Using Communication Skills to Enact Change

unknownThe ability to communicate effectively is a powerful tool in the hands of man. It is the magic wand that eases an idea into the mind of others to give substance to it, and helps transform the idea into the reality. It makes an abstract into the concrete; and aids in developing a rapport between individuals so that the flow of information is smooth and successful.

One communicates for many reasons; the primary one is to impart knowledge. But merely imparting knowledge is of no use until and unless this knowledge is accompanied by persuasion so that the receiver of the information is convinced that this is the ultimate one, and accepts it wholeheartedly and begins to think similarly. A policy change may be possible only if communication from one end is buffered by persuasion so that the other person is convinced of the efficacy of the suggested reforms.

I am of the opinion that successful communication entails following certain Mind Tools; in this case the 7Cs; they being clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete and courteous. A person desirous of a policy change may rally around his arguments; but these will reach the desired mark only if he follows that Mind Tools mentioned earlier; of these the two prime ones being correct and courteous. The desired reform in the specific policy will be impossible if the information is incorrect, or imparted in a rude manner. For correct information, the person should have the facts at the tip of his fingers; and this may require delving into exiting relevant data, or even conducting research for more pointers. The communication will then be complete, and the recipients will have all the facts laid out in front of them to understand the complete scenario, and agree to the suggested policy change.

My strengths in terms of communication are decoding non-verbal clues and body language. It is a known fact that the way a person looks at you, or sits, or stands, or moves or does not move his hands, speaks louder than spoken words. I am a keen observer of these unspoken messages and feel that people may communicate effectively through these. Of course, like everyone else, there are areas of improvement in this front; in my case, they being ensuring brevity and alignment. A sure-fire method to hone my skills of communication is to observe people when they are debating professionally to learn how to be succinct, and not to ramble but be aligned to the topic in hand. Apart from these lessons, observing debate activities and taking notes on the same would also help me to understand how people put forward a point with conviction, forcing the listener to agree with them. Lessons in speaking the mind would also follow as these debate sessions would teach me that it is possible to agree to disagree.

Apart from verbal communication, I would like to improve my written communication skills too. Taking cues from debaters, I would learn to judge an idea and take a stand regarding it, for or against; seeking proof to sustain my decision, and thus arriving at a synthesized conclusion, and express it verbally as well as in writing. This will be my key take away from debate sessions; helping me to be an effective communicator, so that the law makers I address would be convinced of the veracity of my stand, and take steps to rectify the problem laid down by me. In this context, I intend to adhere to the 7Cs of communication so that these people in power are favourably affected by my words, spoken and written, and respond accordingly.

Reference

Mind Tools. (2016). The 7 Cs of communication: A checklist for clear communication. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCS_85.htm

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Reaching out in the digital age

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Social media is the relatively new kid on the block; entering the world stage at the fag end of the last century. It is the rising star; the carrier of information and knowledge; the bearer of social change; the ‘pamphlet of the 21st century’; as termed by the IT magazine Wired. Communication is no longer a long-drawn affair comprising handwritten letters or the relatively faster electrical signal of the telegram machine; it is the clicking of a mouse or the pressing of an icon of an app; and zap … the message is delivered!

No surprise then that social media has changed the way we look at things.  The world has become a smaller place with accessibility with remote places and with a maximum number of people. Facebook and Twitter has boarded the communication train; and is dispensing of information, opinions, photograph displays and the war of words at the speed of light. It is being used as a tool to herald in social and political change; as was witnessed during the dissent against dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. A wide range of opinions are expressed with arguments and counter arguments involving uncountable online inhabitants. Posts on Twitter and Me2day are reaching people all over the world in seconds with a ping; and are being accessed on mobile devices; bringing to light many an issue that had been discussed by a handful few earlier; now being discussed by numerous netizens, thus allowing the interested to assess public opinion. All news is Breaking News, being reported in real physical time; all incidents assessed and commented on at the tap of a finger.

Social media is also the means to communicate with politicians and activists to address issues that affect the common man; a means to demand an explanation for a flawed project, or to offer suggestions for improvement, or remedies to situations prevailing in a country that need to be changed for the better. And the best part is that all this may be done from the comfort of one’s home or workplace; and even while travelling! The common man no longer has to depend on the media for information on what is happening all over the world; he just has to log on to his Facebook or Twitter account and sift through the plethora of information to choose the one that interests or affects him the most, and read through and comment. The figures below bear testimony to the immensity of the use and effects of social media:

  • 62 % of the online denizens take recourse to social media to communicate
  • 1  billion people all over the world are registered with Facebook and use its services regularly; with numerous new entrants every day
  • Approximately one minute of every five minutes on the internet by a person is taken up in accessing social networking sites

These figures say it all. Keeping this in mind, my desire is to use the social media to communicate my policy issue and further my mission. For this purpose, I would like to choose two of the most widely used platforms; namely Facebook and the blog.

