The 2018 Australasian Journal of Early Childhood (AJEC) Research Symposium was held in Brisbane at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) from 16–17 February 2018. The theme of Politics, Power and Agency in Early Childhood Education was an opportunity for participants to engage with ideas about research-led policy formation, testing and implementation. This was the fourth AJEC Research Symposium and followed similar events in Perth (2012), Melbourne (2014) and Darwin (2016). The aim of these symposia is to provide a forum for debate and discussion that stretches, challenges and grows the early childhood education research knowledge base. In 2018, the mix of keynote and paper presentations, and the focused discussion that followed, provided many opportunities to explore issues in greater depth and hear about a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives. The seven papers in this edition were submitted initially as abstracts to the Research Symposium. All 110 abstracts submitted were blind peer reviewed and each was assessed by two reviewers who were members of the AJEC editorial committee. Assessment and scoring was based on a rubric designed by the editorial committee.
The process included identification of conflicts of interest, and re-assignment of abstracts occurred in such cases. Following the peer reviewing process, 40 abstracts that were scored the highest were selected for presentation at the symposium. Authors of the 10 highest-scoring abstracts were invited to submit a full paper with a view to publication in a special issue of AJEC, based on the Research Symposium. Nine full papers were submitted and each paper was peer-reviewed by two reviewers, in accordance with the usual AJEC process. Seven papers progressed to the second round and authors were asked to address feedback from the peer reviewers. When this feedback was completed, each paper was reviewed for a third time. Potential conflicts of interest were avoided by re-assigning in a similar way to the abstracts. The seven papers in this issue provide a snapshot of not only the variety of current research, but also how researchers are engaging with the challenges of politics, power and agency.
The first article in this special issue presents a Rights-Based Research Ethics and Participation Planning Framework that is unique. The framework grew from an Australian Research Council Linkage Project and ‘defines and unpacks the components of a rights-based approach’ to research in early childhood education. Authors of the article, Mayne, Howitt and Rennie, were motivated by the need for research projects that support children’s rights, to move the balance of power towards children, and to ‘provide opportunities for children to exercise voice and agency’. The framework was also inspired by the need to rethink the role of children in research, the limited practical guidance available for designing holistic rights-based research, and the paucity of literature about ethics-related training for researchers. The three-stage framework guides researchers from initial planning to implementing a research project and includes ethical foundations (Stage 1), design considerations (Stage 2), and meaningful participation (Stage 3). The framework also incorporates a practical and theoretical method for validating the processes involved in the framework: the hierarchical model of children’s research participation rights.
Mindset theory is not well known by early childhood educators, as the article by Boylan, Barblett and Knaus shows. The authors make a case that integrating mindset theory into classrooms has the potential to increase children’s agency for learning. Ninety-five early childhood teachers from Western Australia, teaching children K–2, completed a survey (modified for Australia) that examined teacher perspectives of growth mindset. The findings revealed that teachers had some knowledge of mindset theory, but had little knowledge about how to include it in everyday learning and teaching, despite recognising its value for enhancing children’s learning. Boylan et al. argue that skills such as mindset are essential for the development of children’s agency and promoting long-term learning and achievement.
The research by Quiñones, Li and Ridgway used cultural-historical theory to study how six educators from three sites, who were working with infants and children from birth to the age of three, engaged in collaborative forums as a way of enhancing professional practice. Pairing the educators was an important part of the research design, as was having one researcher work with each pair. Video clips of professional practice were used as prompts for the collective reflections. The findings showed that collaborative forums can provide affective spaces that are safe, and can enable educators to think and reflect collectively, share emotions and bring new awareness of professional practices.
The idea of young children using cameras to depict aspects of their everyday experience in early childhood settings is not uncommon. What is different about the small-scale study undertaken by Magnusson in two Swedish preschools is that it adopted a theoretical framework informed by new materialism and agential realism. Magnusson provided 26 children, aged three years, with digital cameras to give them opportunities to experience the agency of being camera users. Photographic documentation is a feature of Swedish preschools and Magnusson says it’s almost always teachers who use the cameras. Unguided use of the cameras by children produced photos that, according to Magnusson, can turn teacher documentation ‘upside down’. Children also showed ethical and democratic approaches when using the cameras. Magnusson contends that if teachers invite children to participate in visual documentation processes, then there are opportunities for power relations to change and for teachers to rethink approaches to ethics, democracy, learning and knowledge development.
The National Quality Standard (NQS) is usually undertaken in long day care settings, family day care, outside school hours care, and kindergartens and preschools across Australia. However, due to differences in state laws, kindergartens in Western Australia were excluded from national laws and regulations related to the NQS. As a result, the NQS was implemented through the provision of the School Education Act 1999. To reflect the operating contexts of Western Australian primary schools, the NQS was implemented in prior-to-school services and from Kindergarten to Year 2 (children aged four to eight years). In their article, Barblett and Kirk used a case study to follow four schools that implemented the NQS in the first year of mandatory use. In addition to the provision of resources and change management strategies, a combined approach across the Department of Education, principals, and NQS champions created an environment that supported higher order learning and reflective thinking, which for the most part, produced pedagogical change in the early years of school and what the authors called ‘catalytic agency’.
Improving child development outcomes is the aim of much research in early childhood education globally. In Australia, the Australian Research Council-funded Linkage Project Kids in Communities Study (KiCS) investigated the relationship between neighbourhood factors and early childhood development in communities of advantage and disadvantage across the country. In their article, Robinson, Findlay and Woolcock used a case-study approach to explore the multi-level governance environment of child development policy in two suburbs in the state of Victoria, Australia. They found that a culture of leadership and participation is important in the design of local governance, and that development of a community story, with community leadership and effort, show potential as indicators of positive neighbourhood effects.
The final article in this special issue comes from three researchers in Western Australia: Ruscoe, Barblett and Barratt-Pugh. In line with the theme of the symposium, they tackled the issue of power in their paper. Seeking children’s perceptions, perspectives and understandings of how they learn in the first year of compulsory schooling, the authors invited 17 children, aged between five and six years, from one pre-primary class to draw representations of themselves learning, and to explain what they were drawing, as they drew. Data revealed understanding about children’s experiences of school and learning, what learning is like, and what they think is required of them in the first year of school. The responses also indicated that children were agentic in the learning process and, amongst other factors, were able to make decisions about how and when they engaged in learning. The authors suggest that these children’s perspectives provide valuable information for teachers about understanding learners and learning inthe first year of schooling.
The next AJEC Research Symposium, Multiplicity: Multiple perspectives, agendas and methodologies in early childhood research, will be held in Melbourne on 14 and 15 February 2019. It is to be hosted jointly by the Australian Catholic University and La Trobe University, and will be held at the Fitzroy campus of the Australian Catholic University (Melbourne). I encourage all interested researchers to save the date and start thinking about participating.
La Trobe University
Australasian Journal of Early Childhood—Volume 43 Number 3 September 2018.
Don’t forget, the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood is tax deductible for early childhood professionals.