The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has announced that it is seeking feedback on the last 11 years of the Aistear framework in order to enhance and update the early childhood curriculum.
Aistear, the early childhood curriculum framework, was published in 2009 after a process of research and consultation.
The consultation for the new update, which is due for publication in 2023, is open online and if you are interested in getting involved, just click here.
Having worked in the education sector prior to any regulations, curriculum, quality frameworks or guidance on inclusion etc., I have witnessed and welcomed change especially in the area of curriculum.
Prior to the publication of Aistear, inspection was more dust on a radiator than what the children were learning! While I do not mean to demean the inspection process, health and safety is important, but so is the child’s welfare, learning and development which was emphasised by Aistear, Síolta and the updated regulation.
Is There A Need For Change?
Yes there is, as Forster (2021) states, while Aistear views the child as a being and becoming, and the themes of wellbeing, identity and belonging, communication, exploring and thinking is in keeping with current international research, there is a need to reflect on the society and sector in which we now live and work.
Changes within Ireland and the early years sector include:
Ireland is now a more diverse society.
The ECCE scheme is now allowing access up to two years early education for all children prior to starting primary school.
Aistear views the child as a capable and confident learner, constructing knowledge in partnership with the adult.
Coming from a Montessori background and believing the adult facilitates learning and the child learns through work, this new framework put ‘the cat among the pigeons’ as it was aspiring to a more play-based, emergent and inquiry-based curriculum.
It became clear that the child’s play is their work.
The fundamental thinking of several theories and approaches are reflected in the pages of Aistear, which states that quality, relationships and connections are key.
It allowed practitioners to see the value in self-directed, interesting, and stimulating activity.
Suddenly, the educator did not need all the answers as the child could work it out for himself with the support of the adult, who understood that the environment was key to learning.
It was the end of an adult-led environment and the view of the child as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge.
Aistear embraced a more child-led approach to learning which, in my view, was tokenistic prior to this.
The focus on children’s wellbeing and sense of identity and belonging as a basis for learning and development is fundamental.
In my view, if this is nurtured, then the child will have the basis to allow them to communicate and explore, discover, and think for themselves.
Learning dispositions such as perseverance, resilience, curiosity, creativity, independence, and other valuable life-long learning dispositions were valued in a more structured way.
While observation was always key to my practice, this became broader as planning was now based a pedagogy of listening which involves assessment, which encompasses observing, reflecting, and documenting in order to build rich portraits of child as a learner.
Assessment of learning was prevalent prior to Aistear whereas now the educator was introduced to assessment for learning.
In my opinion, settings use Aistear’s themes and have a more emergent curriculum based on assessment, however, there is little focus on the other areas.
Partnership with parents is still quite conforming, rather than reforming and is far from transforming.
A respectful, reciprocal relationship with parents to key to learning and development, parents know their children best, their interests, their needs etc.
While services say they partner with parents, this is often tokenistic. Parents seldom have input into policy making in the setting, although this is advised by the QRF.
This is an area which could be improved not only in the written context in the updated version of Aistear, which should provide guidance on how this can be implemented in practical everyday practice.
The wellbeing of the child is emphasised in the current version of Aistear, but little thought is given to the wellbeing of the practitioner, but can one inspire wellbeing, self-esteem, confidence, independence, decision-making and problem-solving skills if the adult does not have their own wellbeing supported?
In my view, this is an area for future deliberation.
Primary school’s implementation of Aistear needs consideration as it seems that many have slotted in ‘Aistear time’, ‘Aistear hour’ and some even have an ‘Aistear Room’ but should the ethos and thinking of Aistear not run throughout the day?
I think it does but because it is more associated with early years, it is not valued as much as it should be.
Do teacher’s value each child’s uniqueness, equality and diversity, children’s rights? Do they nurture quality reciprocal relationships with children and their families? Do they provide active, hand-on, relevant and meaningful learning experiences for to enhance positive learning dispositions and each child’s holistic learning and development?
I believe the answer to much of this is YES they do, therefore they are implementing Aistear not only in a specific timeframe but throughout their teaching practice.
The problem with Aistear in 2009 was that there was no formal roll out, and it took a number of years before it was utilised in settings and in primary schools.
I am hopeful that there will be a more formal rollout of the revised Aistear in 2023.
Although Aistear states that it is for use in the home as well, most parents have never heard of it when they arrive in the ECCE setting.
However, there is very useful information for parents of younger age children who do not attend creche which is also a point of reflection.
I welcome all change which better serves the child(ren) in our setting and I look forward to completing all documentation in relation to consultation with the sector and I urge you to do the same.
About The Author
Jacinta Murphy is an early years lecturer at Portobello Institute bringing over 25 years of experience and knowledge to her students. Jacinta leads modules such as Children’s Rights in Today’s World, Enquiry Based Learning and Communicating in Multilingual Contexts.