Facebook is the choice of most adults in this world who have the opportunity to be online;  the Pew Research Center’s Internet Report in September 2013 revealing that approximately 71 % of online adults in America are active on Facebook. The site fares extremely well on the social media ranking too; with compete.com pointing out that it ranks third on the scale that measures the volume of traffic in different websites, and takes the position just after google.com and yahoo.com. With this kind of reach, Facebook would be the perfect social medium for me to express my ideas and suggestions regarding my policy issue; and it would reach my friends, both real and online; and invite comments and further ideas on the same.

Making use of my blog would be my other choice to communicate my policy issue. A blog invites comments; and the issues I would put forth in it would benefit from these comments and ideas. The comments page would be highly interactive; one observation followed by another that adds to it and invites further discussions. My ideas regarding early childhood education and the efficacy of model preschools would find a voice in my blog; and through it I may express my dissent on topics that are regressive, challenge authority if it is counter-productive, and seek assistance of those in power to make a positive change. My take on effective regulations in the field of early childhood education; on the necessity of appropriate teacher training and basic qualifications; and many such related aspects would be presented on this platform; and adding the link to my Facebook account would ensure a wider audience.

The audience would be different in either case. My Facebook entry would be more universal and my take on the policy issue that interests me will reach far and wide; me having numerous Facebook friends. Interested friends would share and repost my posts; and tagging some of my friends would ensure that it reaches the pages of their friends too that are not on my list; thus creating a wider dissemination of information that would reach more eyeballs. On the other hand, my blog would be more personal and specific; and intended for a smaller group of interested readers. At present, my blog is explored by denizens who are mostly educators; and their professional expert comments related to preschool education in response to my ideas are highly appreciated.

Using anything for furtherance of one’s ideas always presents a challenge; and the use of the social medium is no difference. Although Facebook would present me the opportunity to reach out to a greater number of people, it may not be as effective as there would be numerous among them who would be uninterested in the topic in question. In the vast sea of netizens on the Facebook, the ones that would help me in the furtherance of my project may be missed out as many of them may not be active on the site on the day I would post my ideas, or on the succeeding few days; after which the post may get pushed to the background to make way for the infinite number of new ones.

As for my blog, this too may present a challenge, especially since maintaining a blog requires one to be regular and consistent; failing which the readers may lose interest.  Besides, as mentioned earlier, a blog would attract only one kind of audience; for example my blog would attract mostly educators; and thus the responses would be one-dimensional and from a certain specific point of view. It is expected that the comments would be one-sided, lacking the multiple viewpoints that another social medium would present; thus the learning would be limited. This leads me to the other challenge; that is to make the blog interesting enough to attract diverse readers; and opening avenues so that it is easily accessible to all; both educators and others who may or may not be related to the field of early childhood education.

That said, the positive role of the social medium in communicating, interacting and learning cannot be undermined in today’s day and time. It is high time that we use this extremely influential medium to reach out to people and express the issues that interest us; and help in furtherance of our ideas for the benefit of early age children all over the world.

Reference

Hanan, J. (2013, January 31). Connecting Social Media to the Policy Cycle. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/connecting-social-media-policy-cycle

June, P., Hong, C., & Min, P. S. (2011, October). Social Media’s Impact on Policy Making. SERI Quarterly. Retrieved from http://www.seriworld.org/16/qt_PdfDown.html?mncd=0301&pub=20110414&seq..

Pate, E. (2014, May 25). Advocacy Through Social Media Part I: Facebook. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.rootedinrights.org/advocacy-through-social-media-part-i-facebook/

Early Childhood Education Policy of a Nation

Every nation has an educational policy that is a reflection of its cultural and political foundations. This course aims to examine the role of basic factors like culture and economics of a nation on framing the educational policy that is followed there. Policy

Early childhood education is the result of a cooperative endeavour of various stakeholders with the government at the apex. Individuals join hands with organisations and agencies to establish a mutually agreed upon policy regarding early childhood education in a nation; and the government has the most important role here of setting down the legalities and framing and endorsing the basic premises of the same. It is a known fact that resources in this sector vary from nation to nation but what is constant is the major role that the government has to play in setting down the basic curriculum and the training procedure and standards, as well as the legalities involved. It is upon them to examine the appropriateness of private stakeholders and validate their endeavours, as well as ensure funds through patrons.

