Why are issues of inequality in early childhood important and how do they impact on the experiences of children and adults in an early childhood setting?
“Children Belong together there is no reason whatsoever to separate them in school or otherwise” (Florian, 1998)
Welcome to my reflective essay on inequalities and discrimination in early childhood and the impact they have. Inequality is defined by (Webster, 2019) as the “disparity of distribution or the opportunity of it” this means that there is a difference in size quality or social position, in childcare terms its leans towards the quality of the service been provided by settings for one reason or another to a individual or group. According to (Oxford, 2019) “Discrimination is the unjust/biased treatment of groups of people for a variety of reasons such as race, sex, age, gender or ethnicity”. These are serious crimes, and all are illegal in Ireland, however they still happen daily carried out by people who may have no understanding of the law or it may be a case of their upbringing. I have chosen three topics to discuss in this essay Gender, Disability and SEN and finally the Travelling community. All names have been changed to protect identities.
I am the owner of a setting based in a rural location with views of rolling hills and Croagh Patrick, we spend all our time outdoors, exploring our large woodland, feeding the ponies, rolling in mud, building sandcastles in our gigantic sand pit as well as crawling through tunnels and sliding down hills these are just a few of the activities we have at our disposal. The age group we accommodate is from 2 years 8 months to 5 years 8 months. From the very beginning we have strived to eradicate inequality in the setting but because we are based in an outdoor environment with Woods and Hills, we have found that a wheelchair-based user would find it very difficult to experience all that our setting has to offer.
The Irish constitution is the basic law of Ireland no other law can supersede it, enacted in 1937. In 2012 the 31st amendment was voted in by nearly 60% of voters! This number shows how little some people care for children, a statistic that’s even worse is that only 33% of voters turned out that day, we should be appalled that only 20% of eligible voters felt strongly enough to vote. We were all children once we all know how it feels to be excluded and talked down to as a child, why would we want that for our children? Luckily the referendum succeeded and now enshrined in our Constitution as Article 42A where paragraph one states “that all children have equal rights and as far is lawfully possible those rights shall be protected” (Publications, 2015) this referendum was a long time coming and was preceded by the childcare act 1991, Since then this act has had over 900 amendments and Statutory Instruments (Sis) added to it. One of the most important Statutory Instruments under the childcare act for Preschools and the Practitioners who manage and run them is S.I. No. 221/2016 - Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. This act came into effect on the June 2016 and it lays down the basis upon which all preschools should be ran and governed, in it is included sections such as Fees, Registrations, as well as other areas Preschool practitioners encounter.
One section in the SI that is of critical importance to ensure equality is maintained at all times can be found in Schedule 5 section H this deals with Policies and Procedures in the setting and section H deals with inclusion in it, It states that “all needs of the child must be met these include but are not limited to Physical, social, emotional and cultural including religious needs” (Reilly, 2016) This SI is a guidance document upon which a variety of Government departments and groups take their doctrine and lay out how their operations are ran, because as already mentioned all these depts must adhere to the legislation, an example of how various departments refer back to legislation in relation to equality and inclusion is, the guidelines published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) in 2016, from the one sentence referred to above in relation to “inclusion” the Dept has developed and disseminated these guidelines to help guide Early Childhood Care and Educators, there are many sections referred to in this book such as Anti biased approaches, settling in and welcoming in and working with Families, these guidelines are an excellent example of how best to approach new situations.
An example of how I have had to use these guidelines in my setting occurred two years ago, we had a child who under Article 42 of our Constitution was been legally home-schooled. She was keen to make sure his socialisation wasn’t neglected. The child’s name was Mark was just over 6 and his parents wanted him to join us one or two days a week, they also wanted to interact as a group with the rest of the children, in this sense it was a benefit that his mother was a preschool practitioner herself and once Garda Vetted was willing to incorporate some of her lessons and practical teaching with us. An example of the practical lessons were different pieces of timber and trying to balance them on scales, all pieces were numbered and it was always a case that both sides added up to the same once the scales were level, this lesson incorporated teamwork, logical thinking, fine and gross motor skills as well as developing into a numbers game for Mark. As a practitioner I was delighted with this as it brought a different dimension to the setting from a more practical approach.
