Professor of Education Heidi Harju-Luukkainen considers that support for children’s linguistic and cultural identities, which is mentioned in the curriculum as well, calls for the development of new tools and competences for early childhood education teachers. Harju-Luukkainen and her team have been developing the KieliPeda (LanguageTool) tool, which was piloted in almost thirty municipalities.
Societal changes shape, for their part, also the demands set to early childhood education teachers. Along the increasing and changing demands, we should also develop the guidelines and practical tools so that the teachers could do their job in an optimal way.
The latest national framework curriculum for early childhood education and care, which was published in 2018, calls for support for children’s linguistic and cultural identities as well as implementation of language-aware pedagogy. This is a valid demand as we can hear and see an increasing variety of languages and cultures in the daily life of day care centres.
– At the time when the new curriculum was published, there were no practical tools for language-aware pedagogy, however, despite the fact that the linguistic world of early childhood education had already then changed completely, says Professor of Education Heidi Harju-Luukkainen from the Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius.
Her own family speaks three languages at home. She has already for long been interested in multilingualism in early childhood education: Her doctoral dissertation in 2007 dealt with language immersion. Later, her research interests have focused on bi- and multilingualism and future early childhood education teachership, among other things.
The KieliPeda tool brings help to the field of early childhood education
In the lack of guidelines for the implementation of language-aware pedagogy, Harju-Luukkainen together with nearly thirty early childhood education experts began to design the KieliPeda tool (LanguagePeda tool). The development stage involved altogether 27 municipalities.
The KieliPeda tool consists of three parts and it responds to the needs of early childhood education in terms of developing language-aware practices and facilitating the learning of the Finnish language, especially for multilingual children. This tool contributes to language-aware early childhood education, which recognises the meaning of languages for children’s learning, development, interaction, and identities.
The first part of the tool evaluates and develops the learning environments of early childhood education from the perspective of language awareness. The second part examines the linguistic world of multilingual children together with their parents, and the third part addresses the progress of Finnish language skills of multilingual children.
– If a child is not advancing in the learning of Finnish, the tool always directs the focus back on the environment of early childhood education and the staff’s work practices. We should ask whether the operation culture of early childhood education is language-aware enough to enable best possible learning of Finnish language proficiency, Harju-Luukkainen states.
The Finnish-language version of KieliPeda was published in 2020 to be followed by the Swedish- and English-language versions this year. It has already been taken into use in nearly all municipalities in Finland.
Also teacher education must react to societal changes
In order that early childhood education teachers could respond to the changing conditions and demands, also their training needs to be developed accordingly.
– Indeed, also education must be able to take societal changes into account.
– Moreover, teachership does not mean anymore that you graduate from a training programme once and forever; rather, teachers should realise the meaning of lifelong learning in view of the quality of early childhood education and attend actively in-service training as society and also the world of education and teaching keep changing.
– Admittedly, we have faced really rapid and extensive societal changes, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Such changes definitely pose major challenges to early childhood education teachers, like also to the whole education system. To cope with the changes, we need new kinds of skills and ways of thinking, Harju-Luukkainen says.
An early childhood education teacher needs to be more of everything
The job description of an early childhood education teacher is wide and varied.
In their recent article on the future of teachership in early childhood education, Heidi Harju-Luukkainen and Docent Jonna Kangas state that as builders of the future, teachers are expected to be “even more of everything” with respect to pedagogy, creativity, and acting in a work community, for instance.
To enable early childhood education teachers to respond to the increasing demands, another important resource in addition to guidelines and training is money. However, it seems that funding for early childhood education is still insufficient.
This is astonishing, considering the great significance of early childhood education to individuals and society at large: It both prepares children for schooling and can even out differences in learning by providing equal educational opportunities. When there is not enough money, it will show later in increasingly extensive social problems.
– Appropriate working environment and related resourcing are necessary in order to ensure early childhood education of good quality, Harju-Luukkainen summarises.
Subscribe to the JYUnity newsletter
Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.