However, this system will work only with the active efforts of all the stakeholders and their cooperation in working towards the common goal of providing sustainable inputs into the early education sector. The two early childhood education systems which come to my mind are ‘Head Start’ in the USA and ‘Aanganwadi’ in India. The basic premise of these are similar; however, there are major differences between them in scope and objectives.

Advocacy efforts play a major role in endorsing and framing educational policies as well asadvocacy providing direct aid to children. It is imperative that child advocates take active steps to ensure that children are provided with the basic amenities like regular nutritious food, health care and education.  Advocacy also involves supporting a specific idea by indulging in methods that are aimed at influencing the public and the relevant organisations, often through internet based expertise. Successful advocacy leads to change in existing procedures and creating new ones, more relevant and effective, and ensuring that these changes are put into practice with immediate effect. The recipients of such advocacy are the framers of policies like politicians, bureaucrats and public servants as well as people whose voice matter, like that of journalists, the media and NGOs.

In this context, I would like to draw attention to the insight presented in the various papers presented in the international workshop entitled ‘The Role of Early Childhood Education for a Sustainable Society’ that was held in Göteborg, Sweden in May 2007. The delegates presented diverse ideas based on their individual research and experiences in their own countries; however, there was mention of certain underlying goals that were agreed upon by all; they being:

  1. True education should aim at maintaining peace and justice in the world and arm children with the resources to thwart degradation of our planet.
  2. The recipients of such education should not be a mere handful but it should be available to all in the world, irrespective of the status and economic condition of the families and communities to which the children belong.
  3. Such education should be meted out to students when they are in the early education stage as that is the most receptive stage and any input at that stage leads to maximum benefit and to sustainable development.

These goals, although agreed upon by all, have led to certain confusions in my mind. First of all, I came to realise that there is a basic difference in the concerns in the developing and developed worlds in the arena of early childhood. The pressing concern in developing countries is providing basic amenities like health, nutrition, hygiene and water provisions first, and only when these priorities are met is the early childhood curriculum evaluated and changes suggested. Developed countries where the basics are already accounted for lay emphasis on the procedures to improve the existing early childhood education through improved curriculum and appropriate teacher training, among others.

Additionally, different cultures accept and follow different practices that may be positive and negative; and it is upon the educators to identify the relevance and efficacy of each and encourage the positive ones while trying to relegate the negative ones into the background. This is difficult, more so because the times have changed and the effect of these practices may have undergone drastic changes with their results ambiguous and differing from culture to culture.

Another consideration that should be kept in mind is the effect of the specific local contexts that have an effect on children. The aim of early childhood education is sustainable development, and this may only by achieved if the children are impacted effectively and in methods that reflect their local environments and beliefs. Only then can there be active participation of children, their families and the communities they belong to.

A question that assails the mind is the nature of early childhood education that is considered appropriate for sustainable development. It is agreed by all that such education should not comprise merely teaching children the formal method of reading and writing. One of the lessons taught should be leading children to the demerits of the materialistic society that encourages more than enough consumption of luxury items like fancy clothes, toys, etc. The question that is raised here is how to impart the same learning objective to children in developing or under-developed countries where such items are relegated to the background in the face of demand for basic items of existence.

The traditional pedagogies give importance to imparting of knowledge meted out through different subjects as isolated disciplines. New pedagogy need not be construed from scratch; infact it would be beneficial to work on the existing traditional pedagogies and adding relevant practices like the use of activity based learning, projects involving real life situations, interdisciplinary learning systems; etc. The difficulty arises in integrating the new with the old, and ensuring that the ensuing development is concrete and sustainable.

One of the greatest challenges is the system of training of early childhood educators. There is an urgent need to assess the quality and system of pre-service and in-service training of early childhood educators and caregivers all over the world and improvement made on them for sustainable development.

Accreditation is another tool that may be given importance as a means to improving the standard and effect of early childhood education that leads to sustainable growth. It is a powerful instrument in the hands of policy makers and serves as the basis on which the existing system may be assessed, and improvements suggested, if necessary. It is the yardstick that evaluates the system while monitoring it and ensuring quality and protection of children at this vulnerable stage of their lives. Mention may be made of ‘NAEYC Position Statement on Licensing and Public Regulation of Early Childhood Programs’ [NAEYC 1998] in this context.

