Putting an International Focus on Early Childhood Education
by Joe Savrock (May 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The importance of early childhood education (ECE) is gaining recognition on a global scale, notes Jim Johnson, professor-in-charge of Penn State’s Early Childhood Education Program. For this reason, the Penn State program has been establishing collaborations with researchers in other countries to help develop the ECE field worldwide.
“Penn State’s Early Childhood Education program has an inclusive, multicultural emphasis,” said Johnson. “And since many graduate students come from abroad, we like to situate our program in a global context.”
A small group of educators from Tallinn University in Estonia recently made a weeklong visit to Penn State. The four visiting scholars—Aino Ugaste, Marika Veisson, Silvi Suur, and Kristina Nugin—arrived March 30 to get a first-hand look at how the components of children’s play fit into the processes of ECE in America. The purpose of their visit was to explore play pedagogy in a variety of classroom contexts. They observed activities at the Easter Seals Society, Gray Wood’s Elementary School, Bennett Family Center, and the Child Development Lab.
The visit was the latest in an ongoing cooperative exchange between Tallinn University and Penn State. In April 2008, Johnson presented a paper at Tallinn University during that institution’s 40th anniversary of its ECE department. During the fall 2007 semester, Ugaste spent a month at Penn State serving as a visiting scholar; she investigated the teaching and research of democratic values with respect to play and creativity.
The two universities would like to continue their research exchanges. “Since the Iron Curtain came down nearly two decades ago, and Eastern Europe is not restricted by authoritarian rule, a bigger opportunity exists for these types of exchanges,” noted Johnson.
Working with Johnson, Ugaste plans to add an international dimension in a research project titled “Democratic Values and Social Play Study.” The main goal of the USA–Estonian research is to investigate democratic and educational values in the society and the development of social play in young children.
The investigators are now interviewing teachers. "We're asking questions such as What is your chief aim in teaching? How does children’s play relate to this? Realizing that everyone is different physically but morally the same, how can we teach young children this?" said Johnson.
During the first two weeks of June, a contingent from Puerto Rico—ten undergraduate students and ECE Professor Mayra Almodovar from Universidad del Este—likewise will be getting a feel for the American early childhood education system. Doctoral students Nancy Remy and Annette Searfoss will be teaching the Puerto Rico visitors play pedagogy, ECE curriculum in relation prevention of school violence, and other topics. Like the Estonians, this group will also visit local community and campus ECE programs.
To add to the international connection, Johnson and Karen McChesney Johnson, adjunct assistant professor of early childhood education, visited Tokyo, Japan, in March to attend the ASCD Annual Spring Conference, titled “Learning Beyond Boundaries: Education for the 21st Century.” They presented a nine-hour workshop on ECE and play pedagogy titled “Using the Power of Play to Energize Education.”
Said Jim Johnson, "The Japanese conference served to strengthen the Early Childhood Education program at Penn State by allowing Karen and me to become more aware and responsive to the dynamic changes occurring in ECE worldwide."