It amazes and alarms me when I sometimes hear non- kindergarten (KG) staff disdainfully dismiss KG and preschools in a manner that suggests that ‘all they do is play’; or ‘how easy it must be teaching in KG’. On the contrary, the early childhood years can be challenging years for teachers, although they are also very rewarding. Preschool teachers, have the honour of introducing children to their first school experience and this requires a plethora of skills including sensitivity, empathy, an ability to differentiate at an extremely high level, as well as, the ability to plan rigorous and robust activities based on a well-researched and developmentally appropriate curriculum. That is, if one is working within a quality setting.
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (‘OECD’) promotes policies that improve the economic and social well being of people around the world. A part of the OECD function is to review and monitor quality in early learning and development. With the benefit of a global perspective, the OECD recognises that early childhood education and care is a critical foundation for future learning and assists with the development of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, which is vital for the success in school and in later years (OECD website, August 2014).
As with many nations, the UAE recognises the significance of having a good quality early childhood provision.
The early childhood years have been defined as the period from zero through age eight, (UNICEF, 2013 and Shonkoff and Philips, 2000). In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (‘KHDA’) is the main regulator of educational establishments. KHDA defines early childhood as the period from zero through age six years and it is commonly agreed that these years represent the foundation for lifelong learning. The government in Dubai has recently signaled the need for a quality provision within the early childhood education sector, KHDA (2014). This fact establishes the significance of early childhood educators in the area of child development.
How can teachers respond to the need for quality provision, within the early childhood sector in the UAE?
There are a number of ways to answer this question. I choose to focus on ‘quality’:
- The Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB 2015) provides quality measures and indicators that inform practice within pre-schools in the Emirate and provides a baseline for assessing the quality of the pre-school provision. This includes teaching, assessment, curriculum design and adaptation, and the quality of the learning environment.
- ‘Equal Balance of Child and Adult Initiated Activity’ – this is central to any effective preschool setting and enables the children to participate in their own learning and to be challenged at their own level(s).
- The UAE’s Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) defines and outlines some of its expectations for ‘excellent nurseries’. This includes raising awareness, within the community, about the services that nurseries offer; and adopting community values (section 2, MOSA, undated).
Further directives on quality provision include:
- Implementing a suitable curriculum that is appropriate for a child’s age and stage of development
- Teaching skills that cover the overall well-being of the child such as personal, social, emotional, cognitive, physical, creative and cultural skills
- Combining freely chosen instructive play within an informal setting, while incorporating a strong academic and social/behavioural element of learning
- Knowledge of Child Development – this is an area that is often overlooked, and yet constitutes the foundation of a healthy learning environment.
In conclusion, unequivocally, the early childhood years matter.
1. Knowledge And Human Development Authority, ‘Early Childhood Education and Care in Dubai: An Executive Summary 2009’, Government of Dubai
2. Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) undated ‘Standards of Quality Services Provided in Nurseries’:
3. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) website ‘Review of Policies and Practices for Monitoring Quality in Early Learning and Development’ -available from: http://www.oecd.org/edu/monitoringquality.htm accessed on 2 August 2014
4. Shonkoff, J. P. and Phillips, D. A. (Eds.); Institute of Medicine (2000). ‘From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development’. Washington, DC: National Academy Press in Klein, L. and Knitzer, J. (2006) Pathways to Early School Success Effective Pre- School Curricula and Teaching Strategies, Issue Brief No.2 National Center for Children in Poverty
5. UNICEF  ‘The Importance of Early Childhood Development to Education; Prepared for the Global Meeting of the Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’ Dakar March 18-19, 2013
By Patricia Mezu
Patricia is the Director of Professional Minds FZ LLC, a Dubai based educational consultancy firm that specializes in pre-school improvement and the set up of nurseries. Patricia is a lawyer and an AMI qualified Montessori teacher and has a Masters in Education from the University of London. www.prminds.org