Sustainable development ensures creation of an inclusive society in which there is development inspite of the differences. This may be achieved when people of different age groups, gender, financial status and cultural background work in cooperation with each other towards similar goals. Keeping this in mind, I would like to rethink and redefine my professional goals in the arena of early childhood education. The goals would be as follows:

  1. First Goal: I would like to raise awareness regarding the real objective of early childhood education; which is to impart skills of a greater kind rather than acquiring of mere academic knowledge and competencies.
  2. Second Goal: I would like to embrace the families of the children in the process rather than involving only the students in the course of imparting of skills and understanding as families provide the base and is the extension of the local context that binds the child and forms his mental make-up.
  3. Third Goal: I would endeavor to raise awareness about the requirement of a universal programme for early childhood education and ensure that all the stakeholders unanimously agree to it and rethink the existing traditional ideas and work on them to embrace a universality that assures sustainable development.

References

Child advocacy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 01, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_advocacy

Implementing child rights in early childhood. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/files/Guide_to_GC7.pdf

International Early Childhood Education. (n.d.). Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.icfi.com/markets/education/campaigns/international-early-childhood-education

Early Childhood Education Schools, Quality Education. (n.d.). Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.centralsquarefoundation.org/issue/school-systems/early-childhood-education/

NAEYC Position Statement on Developing and Implementing Effective Public Policies to Promote Early Childhood and School-Age Care Program Accreditation. (1999, April). Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/psacrpol.pdf

Samuelson, I., & Kara, Y. (2008). The contribution of early childhood education to a sustainable society. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001593/159355E.pdf

Final Thoughts

It has been an eventful journey for me as I have pursued this course of knowledge, understanding and discovery. I have gained in comprehending concepts that had earlier been mere speculations, and have had my beliefs and judgements reinforced by new ideas

microagressionOne of the research-proven concepts that I have connected most with is the concept of micro-aggression  in the classroom and how it should be eradicated. Microaggression is a negative concept, leading to low self worth, hampered development, and “death by a million tiny cuts”. It is discrimination at its worst, because it is often unconsciously meted out, with the perpetrator frequently not aware that he is indulging in it. In the classroom, microaggression may be from peers, from teachers, or from the other staff. As a victim of microaggression as a student, I remember being hesitant to speak out, both by my introvert and shy nature and by the apprehension that it would be swept under the carpet with the assumption that I am ‘too sensitive’ and should learn to adjust to, what they consider, perfectly acceptable rebukes or criticisms. I was always made to feel that it is ‘no big deal’ and I should learn to rise above them if I am to face the real world. I would argue in my mind that those were probably unintentional, though hurtful, and it would not improve matters if I spoke up.

Now, in retrospect, I feel that they have had a major effect on me. As I delve into my coursework and read what research has to say about micro aggression, I realise that each of these incidents has left its mark. Researches that I have perused have brought to the forefront the fact that these experiences, although termed ‘micro’ actually have ‘major’ consequences in the long run. These slights and discrimination, intentional or not, lead to impaired motivation, lack of commitment and hence are impediments to success in the future. Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are likely to occur, leading to behaviour problems that may be difficult to rectify.

This realization has brought to the forefront the critical role that educators have to play in handling situations that lead to microaggressions in and sometimes outside the classroom. Schools should be felt to be ‘homes away from homes’ for children where they may learn, interact, and thrive in comfort and ease. Any act of microaggression should be nipped in the bud, with support given to both the perpetrators and the victims. While the perpetrators should be ingrained into the tenets of equality and how everyone is capable irrespective of their differences; the victims should be taught resilience and also be encouraged to learn to fight back. Modelling appropriate behaviour in the classroom would also work wonders, giving the children opportunities to follow and learn from role models.

What surprised me was the realization that children are very intuitive and receptive from a very early age. It has been proven that by the time a child is three years old, he is capable of picking up cues from the social behaviour around him to imbibe it. Derman-Sparks (p. 2) states how such young children may display biased attitudes based on gender or race and demonstrate “pre- prejudice” towards their peers accordingly. Psychologists term this as being “culturally programmed”; and it is shocking that this is indeed the truth.

I have hopes to further investigate the concept of sustainable development and how this may be facilitated through education, especially at the early stage level. My literature review has made me realise that there is paucity on research on the impact of early childhood education on sustainable society. Researchers have suggested educators to imbibe the policies and practices followed in different countries at the early childhood level that would lead to sustainable development; and I agree with this idea wholeheartedly.