An issue arose one day when the children were playing, Mark was playing with the pre-schoolers on the swing he was been pushed and after a while he offered to push the other children, he innocently pushed one child who was on the swing on the lower back instead of the swing seat, the child tumbled over and fell off the swing. A Practitioner was on hand at the time and saw that nothing untoward had happened, the injured child did knock her head but was fine, as a precaution her parents were called and told what happened, they came straight to the setting and asked what happened and where it happened, they took the child home and it later transpired that they went straight to the Emergency Department. The Child, Sinead was monitored and declared to be fine with no ill effects. The next morning her Parents asked for a meeting with the manager and myself, we met in the office and they demanded that Mark not be let play with their three year old girl as he was a big strong boy and twice her age, we took on their points and explained to them that all children were equal in our setting and that we adhered to the simple mantra of if the children are happy and healthy that then they can play with whoever they want, at this stage the parents told us they were unhappy and that if the situation wasn’t resolved to their satisfaction then they would remove Sinead from the setting, at this point we were forced to Quote legislation to them particularly the above mentioned point of inclusion in the Childcare act as well as the Equal status act 2000-12 which whilst generally only applies to those over 18 we felt that we were the first step on the road to ensuring that all people were treated equally whether they were four or forty, we also showed them the copy of our policies and procedures that they had read and signed earlier in the year. It says that “our setting supports learning and inclusion for all children in all age groups and is achieved by using child centred equality and diversity approach in order to create an inclusive environment”
We explained to them that we were here to help in any way we could, but we would not be willing to exclude Mark or Sinead from certain activities simply because of their feelings, especially if Sinead enjoyed playing with Mark. They decided to think about it and walked out of the office. 10 minutes later they returned and agreed that they could not stop the children from playing together and would not be withdrawing their child. As we re-entered the garden, we saw that Mark and Sinead were pretending to have tea together under the tree and Mark was pouring her a cup and asking her “would she like a biscuit??” It was later in the season that we found that Sineads parents were just unsure that they’re First born should be doing activities with a boy. This is a classic case of gender stereotyping which (Fivush, 1994) stated by “are organised set of beliefs about characteristics of all members of a particular group. i.e. Male or Female”
As a practitioner I have seen that children have been heavily influenced by the intention and hopes of both society and their parents, to behave in certain ways as either a boy or a girl. Their gender reflects the language they learn, the meanings of the words boy, girl, male, female and the symbols they learn to associate with them through literature, songs and stories” (Macnaughton, 2003) from an early age “Children are keen to identify themselves as either a boy or a girl. Children model their behaviour on those people around them especially those of the same gender and the shows/characters they see” (Macnaughton, 2003). I strongly disagree with this ideology as I have personally witnessed both in preschool and with my own children how boys love re-enacting tasks that would by some be wrongly considered “female” jobs Hoovering, etc. and girls are never happier then when they are telling their peers how they helped daddy “change the oil in the car”
It is obvious that this stigma stems from society as a whole and parents are not necessarily the main cause but they are a factor as they’re children rightly adore them, as is found in (Glenda, 2000) book “when two Practitioners are talking about a child in the setting Dave says about how he can’t encourage one boy to play with the dolls even though the child wants to and Sharon says that she wouldn’t advise it as she knows that the child’s father believes boys should be boys and wouldn’t approve him playing with dolls and she advises him not to approach the parent as he’s set in his ways”
Our setting actively seeks to support learning and participation that does not hinder or exclude individual children or groups of children. This means that equality of opportunity must be a reality for all children. This is achieved by using a child-centred equality and diversity approach to create an inclusive learning environment. We have adopted this approach since we first opened our doors. Another area, we feel is important in ensuring that childhood is free of inequality and exclusion is how members of the travelling community are treated in society and not just in education.
The travelling community has a long and rich history in Ireland, these traditions stretch back 500 years. The Travelling community is Irelands only Indigenous Minority, they account for 0.6 percent of the population, just under 31,000 people. They are heavily stigmatised due to they’re seeming lack of education, the per capita crime rates, and their poor general health, after a long and painful Campaign to achieve ethnic minority status, in March 2017 Taoisigh Enda Kenny granted them the right to be classed as such. Many members of the travelling community felt that being recognised as such now gives them a higher feeling of respect, self esteem and inclusion. In his speech Enda Kenny said that “they (the travelling Community) are a vital element in our society they have their own distinct identity making them a community within the community” he also said that “he hoped all people could live together in harmony without encroaching on another’s shadow”
The Traveller community is growing and as such we should ensure that their first steps into formal education be full of the joys and wonder of life and not ones of fear and exclusion, if we allow inequality to flourish in our schools like has been done in the past then we are doomed in the future. Currently in Ireland only one member of the travelling community has been successful in achieving their Doctorate and it was only recently inferred on her. This is a disgrace that in the land of “saints and scholars” it has taken until 2019 for a member of the travelling community to reach that level, the government have established and published a book called Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy this book aimed to address some of the issues arising when involved in the education of a member of the travelling community.
In 2017 as part of a 4-year plan and a follow up to the education strategy the government published The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy this strategy aims to expand where the previous plan left off. In relation to education it stated that “All depts would Encourage the use of the ECCE and AIM programmes in order to allow all children up to school starting age the opportunity to avail of a preschool” (justice, 2017) As a practitioner I feel that this is both necessary and a disgrace, that as a society people feel the need to exclude other members of their towns and villages, people who have had families in the area for as long as most remember but the fact is that they are consistently ostracized for who they are, and so unfortunately that document is necessary.
