This second part of a special double issue of Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood focusing on 'Childcare Policies and Politics', continues to examine, critically analyse and debate key issues in policy and political landscapes across a range of national contexts. The eight articles in this issue originate from primarily anglophone countries dominated by market-oriented approaches to early childhood education and care (Cleveland & Krashinsky, 2002). Although political, historical, economic, social and cultural contexts differ between and within the four countries represented in this issue (Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the USA), several common themes emerge in the concerns identified and addressed by many of the authors. These themes include, but are not limited to, the need for careful interrogation of intended and unintended consequences of policy decisions and initiatives; the marginalisation of sectors, populations and groups that do not conform to neo-liberal agendas and ideals; and the governance of communities, parents, and educators supposedly in the interests of enhancing children's well-being and outcomes.
In the first article, Frances Press & Jen Skattebol propose that we explore spaces that emerge at the intersections of different disciplinary knowledge bases and theoretical perspectives. They contend that if we look for, and learn to utilise, points of convergence between modernist and postmodernist theories and discourses, then we may be able overcome the limiting effects of the ultimately unhelpful bifurcation that has in recent years increasingly come to characterise academic critiques of and contributions to policy analysis and development. As a primarily conceptual contribution, their article sets the scene for the analyses of specific policy and educational contexts that follow.
Helen Penn, in the second article, reviews changes in early childhood education and care policies in the United Kingdom in the decade 1997-2007. She highlights the often uncritical acceptance of the magnitude and rapidity of these changes and their far-reaching implications. In juxtaposing the contradictory discourses taken up by two key reports, Starting Strong 11 (2006) and Babies and Bosses (2004), Penn portrays the disruptions, disarray, difficulties and dilemmas that can eventuate when market mechanisms gain ascendancy in policy decision making. She argues the need for new conceptual frameworks that support critical analysis and discussion of current structures and viable future alternatives.
Zsuzsa Millei & Libby Lee critique the Smart Population Foundation Initiative (2006), an Australian policy that positions parents as lifelong learners. Drawing on constructs of governmentality, Millei & Lee argue that this initiative subjects parents' conduct to surveillance and normalisation, silencing multiple perspectives of parenting, and in doing so, 'closes down' opportunities for parents to explore diverse ways of being 'good parents'.
Working at the intersection of discourses of globalisation and multiculturalism, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw continues the theme of governance by examining Canadian discourses of multiculturalism and their enactment in childcare settings in British Columbia. She argues that despite their well-meaning intention of fostering sensitivity, tolerance and acceptance, these discourses, in effect, seek to homogenise rather than celebrate difference. By essentialising children from immigrant families and constructing their differences as deficits, they give rise to childcare policies and practices that endeavour to fashion children as ideal 'citizen-subjects'. Pacini-Ketchabaw advocates an ethics of resistance to these normalising discourses.
In the following two articles, Christine Woodrow and Sandra Cheeseman draw our attention to the diminishing space for the early childhood pedagogical voice in contemporary policy developments in Australia. Woodrow traces the marginalisation of early childhood teacher educators in proposed policy initiatives designed to improve teacher professional standards, but which in fact place teacher education courses and teachers themselves under greater regulation. Her article considers the potential gains and losses to early childhood teachers and pedagogies arising from these developments and concludes with a call for strategic engagement with current debates. Similarly, but within a different political terrain, Cheeseman examines the rhetoric and funding directions of many Australian early childhood policies to uncover a silenced voice - that of the early childhood pedagogue. Further, Cheeseman argues that increased funding has not resulted in universal services for children, but the 'welfarisation' of early childhood. Both articles highlight that the early childhood educator's voice is being excluded and diminished, at a time when early years policies have been gaining a great deal of attention.
Peggy Apple & Mary Benson McMullen explore competing influences on the professional development choices of early childhood educators and professional development support systems in the USA. They draw our attention to the interrelated consequences of the decisions of different constituent groups and invite us to consider who may be advantaged and disadvantaged by these decisions. The inherent moral complexities of decision making, they contend, highlight the need for frank and constructive dialogue between decision makers and those affected by their decisions.
In the final article, Lyn Fasoli & Bonita Moss describe ways in which innovative and culturally responsive remote Indigenous childcare services in Australia's Northern Territory have responded to their communities. As Fasoli & Moss argue, these services act as powerful provocation to rethink our assumptions about what childcare 'should be' and to turn our attention to envisaging instead what it might become. In juxtaposing practices in these Indigenous services with mainstream practices and mainstream constructions of quality, these authors open up space for debate as a consciously political act.
Indeed, by challenging policy status quo in their respective contexts, all the authors who have contributed to this issue engage in political action asking discomforting questions. Many of their questions focus attention on the shrinking spaces available to early childhood educators, advocates and other constituents, in many of the contexts described here, in their attempts to effect policy change. Our reading of these articles, however, is not imbued with pessimism but rather with hope, because in highlighting shrinking spaces these authors also invite us to think about how spaces might be constituted differently in ways that open up rather than foreclose opportunities and possibilities. Accordingly, we anticipate that this issue will foster much critical and generative reflection and discussion.
The colloquium provides an insight into the realities and challenges of children's education in Ethiopia. Although families are highly supportive of their children attending school, a lack of resources and infrastructure (e.g. school buildings, seats, books and teacher training facilities), and the reliance of many rural families on their children's labour, severely curtail children's participation in education, particularly over the longer term. Authors Szente, Hoot & Tadesse propose that educational technology, coupled with the systematic collaboration of families, communities, the Ministry of Education and aid agencies, may be a key to overcoming some of the barriers currently restricting the opportunities available to Ethiopian children.
Finally, the three book reviews canvass a range of issues relevant to early childhood teaching. Anne Petriwskyj reviews Dockett & Perry's (2007) Transitions to School: perceptions, expectations and experiences; Claire Spicer provides an overview of Blatchford's (2003) examination of the impact of class sizes in the early years of primary school, The Class Size Debate: is small better?; and Mary Benson McMullen discusses Abbott & Langston's (2005) Birth to Three Matters: supporting the framework of effective practice. Together, these books straddle early childhood educational contexts from birth through to the early years of school.
Frances Press & Jennifer Sumsion
Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia
Cleveland, G. & Krashinsky, M. (2002) Financing ECEC Services in OECD Countries. OECD Occasional Papers. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/55/59/28123665.pdf (retrieved 3 March 2005).