Another area that I find interesting and wish to investigate further is the one that enumerates and describes the skills that must be possessed by early childhood educators so as they may provide appropriate guidance to students at this critical stage that would lead to sustainable development.

My desire to investigate these areas is directly related to my future aspirations; which is education for sustainability. I believe that this is education in the true sense of the term, and this should begin right from birth, and be followed up in the early childhood school, and further on. As was discussed earlier, children are receptive from a very early age, as early as when they are three years old, and so the early childhood sector is the right time to lead them to democratic values and acceptance of all cultures, languages and social patterns. Such grounding in equality with acceptable values and ideals at this early stage will help in creating children with strong logical, psychological, emotional and social bases who are aware of the diversity around them and accept it without any discrimination. The 21st century has led to the metaphorical shrinking of the world with people of varied nationalities, cultures, languages and lifestyles living and thriving side by side. It is thus imperative for children to be ingrained in intercultural education to learn to accept this diversity around them and learn and grow for sustainable development of the world.

I have been motivated to choose this profession by many factors. Prime and foremost is unknownthe fact that early childhood is the most critical stage in the life of a person, and any input at this stage has lifelong effects. An early childhood educator has in his hands to provide the correct inputs to the children, helping him imbibe positive values, admirable skills and in-depth knowledge; all of which will help him create a sustainable society in the future. Such children will make the right choices and grow up with decision making skills that will have a beneficial effect on their own lives and on society at large (Roth and McGinn, 1998). And this may be done by encouraging children to be themselves and assist them to learn from activities that they mostly bond with, which invariably begins from early childhood and at home. It is the duty of early childhood educators to realise this, and thus take active steps to rope in the parents into the process and form partnerships with them so as to ensure there is continuity in the inputs that the children receive at home and at school (Siraj-Blatchford, 1999). Keeping this in mind, I am indeed fortunate to have chosen this profession as it gives me the opportunity to guide children at their most vulnerable and receptive stage so that they grow up to be conscientious individuals with a positive mindset, denouncing discrimination and alienation; all of which will help in the creation of a sustainable society in the future.

Reference

Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2010).Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves.Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2011). Microaggressions in Everyday Life [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Perez, G. (n.d.). Proud to be an early childhood educator. Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/390546598910174113/?from_navigate=true

Microagression. Digital image.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.frontpagemag.com/tag/microaggression

Samuelsson, I. P., &Kaga, Y. (2008). The contribution of early childhood education to a sustainable society. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001593/159355E.pdf

 

 

 

My learning process

An interview is a process that has been in vogue since time immemorial to learn facts from another person regarding his experiences, opinions and conclusions on a specific topic. And it is precisely this methodology that I was advised to adopt to understand the viewpoint of others regarding multilingualism in the preschool environment.

The process posed certain difficulties for me initially; mainly due to the topic of my research, and the paucity of research on this topic in the Indian subcontinent. As mentioned earlier, my topic of interest was multilingualism in the preschool environment, and this is a topic that is not given too much importance in India, with the traditional idea of the efficacy of monolingualism being accepted here and hence followed in most schools. Bound by time constraints, I was not sure if it would be possible for me to zero down on professionals who were active in this field. The search was a tedious one; with long hours on the internet, on the telephone and also by word of mouth; and ultimately I was able to locate two individuals who agreed to be interviewed; for which I would have to travel approximately 1000 km away from home.

I was indeed lucky to be able to contact them in time and get assurance that they would be available for me at such a short notice. My interview with them was face to face; with a set of questions that could be shuffled around as per the situation and answers. Flexibility in the interview process is extremely essential; and I ensured that the prepared questions did not follow a strict sequence so that I could respond to the answers appropriately and frame the next question that would be related to the previous answer of the interviewee.

I am of the opinion that I conducted myself well during the interview; with appropriate introduction of the self, frequent eye contact, an interested and responsive body language, and pertinent questions that were able to drop the guard of the interviewees and make them respond amicably. Agreed, there were instances of pauses as I pondered over their answers and framed the next question in my mind; but those were comfortable silences that did not impede the communication. One challenge was being confident; and the first interview saw me slightly nervous and awkward initially, making me miss out on probing questions that would have led to ‘in-depth’ answers; but I caught on quickly and was soon asking pertinent questions. I came to realise that a good interviewer needs to multitask; she has to ask, listen, think and talk all at the same time!

