Written by My ECE
© My ECE
The Ole Schoolhouse early childhood centre in Rotorua set out on a challenge of becoming a genuinely multicultural centre.
The following is a summary of Eric’s (co-owner/ manager) presentation to the ECE Management Forum in 2015 that he put together with the help of two staff: Li-Chuan and Kusum Prasad.
The centre is housed in a 100 year-old building and had only 11 children and no Maori or multi-cultural practices when Eric and Li-Chuan Hollis took it on.
The Ole Schoolhouse owners and teachers have sought to achieve a balance between being sensible and pragmatic while building a truly multicultural centre.
They wrote a four-page philosophy document back in 2011 reflecting core beliefs to guide their actions and decisions into the future. This philosophy statement has been treated throughout as a genuine guiding document rather than empty rhetoric that would just sit on a shelf gathering dust.
Because the centre has children from different nationalities and cultures, careful thought and planning was required to best meet everyone’s needs.
The team were aware about how impositions of a dominant culture could marginalise and devalue other cultural beliefs and practices as acknowledged by Te Whāriki (New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document):
different cultures have different child rearing patterns, beliefs and traditions and may place value on different knowledge, skills and attitudes (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 42).
So the Ole School House team formulated the question, ‘What is the evidence that championing a culturally inclusive programme can benefit not only the individual child but all of the people in our centre’?
Multicultualism was researched and change was brought about through using informal education through conversation as an agent for change with an emphasis on mindfulness and being mindful. This prompted:
1. Changes in teaching dynamics
2. A shift in teachers’ values/beliefs shift as they reflected on their practice
3. Whānau values/beliefs gained value and came to be regarded as being at the centre of practice.
In 2010 the dominant culture held all the power in the centre. By 2013/ 4 the centre had shifted toward bicultural practice. Now in terms of teaching practice the centre is at the point of celebrating all cultures represented in the centre and this is regarded as normal and gives all a sense of empowerment.
A values shift was achieved through the sharing of knowledge, successes and failures including family participation in shared leadership and knowledge.
Some of the big challenges have included:
- Asian and other families not valuing free play (a belief that the teacher’s job is to teach)
- Families seeing school as only the teacher’s domain and not for parents to participate in.
- Families wanting to pay for a service so that they need not be involved
- Limited language skills
- Parents not always perceiving children as paramount.
Approaches to these challenges included weekly newsletters, learning stories, conversations with families and capturing the whānau voice, family outings and grandparents day, and cultural celebrations supported by whānau such as Matariki, Diwali, Chinese New Year, April Fish Day (France), Anzac Day, Zimbabwe Independence Day and many more. Also the diverse cultural backgrounds of teachers were recognised.
A large part of their success was attributable to an understanding of effective leadership strategy, which meant being excited by new challenging ideas and being prepared to be uncomfortable and enter the unfamiliar.
They embraced the idea of encouraging children to go beyond their own and the adult’s own knowledge base and to accompany one another into new experiences.
And the families have agreed that the Ole Schoolhouse’s plan to become and be multi-cultural is being realised, as shown by these examples of recent feedback:
- "His grandparents live in France so was fantastic he learned about this tradition”
- "It is important for me as a mother and teacher for my children to learn and appreciate every culture”
- “Nana and Poppa are so proud; we can sing the Maori colour song together”
Observed outcomes for the children have included:
- Better understanding of diversity, more accommodating, less judgemental
- More inquisitive, more meaningful questions
- Better general knowledge, including about new countries and new vocabulary
- More discussion about topics with parents and family
- Interest in why people have different names, their meaning and correct use.
Feedback and observations have given The Ole Schoolhouse confidence they are on the right track to fulfilling the requirement of Te Whāriki (New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document) that…
each early childhood education service should ensure that programmes and resources are sensitive and responsive to the different cultures and heritages among the families of the children attending that service (Ministry of Education, 1996, p.18).