Difference And Diversity In Early Year Practice Education Essay

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"We are all different sizes, come from different backgrounds, have different religions - or none at all - are different ages and come from different ethnic groups and different classes." (London Pre-school Learning Alliance 1999 p.1.)

This essay will reflect the wide diversity of children, parents and families encountered in early year settings, using popular theories as well personal experience.  Exploring the ethical issues related to difference in relation to personal beliefs and values. It will also evaluate government legislation and initiatives that impact upon diversity issues, identify sources of support, information and resources for managing diversity in early year's settings and considering how they can be used. 

'Difference' is a word that arguably some early year professnals and people fear and hope that they will never have to deal with the issues it raises and wider implications associated. The above quote succinctly sums up what the nature of the world is full of and what children see, hear every day and are surrounded by. Why are we sheltering ourselves from difference instead of embracing it and teaching our children about it? 

Diversity is defined as a 'quality of being different or varied, a range of difference'. (Oxford Dictionary p.157). Professional practitioners should be aware of all the different types of diversity that they may come across in working in early years. Colour, religion and culture, gender, disability, learning styles, personality and socioeconomic. Children don't have to have a physical diversity for them to be different; every child should be treated as different, as every child is different from the next.

Children and their families have to encounter diversity throughout their lives together, it is the job of the practitioner to help ease the approach of diversity and try to guide them as professionally as possible. Problems could occur if a certain issue is something that is difficult or against the child's and parents or carers belief system. What if the parent or carer is against what the practitioner is trying to teach about difference and diversity? Where do we draw the line of what is right and what is wrong, what we should say and what we shouldn't?

One of the many theorists that (who has) have covered Child Development and has touched on upon difference and diversity in childhood is Sigmund Freud (1905).  His theory, 'The Psychodynamic Approach' is one that can be defined as a means of helping patients to deal with emotional problems or disorders by probing unconscious thought, Sigmund Freud described it as 'the talking cure'. Freud (1905) strongly emphasised the importance of early experience and drew attention to the unconscious in relation to the development of personality in young people. (Matt Jarvis p.2.)

 'Our behaviour and feelings as adults are largely rooted in our early childhood experiences. Relationships are of great importance in determining how we feel and behave. Our behaviour and feelings are strongly affected by our unconscious mind, i.e. mental processes of which we are not consciously aware. These unconscious influences come both from past experiences and also from instincts, with which we are born.'(Matt Jarvis p.2.)

Freud's theory argues, that the morals that stem from our parents will be past down generations not because it is what they concluded but because it is our genetic makeup to believe what our parents believe and what we are surrounded by as children. Freud's peer, Jean Piaget, also identified unconscious development. While Freud was interested in emotional and sexual development, Piaget focused on intellectual development that children can only process new concepts at a particular stage in their development (Linda Pound p.37). One of Piaget theories was the theory of Moral Development in which he explains that he sees development as progressing through two broad phases that overlap, so sometimes a child's moral reasoning will be in the heteronomous phase and at other times it will be autonomous phase. The Heteronomous phase is when children understand that there is only one way of seeing and doing things. The Autonomous phase is when children understand that people have different views and values on circumstances. (......) Lev Vygotsky (date) also believed that children are unconsciously influenced by what they absorb in their early years. His theory of 'Social and Cognitive Development' was that children mimic the adults that surround them, he emphasises that "children's language was social in origin because it arose in interaction between child and others". In other words, the child's language both results from and is part of social interaction. While Piaget and Freud believe that knowledge and understanding comes from personal experiences, Vygotsky emphasised the importance families, communities and the involvement with other children. (Linda Pound p.40)

 Therefore it is essential that educational practitioners are encouraging children to look at difference and diversity through other individual's eyes as the children may not have the same encouragement at home.  According to Freud's theory influences are unconsciously developed at a young age so it would be advantageous to practitioners promote positive thinking and attitudes towards topics that are uncomfortable to discuss such as disability, race, gender and social background at an early stage. Children will develop a better understanding if these topics are discussed openly and sensibly and honestly rather than keeping them taboo.  In early year settings there are many different types of diversity that a child could experience such as race, gender, ethnic groups, religion and disability.  As practitioners we should support children, parents and families as they encounter and deal with diversity with encouragement and guidance. Hopefully the parent will continue the education in the home setting which is why they to need to be informed.

 A part of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) in the Personal, social and emotional development area of learning children are encourage to establish constructive relationships and, develop self esteem in a safe environment and gain a sense of the community, all this helps to develop the child's awareness of difference in their peers. "Children need adults to set a good example and to give them opportunities for interaction with others so that they can develop positive ideas about themselves and others." (EYFS 2007 p.22).