My interview with both the interviewees reinforced my belief in multilingualism to be the key to proper learning in the preschool stage. Education in multilingual classrooms should be based on the immediate surroundings and daily life; as that is what children relate to most, being exposed to it since birth. Paulo Freire, a critical pedagogue, states that it is indeed important to connect the learning process with the regular life proceedings of the children as this makes the content more accessible to the students; and they connect to these more and thus learn more, becoming critically conscious. Research has also proved the necessity for teachers to reach out to students and their families to comprehend their personal lives, their native languages, their beliefs, the culture that they follow, and so on, so that they may frame the curriculum and the teaching strategies accordingly (Florence, 1998; Freire & Macedo, 1998; hooks, 1994; Shor & Freire, 1987). Ease of communication between teachers and parents aid the students in a multilingual setting; and allow both teachers and students to gain to the optimum level.

Other than acquiring knowledge in a comfortable atmosphere, multilingualism also helps to develop a child’s theory of mind. The theory of mind is the capacity to comprehend not only one’s belief, desires, knowledge and relate them to those of others; but also to gain awareness of the fact that these vary from person to person. As social beings, children are exposed to the wide world around them, leading them to understand that the opinions, thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles of people around them may be different from that of theirs. Multilingualism aids in the development of this awareness; and is the stepping stone to acceptance of others; and the development of social cognition and theory of mind.

Keeping all these factors in mind, adopting a narrow policy of monolingualism in a country like India with people speaking various languages and following different cultures will be detrimental to the development of children; who will devote their crucial years in preschool to just learning a language, and not in gaining the knowledge that is being conveyed through it.

My journey in this course has been a fruitful one till date; beginning with identifying the challenge area; mine being multilingualism in the preschool setting. Annotated bibliographies of scholarly, peer-reviewed research articles followed; all of them related to my challenge area.

The first week saw me reviewing articles that deal with family and culture as related to multilingualism. I gained awareness that the policy of adopting ‘one person, one language principle’ was definitely beneficial; with the child learning multiple languages in the process, and learning to communicate in all too. The importance of one’s home language was brought to the forefront; with it being explained in no uncertain terms that children should become adept at their native language first before they attempt an alien language like English. Communication in English at home with the sole purpose of teaching the child to converse in it and understand it may jeopardize the relationship between parent and child, and create uneasy familial ties.

The second part of the annotated bibliography was on research articles that deal with communities and societal dynamics. Perusal of the articles created awareness in me of the importance of interactions between children belonging to different cultures and speaking different languages. Exposure to these differences leads the children to the realization that those who speak differently or behave differently should not be judged adversely; thus making these children more adaptable and with the ability to respect all inspite of the diversity. Prejudices which were based on ignorance are removed, and this is a direct result of the multilingualism in the classroom.

Part 3 of the annotated bibliography was on scholarly, peer-reviewed research articles that deal with the stress, trauma and risks associated with monolingualism in the preschool classroom. Adoption of a single language policy in such classrooms may lead to quicker learning of the language; but the negatives far outweigh the positives; mainly in the context of mental health. Inability to respond in class where only an alien language is being spoken inhibits a child; causes stress and trauma; and may scar him for life. Shyness adds to the trauma; and the inability to vent out feelings, ideas, and opinions in a language one doesn’t know properly makes the entire schooling process unpleasant. Additionally, children of depressed mothers lag behind in developing communication skills due to less practice as these depressed mothers seldom speak with their children; and that too, inconsistently.

One question that I have regarding the above topic for which I would welcome feedback is the following:

  • How may we involve parents in promoting multilingualism in the classroom?

The online game of teach and learn

I, wondered, that if the world now is functionally making its transition on to the Web, can teaching & learning be very far behind? If it has started, how different is it from a face to face classroom experience not only for the student who participates or attends but also for the teacher who teaches? Can I a traditional teacher be good at it too be able to manage say a class of 30 students equally just as effectively? I decided to take the plunge and before the teaching, my learning began in right earnest, and how?
This particular kind of teaching needs me to have a class in the first place. Who would get students for me? How do I define the course? Then while I am taking the class, am I likely to have all of my class together to talk to? How do I keep them who are with me constantly engaged? These were some of my queries and did I get any empathy from the world around me? Absolutely not. This world operated on some simple myths, if it is online, where do you have to go? Everything comes to you right at home? It is easy. As a fresher in this business these learning’s came to me the hard way.