In our setting we have only had one enrolment of the travelling community since we opened, and this was in our first year. The child was referred to us by the early intervention team, as he was struggling in indoor settings in town, they claimed he was disruptive and loud as a result he was on his third preschool in as many months. The other preschools also claimed that he was unable to sit still for more then 5 minutes! I don’t know any pre-schoolers that will sit still for that long! They felt the outdoors, fresh air and social skills gained from here would be of massive benefit to him. We welcomed the family just the same as we would any other. The child initially struggled but within two weeks had really started to thrive and grow into himself. Unfortunately, his mother moved him into a setting closer to town just after spring midterm as the travelling was to much as she was working most days, we often meet in town and she is always grateful for the start we gave her child, she says his love of the outdoors and especially of maths is down to the foundation we gave him. I as a practitioner who saw him everyday feel that it was due to his background that was causing the issue in the other preschools because in the 5 months he was with us there was not one issue with him regarding been loud or unruly, this child deserved the same chance as his peers.
If we treat all children the same regardless of whether they have a SEN or not, their Age, Gender or Ethnicity, then there is no reason why when they grow up, they wouldn’t repeat that action, children in their very nature do not discriminate against others, all they see is a play mate. It is only through adults that children learn how to discriminate as can be seen in the gender section of this work with boys playing with dolls etc. no one has the right to treat anyone any different to the way they themselves would want to be treated, by excluding inequalities and promoting inclusion to all children in a setting, then both children and adults have the ability to flourish and thrive in the environment.
According to the CSO, 13.5% of the population are currently disabled this is up .5% since the last census. The chances are, that in our lifetimes we will encounter a person with a disability, Whether its from age, injury or disease.
In our setting we treat all children the same, this is not to discriminate those with SEN this is to treat them the same as other children, which is what they want, we do not draw attention to their SENs we allow the situation to develop naturally, if the child struggles, we help them but we have found that children do not discriminate and those with SEN thrive on the fact that they don’t stand out and can be themselves. The UN convention on rights of persons with disabilities says that “disability is continually evolving.” This is exceptionally true in early years settings, as children are ever changing and Growing.
We had a little Girl in our setting last year with Downs Syndrome, as the year progressed her speech was continually evolving, as it did, we changed her Visual aids as her vocabulary grew. When she joined us, she needed leg braces to help her stand and to walk as her legs were not strong enough on their own. Within two months she was able to walk short distances unaided. Her Physio told us on a visit that she hadn’t expected such an improvement in her core and legs, her mother said this was due to the purposefully uneven terrain that we have in our setting. As the year evolved any time, she wanted to walk unaided she would remove her braces and ask her friends would they like to try them. And in their own way this is how the children dealt with the disability, they were amazed that she could use them at all as they found it very awkward to move purposefully in them, this led to amazing conversations and developed strong bonds with her peers. Her strength and determination I love so much about our child led setting especially the fact that is of the same mind frame as the EPSEN act 2004 In that “all children with SEN should be educated with children with no SEN” and obviously where common sense prevails, that it would be in the best interest of all children.
In Conclusion, Gender bias, Inequalities and discrimination are thankfully slowly been eradicated, we as a nation have evolved so much over the last 30 years, we have developed practices and laws to deal with situations such as inequality and discrimination. As a preschool practitioner I have found that to run a fair and biased setting I just have to note and follow the guidelines that the various government depts have given me. Inequality has no place in society today and it is up to us as the educators of the next generations to ensure that it is not passed on. If we are Successful, then our children’s future will be a much better place.
Fivush, G. a. (1994). Gender Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.
Florian. (1998). Promoting inclusive practice. Routledge.
Glenda, M. (2000). Rethinking Gender in Early Childhood Education. New South Wales: Allen and Unwin.
justice, D. o. (2017). national traveller and roma inclusion strategy . Retrieved from www.justice,ie: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/National%20Traveller%20and%20Roma%20Inclusion%20Strategy,%202017-2021.pdf/Files/National%20Traveller%20and%20Roma%20Inclusion%20Strategy,%202017-2021.pdf
Macnaughton. (2003). Shaping Early Childhood: Learners, Curriculum and Contexts. Maidenhead: open university press.
Oxford, d. (2019). oxford dictionary discrination. Retrieved from oxford dictionary: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/discrimination
Publications, G. (2015). Bunreacht Na Eireann. Government publications.
Reilly, J. (2016, may 6). S.I. No. 221/2016 - Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. dublin.
Webster, M. (2019). Merriam webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inequality