ontario continues to use a universal approach, like that of the formal school setting, concerned with meeting developmental milestones and ensuring quality care in a competitive environment. We need to advocate for a different way of practicing in early childhood education, one that embraces democracy, experimentation and potentiality (Moss, 2016, p. 14).
How Does Learning Happen? begins to move educators away from a reliance on developmentalism to a more socially constructed practice by directly stating: "How Does Learning Happen? asks educators to be attuned to what children know, what they wonder about, and their working theories about the world around them. Educators engage with, observe, and listen to children. They discuss with other educators, as well as with children and families and caregivers, the possibilities for children’s further exploration in increasingly complex ways. All are co-learners, constructing knowledge together” (OME, 2014, p. 15).
A focus on goals and expectations for the four foundations in How Does Learning Happen? provides a more open-ended approach for practice by encouraging a model of observation, rather than the implementation of educator-directed activities to ensure children are acquiring a very specific set of developmental skills. Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years offers an alternative way of working with children through close observation, by listening deeply to the verbal and nonverbal ques of children, and by sharing perspectives with others through pedagogical documentation. Educators become co-researchers in the early learning environment rather than teaching a body of knowledge or a predetermined set of topics (OME, 2014, p. 15).
How Does Learning Happen? would be able to stand on its own as a document, without relying on the ELECT as a foundational document, by including information regarding theories in education, historical timelines for the profession of early childhood education, and by including examples of international curricula and practices that support the use of a socially constructed approach. Additionally, How Does Learning Happen? requires more detail outlining the impact early childhood education has on sustainability for the future, possibly by outlining an ecological model for practice. Ontario can follow the lead of the New Zealand Ministry of Education, with their updated version of Te Whariki that includes a section outlining the underpinning theories and approaches used to support the revision of the pedagogical document (NZMOE, 2017, p. 60). The revised edition includes an outline of sociocultural theory, a bioecological model and critical theory, amongst other contributions of knowledge in updating the document (NZMOE, 2017, p. 60). An updated version of How Does Learning Happen? would be so much more meaningful for educators with the simple addition of theoretical knowledge.
(Jackson, 2018, pp. 45 - 47)
One may garner that developmentalism is being replaced with social constructivism in How Does Learning Happen? but a document with a foundation in social constructivism is beginning to move us one step closer to critical constructivism or democracy. Fleury and Garrison describe democracy as a communal process of creating and recreating a good life for all as the deeper meaning of social constructivism, which they label as critical-creative constructivism (2014, p.40). How Does Learning Happen? (2014) has supported educators in our organization to become more reflective and critical in their practice so I feel that we have embarked on a journey to understanding how learning is taking place in our own community.
I am not advocating for replacing one theory with another in early childhood education, I am hoping to help others understand the underlying theories in Ontario’s pedagogical documents, so they can decide for themselves how to embark on a journey of meaning making or rapport au savoir. I propose the creation of a supporting document for How Does Learning Happen? or a revised edition, that touches more deeply on educational theories to inspire ongoing critical thinking for educators that have already been working in the profession and may have learned a "regime of truth" (Foucault, 1980) in their pre-service education (Edwards, 2005, p. 38) . A document such as this could inspire and motivate new ways of practice to support all of those involved and support the ability to create a better life for the community. Educators must advocate for themselves, for their profession, for children and for families. One must be aware of political underpinnings in their profession in early childhood education to understand their relationship to knowledge creation. How Does Learning Happen? has become a starting point for supporting early childhood educators in practicing social constructivism, which in turn may lead to a practice of critical constructivism or a more democratic practice in the future.
Jackson, B. (2018, pp. 49 - 50)