  1. Is it a lot of work? Yes, only if you do not know how. So the primary step needed is to be more organized at it. Unlike a face to face classroom, not all participants could be available together. If they do by some coincidence my work time is crunched up. Answering orally a query is so much simpler than having to write it down when it is posed. If there is a test to be conducted and graded, how soon can be out with the results. This is on account that the online and offline world operate at different speeds and without brevity and speed one doesn’t create interest and engagement that converts into extended sticky time.
  2. Now beyond the immediately achieved sticky time how does a teacher create comfort and then provide a quality that are both pleasing to the teacher and desirable to the recipient? This happens through measured, concise and regular feedback. To achieve this one needs an online identity that includes a photograph or a face. Introducing one another and getting introduced breaks ice faster than anything one imagined. Now, one has begun.
  3. Technology has abundance but is all of it essential? This is the question that first needs answering. The online media has many tools but a clear balance has to be designed to make one receptive to these tools at the same time gauging a comfort level with them. Not all recipients in the same course may have the same level of technological comfort, hence while in an effort to make a class attractive and flamboyant one should not miss out on the defined effective purpose of the course itself. Audio, Videos and Animation look nice and while they are nice to have, it does may make it more suitable to check whether they are necessary to have.
  4. Assignments online can consume a lot more time. One has to read all and respond to all by writing a genuine and valuable feedback. This can mean searching for weighing the right word, weaving it into a sentence and putting it down. Unlike an oral feedback this is also permanent hence carefulness creeps in and one spends considerably more time on it. It also calls for one to be updated from the word go. Updating means reading a lot more and digesting the matter clearly for use in the on-going assignment.
  5. Motivation of the participant is the key. Are they just as charged up to finish the work in a given time and are they likely to wait for the last minute to post up if at all because they are just expected to or simply drop out. Some students are self-chargers while others and a majority of them may not be. This issue plagues both classroom teachers as well as online ones. Creating active engagements, encouraging collaborations and then grading each one separately with feedback for the uniqueness is a solution that works majorly. The carrot or the stick or a judicious mix of both is a personal choice and best left to the teacher and her understanding of the profile of the batch for the best output.
  6. Timeliness: An output when it does not fall in line with the calendar or the clock has really no meaning. Malleability and flexibility to finish an assignment or work is good, but this flexibility is the not blinkered expansiveness of thought and imagination, the clock or the date is sacrosanct. Deadline gives work meaning and when this is impressed upon the participant, it not only makes for better learning and focus but also eases up pressure on the teacher and lines up the organization of the course smoother.
  7. Is Online for all? The suitability and the fit are not universal. As a teacher one may not get to know this right at the beginning. However the student’s engagement, learning ability, timeliness in assignments the interest shown in knowledge seeking can be indicative whether this medium is good for him and for the teacher to be having such a student. This is decision time and a call has to be taken. The communication of this feedback is super essential with its content having an inbuilt sensitivity paramount. The skill of the teacher is exhibited here.
  8. The course should have fluidity and if not it makes immense sense to build some into it or factor some leeway to mould it. The pointers for this shall come out of periodic information share with the participants while it is on.
  9. Share, share and keep sharing your experience. Online teaching is a new animal and the world must be familiar with the fact that you do it and how do you do it. The benefits are unprecedented; sharing allows information exchange on methods and techniques. It may also popularize your courses, create and build your own credibility as an expert in this particular delivery and hence subsequently attract more students being recommended or you being recommended for collaborations.
  10. Online & Offline: Each one can support the other, enhance the other. While in a face to face teaching one may not be privy to any discussion, in the online world you are and this can enhance the ability of yours to hear it all and address it. It shall make you a better offline teacher and vice versa.

Multilingualism in Early Years

A child imbibes different features of the environment around him as he grows up; one of these is the language that he speaks in and communicates. The language that he uses to communicate lends him his unique identity. It has been observed all around the world that children are growing up speaking more than one language, and thus becoming bilingual, and even multilingual. This may sound encouraging, with the children perceived to be bright and receptive as they are being able to grasp more than one language and to reach out in them; however, the truth is that this is posing many a problem to children as well as to the parents and the teachers, and thus impeding development and progress.

The world has seen a rise in bilingualism and even multilingualism in recent years. Wei (2000) states that now on an average, one in three people all over the world are bilingual or multilingual. It is indeed remarkable to note that this is a universal trend, and is not seen to be dependent on the stage of development of the country, with both developed countries like Switzerland, Belgium and Canada as well as developing countries of Asia and Africa like India, the Philippines and Senegal showing this trend. A study of the trend in the United States of America reveals that most of the bilinguals live in California and New York, among other states. By 2035, California is expected to house children 50% of whom will speak and communicate in a language other than English (García, McLaughlin, Spodek, &Saracho, 1995). The Canadian Council on Learning (2008) states that in certain areas of Canada like Toronto, at least 50 % of the children speak a native language other than English.