It is argued that in order for children to understand that people with disabilities or individuals from ethnic backgrounds are different but shouldn't be treated differently and are equal to everyone else. Children should be able to see and explore these differences, by meeting people who are disabled or who come from different backgrounds. That why it is important that our schools include children from these categories in their classes and that they don't tiptoe about the subject. (Policy of Inclusion and disability act)???

 The key to understanding anti-discriminatory practice is to acknowledge that it is not just for minority groups but in fact for all children and adults within a setting. "As morality is fundamentally concerned with an obligation to others, children must learn to be attuned not only to their own emotional reactions, but also to those of others". (Damon 1988, p14)

Every pupil should be able to fully access all areas of the curriculum. The introduction of the Every Child Matters framework (2004) and the focus on personalised learning in all sectors of education have also made placed this high on the educational agenda. The reasons for this are 'Human Rights'; all children have the right to learn and play together, children should not be discriminated against for any reason.

The Human Rights Act, (1998) ensures that everyone is treated equal. The TDA website states that 'Education authorities, governing bodies and teachers are bound by many of the provisions of human rights legislation'. (TDA 2010, online). It also comments that every school should have an Equal Opportunities Act that the school will of published, allows children (to fair) do better in inclusive settings, both academically and socially. The policy also states that children should not need to be separated to achieve adequate educational provision, and that inclusive education is a more efficient use of educational resources.  Children also have the right to 'Social Opportunities' which inclusion in education is one aspect of inclusion in society, children need to be involved with their peers.

 "Inclusion means enabling all students to participate fully in the life and work mainstream settings, whatever their needs....Inclusion may also be seen as a continuing process of breaking down barriers to learning and participation for all children and young people. Segregation, on the other hand; is a recurring tendency to exclude difference."(CSIE 2002 b; p.1)

 Inclusion in mainstream schools is a great idea as it gives children the chance to see and speak to other children who come from different backgrounds or have different beliefs or who are disabled, it also helps those children to enjoy a 'normal', life without feeling segregated for being different. But are our schools actually doing this, letting those children take part in all activities?

Watching the DVD series 'Get Physical' with Kelly Holmes, (Tessa O'Neil and Chris Lent, Get Physical) it is easy to see a result. (Teachers' TV online) tells the story of Kings Avenue Primary School in Clapham, south London. The school has a diverse intake of pupils with widely differing needs. The school makes provision for its pupils through thoughtful implementation of its inclusion ethos. Amongst the success stories at Kings Avenue is the "Russian Workout" dance class, offered by a Russian dance tutor who trained in classical ballet. The aim of the scheme is so all children are able to take part in sport whatever their condition and it works.

Children with disabilities have always had a tough time in education. For 25 years, education policies have strived to remove all barriers of learning faced by children with special needs by including them in mainstream schools. But not everyone is happy with the way the government is trying to achieve it. Teachers fear classroom disruption. Parents of non-disabled children fear an erosion of academic standards. And, at the heart of the debate, stands the right to continue sending the most severely disabled to special schools. For some, this is segregation. For others, it is common sense. Baroness Mary Warnock spoke on The Big Debate on Teacher TV about the subject. "The way we're teaching disabled children, she claims, will leave a disastrous legacy." (Teachers' TV, Chris Lent 2005).

In the 1978 Warnock report, it denounced segregation, coined the term SEN (Special Educational Needs) and introduced the Statement of need, which widen the scope, there were already lots of children in schools with special needs but they were being treated differently. (Warnock Report 1978 p.47-49, paragraph 3.42-45).

Mary Warnock (2005) the original architect of the Inclusion Policy, states in her interview on 'The Big Debate' with Jonathan Dimbleby, "that Inclusion is actually becoming Integration".  (Teachers' TV, Chris Lent 2005).

She also mentions, "That the people, who are being segregated as 'Different', are being brought into mainstream schools but aren't participating in every activity in class or the system isn't providing a suitable alterative to the activity that everyone can take part in. Inclusion is what should be happening, but what is happening at present is Integration". (Teachers' TV, Chris Lent 2005).

For example, a child in a wheel chair cannot take part in a physical education lessons because of their disability coupled with the fact the school does not have the correct facilities. What should be done? If the child is to have the same education as all the other children in his/her class shouldn't he/she be allowed to take part?  The Inclusion charter (1989) states, "We fully support an end to all segregated education on the grounds of disability or learning difficulty, as a policy commitment and goal for this country." So therefore it is the government's duty to provide that school with the essential facilities for that child to feel the same as everyone else?  Sometimes it is those individuals with "special needs" which are not included by way of the terminology of their name, it could be stated that all individuals have special needs, which pertain solely to them, whereas some need extra support to achieve or become included in the curriculum.

