Quality early childhood education: perspectives from principals, teachers and parents in two Singapore kindergartens

2017-03-01T01:39:34Z (GMT) by Say, Eunice Mei Ping
This exploratory research investigates quality early childhood education in two Singapore kindergartens. Quality is a concept that has raised greater interest in Singapore early childhood education since 2003 when quality initiatives were implemented, aimed at raising quality standards in Singapore kindergartens and child care centres. One of the governing bodies, the Ministry of Education (MOE), attributes this increasing interest in quality to the rising of Singapore parents’ expectations of early childhood education in preparing young children for Singapore’s mainstream education. The growing recognition that early childhood education contributes significantly to the foundation of future education also adds to the growing interest. The introduction of quality initiatives saw the overhaul of Singapore’s early childhood education. Principals and teachers in early childhood settings focus on meeting these quality initiatives by improving their kindergarten operations, physical environment, curriculum development and teachers’ professional development. With the interest in raising quality standards, this study intends to understand the quality conceptualisations of principals, teachers and parents in the localised context of Singapore. Instead of perceiving quality from a macro level, quality is understood within individual kindergarten settings. The study adopts an interpretive paradigm to gather participants’ quality conceptualisations within two kindergarten settings. The interpretive paradigm opens up the possibilities for participants to share their perspectives on quality and attempts to interpret localised perspectives based on kindergarten’s context and individual values, beliefs and experiences. A mixed methods methodology further substantiate data findings of participants through the use of connecting and weaving approaches to identify and understand participants’ quality conceptualisations. The exploratory study on quality conceptualisations points to two main themes that highlight participants’ shift from the focus on academic excellence towards the development of values to prepare children for life’s journey. In the first theme, Confucian values are recognized as important in preparing children morally and to contribute back to society. Confucian principles influenced the way adults perceive themselves as responsible for children’s values development and the way adults should direct children in the right direction. The second theme emphasized the kindergarten as the promoter of instilling values in children. Kindergartens are recognised as sites of possibility where values are implemented as part of the kindergarten philosophy. Teachers are also recognised as key to role models of values who translate these values to children through their interaction with children. Participants’ quality conceptualisations indicate differing connections made between MOE’s Revised Curriculum Framework and participants’ quality conceptualisations. The connections suggest the influence of neoliberal objectives in perceiving the role of the teacher differently. Governmentality is evident in the way principals and teachers perceive their roles in the kindergarten setting. However, the presence of governmentality and neoliberalism are in contrast to Confucian values that participants promote as important for children’s education. The kindergarten as a place where governmentality, neoliberalism and Confucian values meet, is discussed here. This research focuses on localised kindergarten quality perspectives and concludes with new thinking about quality based on postmodern perspectives. The study acknowledges the multiplicity of participants’ perspectives and how these perspectives are necessary to understand localised conceptualisations of what participants mean by quality early childhood education.