These figures are noteworthy, and their effects need to be gauged. However, it is surprising to note that very little research has been conducted on this rise in bilingualism and multilingualism and their effects. My desire to choose this topic is motivated by my desire to delve into this trend, and investigate the effects of this not only on the said children and their progress and development, but also on the environment they grow up in.

There are many factors that inspired me to choose this topic of multilingualism in preschools; prime among them being the role of this trend on the children themselves. My motivation comes from personal experience as a second generation migrant family from a southern state of India residing in Mumbai. My foray into child psychology took shape with my Post graduation in Counseling Psychology from the University of Bombay, after which I ventured into the practical world of working with a group of well known K-12 schools in the western suburbs of Mumbai which brought me closer to children with learning disabilities. My experience with such children gave me a lot of insight into the problem, and I endeavored to put my experience and knowledge to fruitful use by deciding to work as an independent consulting psychologist with a school where my daughter was enrolled as preschool student.

And it is here that I came face to face with the problem of bilingualism and multilingualism. The basis of the problem was that the children of the school belonged to families where English was not the language spoken at home, whereas the language of communication at school was English. This created a lot of problems for these children who were at this tender age, and also for the teachers who were required by the school authorities to communicate only in English. Most teachers too relegated the regional languages to the background, and research has proved this to be a step away from development.

Additionally, it is imperative to understand that children in a preschool arrive with certain characteristics that are linked to their linguistic and cultural backgrounds. It has been proved that it is imperative for teachers to understand this knowledge that children bring in from their linguistic backgrounds (Cummins, 1986; Fillmore & Snow, 2002; Genesee, 1994; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). Along with this, it is necessary to comprehend the culture of the language that children bring to school.

The caregivers too came from non-English speaking families, thus facing similar problems. The children were thus exposed to multi- languages at this formative age, which by itself is not a problem, but the problem lies in the proper integration of all, which may not be possible for children at this age.. I observed that many a child was unable to develop early literacy skills that affected their academic performance. Both parents and teachers were stressed due to the pressure of striking a balance between the multiple languages that the children were striving to communicate in.

It was observed by me that this emphasis on English in preschools was the major reason for this conflict. In India, young children are enrolled into preschools where English is the language of instruction and communication. This is a major problem for the children who speak regional Indian languages at home, and are suddenly required to understand another language that is given more respect that their own mother tongues. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1995) recommends that “Educators must accept the legitimacy of children’s home language, respect (hold in high regard) and value (esteem, appreciate) the home culture, and promote and encourage the active involvement and support of all families, including extended and nontraditional family units”. Sadly, this is not the case, and English assumes the most respectable position in most preschools, often disregarding the regional languages of the children and not giving them the esteem that they deserve. Added to this is the mindset of most parents in our country that makes them enroll their children in English medium schools although government schools offer education in the vernacular languages free of cost. These English medium preschools are the stepping stones to prestigious primary and high schools; thus parents are willing to sacrifice their regional languages at the altar of English; in the process often jeopardizing their children’s future by forcing them to be bilingual or multilingual and thus make them stumble in all the languages they imbibe.

I further interacted with teachers and parents in a pre school and daycare where I was working as an Academic director and later as Senior  faculty of International Pre Teacher’s training college imparting online training to teachers. These interactions brought me closer to the stakeholders and gave me further insight into their thought process. This has reaffirmed my desire to understand the issues faced by the parents, teachers, and others related to the education of children, and thus devise appropriate strategies to empower them in finding the right solutions so that the winners are ultimately the children, the future citizens of our world.

Some questions that assail me are as follows:

  • How does multilingualism influence day-to-day practice with children and families?
  • What are the obstacles and difficulties (if any) that the practitioners face in providing effective curriculum delivery?
  • Do teachers need any specific training? Should they possess any specific characteristics?
  • What are the costs and benefits of multilingualism?

 

Reference:

Byers-Heinlien, K., & Lew-Williams, C. (2013). Bilingualism in the early years: What the science says. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from http://www.learninglandscapes.ca/images/documents/ll-no13/ll-no13-v-fin-lr-links.pdf

Park, E., & King, K. (2003). Cultural diversity and language socialization in the early years.Digests. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Texas Child Care: Back issues. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.childcarequarterly.com/spring10_story1.html