 'All schools have legal duties not to discriminate against disabled people', Education and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) as amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001). The Disability Rights Commission has produced a code of practise, which explains the law. Although it is not the law itself, tribunals have to take it into account where it is relevant. The act covers anyone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

"All children and adults have the right to evolve and to develop in a context where there is equity and respect for diversity. Children, parents and educators have the right to good quality in early childhood education services, free from any form of - overt and covert, individual and structural - discrimination due to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status" (in reference to Article 2, UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child, DECET Mission Statement 2005).

Inclusive practice is not only for children with disabilities, it covers all types of diversity such as gender issues. The key to understanding research about both genders is the nature/nurture debate.

Many psychologists believe that gender is the result of environmental influences, particularly the way we are treated by our parents, guardians, friends and relatives. According to Dr John Money (1972), "we are psychosexually neutral at birth, and our gender is a consequence of the nurture we receive as children. A less popular view is that gender is the result of nature, particularly the effects of hormones on the developing brain". (Dr. C.A.P. Kenyon 1994-2006 University of Plymouth, Department of Psychology, www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/salmon.)

Social constructivist Barbara Rogoff, suggests that 'the culture in which children grow up (or in other words how they are nurtured) accounts for gender differences, Rogoff argues that "girls are given more guidance in 'proper social behaviour' than boys and that different tasks are usually assigned to children depending on whether they are boys or girls". (Linda Pound 2009, b; 3 p72), (The cultural Nature of Human Development, Barbara Rogoff (Oxford University Press 2003).

 Inclusive practice would include the gender issue and practitioners should allow all children to play with all types of toys and activities, not to make comments like "only girls play with dolls" or "can I have a strong boy to help me carry this box". If a boy wants to put on a dress in the dressing up area or a girl wants to wear men's cloths then let them, encourage positive images of men and women doing traditionally gender specific roles so that children will not get stereotypical ideas of what men and women should do. (Holland, 2003 p.17)

Penny Holland (2003), an academic leader for Early Childhood Studies, reminds us that young children are 'struggling to make sense of what it means to be a boy or girl'. They are 'in the progress of formatting gender identity, trying to find, rules that will make them feel that they belong in the gendered world that surrounds them' (Linda Pound 2009, b;3 p73).  Practitioners are also having a difficult deal with how to support the gender issue. Parent's opinions may differ radically because of their own upbringing and beliefs from those held by teacher and practitioners themselves may find it difficult to settle their own personal beliefs about gender with their colleagues. Still children are copying views that people are not even awake to that they are giving off, it is important not to limit children's life chances by promoting stereotypical behaviour as there is a wide disparity between the views of parents and those of the practitioners who care for their children.

 It could be argued that getting a child a full and happy education could be considered every parents dream and sometimes it is a challenge to get there. Inclusive practise values all children and families. As concerned professionals, we should ask ourselves: Do all the families using an early year's service or school feel equally welcome and able to access the provision with ease?

A diverse range of requirements needs managing in order to obtain a healthy and fair balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group or class, it would be unfair and the opposite of inclusive practise if the children with the disabilities or who speak English as a second language start to receive all the attention. Proponents of inclusive practise maintain that it has long-lasting effects, not just for the children, but also for society in general. It will help eliminate the negative effects of discrimination and allow children to reach their full potential. (Reference required)

 Public awareness of SEN (Special Educational Needs) is growing. Every Child Matters continues to highlight achievement and enjoyment for all, including pupils with SEN. Teachers and teaching assistants are helping pupils to overcome barriers in the classroom, and many are learning more about meeting individual needs.

 Parents that have any questions or need guidance and support with a child that has SEN are being made aware of the lots of different sources of support, information and resources about managing SEN at home. In some situations where a teacher or supervisor has used all the ideas and strategies already available, it may be necessary to ask for extra help and support. In mainstream schools, you should have a SENCo or Special Needs Co-ordinator, on the staff. Outside of the school there are educational psychologists, these professionals visit all schools regularly to support pupils and the adults who work with them. They offer help and advice on a variety of special need problems, and may assess pupils and devise individual programmes. They are also involved with assessing those pupils who may need a Statement of Special Educational Needs.

Beliefs about the personality of children have influenced child rearing in all types of practices over the years. These beliefs are rooted in the cultures and values of people and they change with time, generation and even within a given culture. The requirements of life in a particular society, the skills and abilities valued by that society also have influenced child rearing practices. We live in a multicultural society and must respect other peoples' belief systems and values.