Jocelyn Wright, Centre Director of KiwiLearners International Preschool in Chennai, India shares insights about context, curriculum and change since introducing Storypark at their centre.
For us, Storypark is much more than a place to share stories about children’s learning. It is a tool that supports teacher learning; it aids communication so we can express the learning we value and why with parents; and it helps to retain connections between young children and their wider family.
Early childhood education in Chennai, India
Before I wrote this blog I read Joce NutalI’s recent post on this site. I found it interesting to read the concerns she raised about the trend to ‘educationalise ECE’. ‘Educationalising ECE’ is not a trend in India, it ‘is the way it is’. India’s early education operates with a well-embedded ‘push-down’ of academic expectations. Early years assessment is firmly entrenched in summative approaches that tend to focus narrowly on children’s abilities to count and to read and write.
Indian assessment practices at Lower Kindergarten (LK) (from age 3½) and Upper Kindergarten (UK) (from age 4½) use summative accounts of children’s achievements. Prior to being accepted into LK children are assessed on their ability to hold a pencil, to recognize and write their name, and to count. From LK to UK they are assessed on their ability to write a sentence, to count to 50, and their comprehension of text. If the child has not reached the required level at this transition they are held back for a year and labeled a ‘slow learner’.
KiwiLearners uses the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki. At KiwiLearners we are taking a bold stand by not ‘teaching to the test’ but assuring parents that we share their aspirations for their child’s educational achievement while also focusing on many more worthwhile learning goals, such as self confidence and self assurance, empathy & relationships with others, curiosity and perseverance, creativity, and responsibility and leadership. This is the learning that we want to share with parents and families.
It is within this milieu of conflicting pedagogies, and school and parental pressure, that Storypark is being used in Chennai, India.
When we began to use Storypark to share assessment information about children’s learning it really challenged teachers’ existing perceptions of what learning is all about. I began to teach the Indian teachers new ways to recognise learning and how to write about it. These teachers had been educated and had prior teaching experience in their traditional education system, so writing stories about learning required them to think differently about teaching and learning. Through the actions of discussing observations of children at team meetings and then writing about teaching and learning on Storypark, teachers have all made a significant mindset shift.
Through their stories teachers have found their ‘personal’ voice to speak directly to child and family without ‘educational speak’ or jargon. They can recognise dispositional learning and understand how this connects to what we do today, tomorrow, next week.
The centre has been operating now for nine months and we are able to look back over collections of stories to recognise children’s progress. It has been an exciting journey for teachers who previously thought learning was only measured by the number of letters the child could write, or the numbers they could count. We have also been able to review our programme by sorting tagged stories to understand what learning we may be overlooking or not giving due attention to.
One of the most rewarding features of Storypark is the way that it has supported communication between KiwiLearners, home and beyond. About 80% of KiwiLearners families speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language, and about 70% are expats of India. Regardless of language differences the stories and community posts on Storypark are able to convey the messages about children’s learning that we want parents to value and understand. Photographs and video add to parents’ ability to make sense of the text.
Some of our most discerning and critical parents have been won over by their child’s stories. Parent comments affirm to us that they are clearly valuing the learning supported by our curriculum.
“This is brilliant. That he is having fun exploring and using his imagination, communicating with his friends and enjoying himself!”
“This is such a fantastic way to make science fun and also introduce it early.. Thanks to all the wonderful teachers”
Storypark has proven a fantastic means of keeping children connected with grandparents and other close family members. Expat families love being able to invite extended family members from their home country to their child’s portfolio. Grandparents are some of our most regular and appreciative contributors. They value being able to watch and participate from afar as these precious young children grow up so far from them:
“Thanks a lot !! We live in France (island of Corsica) very far from ******* and so we are very very happy to learn about his school life your way of writing about the daily story at school is great! Grandmother (Mina) and Grandfather (Beaupapa)”
Our journey with Storypark continues to provide learning challenges for the teaching team. With portable digital devices we are looking to make more use of the Storypark app so that we can more easily involve children in the communication and assessment loop. Watch this space!
Meantime, thanks Storypark for a fabulous contribution to early childhood education in KiwiLearners, Chennai.