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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 14, 2004
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Book reviews

Glenda MacNaughton (2003). Shaping Early Childhood: Learners, Curriculum and Contexts.
Maidenhead, England: Open University Press. http://www.mcgraw-hill.co.uk/html/0335211062.html

Glenda MacNaugton provides a long-waited approach to early childhood curriculum in her book. It is not about curriculum development or about the ways to best apply a state or national curriculum by teachers in early childhood. It rather offers a wide range of perspectives from which to view, understand and critically reflect on curriculum. It provides the missing relationships between the learner, curriculum subjects and positions, and the early childhood educator.

A frequently heard claim from early childhood professionals is that research is too theoretical and far-fetched from the reality of classroom practice. This book challenges this belief and delivers complex theory and a wide array of research in a simple, easily understandable format for all who are involved in teaching and learning with young children. In the book, theories and their origins are given a comprehensive overview that enables the reader to relate to the topic and situate the particular historical context. Each theory is followed by practical implications for early childhood curriculum and a highly organised summary, which focuses on the theory's influence on planning and the content of curriculum. Equity reflections finish each section to highlight ideas about diversity the given perspective is associated with and these ideas' implications for educators who seek to create equity working with children. Focused reading lists and Internet site lists complete each section to help the reader to pursue further research.

During teacher training students are well catered for with theory and practice on child development, how to create a learning environment and how to teach a specific subject area. A less emphasized area in training is to think about their own ideas about children, what children are, how children learn, how to best teach children which fits with the teachers' own personality and ideas as well. Moreover, to think about their own personal experiences as a child, as a student, or as a mother are rarely incorporated into teacher training. Students crave practical knowledge and in-training hands-on experiences, which they feel will help them to survive the difficulties when they become classroom teachers. Talking too much about theory, especially at a highly abstract level makes them question the relevance of this knowledge to their actual future practice. This book fills the gap by providing theory and opportunities for reflection in a way that students easily see their immediate advantages in their future practice. Focusing on practical areas teach students what works in early childhood settings, while theory and reflection provides the 'why'. By reflecting on different perspectives and on their own beliefs, ideas and personal purposes in educating children, they will be able to develop their own teaching style and decide about, transform and justify the curriculum they choose. Teaching mostly practical knowledge to future educators will result in highly trained 'technicians' coming out from universities, who accept unquestioningly others' priorities. An early childhood professional, who develops a well-formed personal theory of teaching and learning, a mission and style of teaching during her/his training can draw on these ideas when s/he encounters trying situations. Drawing on personal theories s/he is better equipped to decide about what is important and how to manage the problem. For all these reasons, training early childhood professionals must include the teaching of theory, it should provide time and a platform for reflection and the incorporation of individual's ideas and aims. Glenda MacNaughton's book is a perfect textbook for this purpose and highly recommended as a foundation textbook in all early childhood teacher programs.

Zsuzsanna J. Millei
Murdoch University Perth, Western Australia

European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers http://www.pjb.co.uk/npl/

In the next few issues IIER will be publishing a series of reviews from postgraduate students/novice researchers on the European Union-supported educational research 1995-2003: Briefing papers for policy makers (http://www.pjb.co.uk/npl/) document. The EU document is aimed at policy and decision makers in the field of education and training. It contains reports, conclusions and recommendations of research projects funded under the European Union.

IIER asked postgraduate education students what is there in the EU document that appeals to them as motivational and inspirational towards becoming an educational researcher. There were three guiding questions, which reviewers could improve or interpret in their own way. They could emphasise one question, or address all three. The questions focused on the kinds of visions of research that may be inspirational from the perspective of a new and/or junior researcher.

  1. As a junior or beginning researcher, what impressions do you gain from European Union-supported educational research 1995-2003: Briefing papers for policy makers about the purposes, scope and directions of educational research?

  2. Each report in this document has been prepared by a multinational team drawn from research institutions in 4 to 8 EU countries. Is that emphasis on multinational teams something that you would like to see emulated in Australia in the form of multi-states, multi-institutional or multi-disciplinary research teams?

  3. A key message from this research effort is that questions of education and training are strongly interconnected with concerns that include citizenship and democratic participation, inequalities and social justice, cultural diversity and quality of life. Research shows that education is strongly linked with issues of health, welfare, employment, youth and migration. How does that compare with your impressions and expectations about Australian educational research?
The first review is written by Chris Buckley and reflects on the EU paper from two perspectives: the novice university researcher and the VET based public officer.

IIER encourage readers to engage in further dialogue about the EU document or the reviews. Written papers could be sent to zmillei@nd.edu.au

Zsuzsanna Millei
Book Review Editor

Seeking a balance in work roles: VET-based policy and research / university-based research
(Personal Reflections on the European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers, http://www.pjb .co.uk/npl/)

Working in a government agency and actively engaged in the public policy process, a fundamental belief that 'research about what really happened' has been at the forefront of my enthusiasm - and indeed my passion - for my work. It is this VET[1]-based research and policy development role that has focussed my interest on developments, directions and tensions in the further education and higher education sectors - and government direction of, responses to and impact on these sectors. It is this work that prompted my decision to enter the world of university-based research and undertake postgraduate studies. In this respect, I have experienced frequently perplexing tensions between my role as a VET-based researcher/public servant, and my 'outside work' role as a novice university-based researcher. Whilst there is significant criticism (Robinson & Thompson, 1998) of VET-based research in Australia, describing it in terms of uncritical repackaging of policy documents, and as lacking in rigour, there is also significant suspicion within the VET sector of what the American, George Wallace called "pointy-headed professors who couldn't ride a bicycle straight" (Sutherland, 2003; p2).

In this context, my response to reading European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers was two-fold. On one hand, the collaborative nature of the research projects featured and their focus on informing and influencing policy and practice countered my own experiences as a VET-based researcher. In my working environment, university-based research is frequently considered irrelevant and impractical in relation to its application to vocational education and training policy and practice. There is indeed, a deeply ingrained culture of suspicion of intellectualism and of university-based research and researchers, and frequent criticism that the academic focus of university-based research does not meet the needs of the vocational education and training sector. It is argued that the VET sector needs a different model of and approach to research.

I approached European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers with curiosity about how the European Union research projects addressed policy issues with which I am currently dealing n my work. My interest focussed from the first page on "What does this document say about what's happening in regard to further education and higher education - about the relationship between the sectors; the changing nature of the student base - and the 'swirling'[2] of students between university and TAFE; about curriculum developments and assessment and learning practices; about transitions for students, and about the concepts of lifelong learning and 'seamless' or 'boundary less' education and training"?

My sense from reading European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers is that the European Union approach has made strategic progress towards building bridges between researchers in the different education sectors, and between policy-makers and practitioners, through collaboration and engagement in the research process - including the identification of priorities for funding - and the promotion and support for research and its outcomes.

Whilst research projects and issues discussed in European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers are considered within the context of the European Union and the diversity of members and systems, I found significant resonance with issues and challenges in the research and policy context of Western Australia. The need for different policy interventions (p.2), and the dynamics of the VET and higher education sectors in the European Union have similarities with the Western Australian sectors. These similarities included for example, an identified need for policy makers to articulate with wider social/economic policy areas to address issues of inequity and access that are broader than education and training on their own (Briefing papers 7 and 8).

Of particular interest were diverse European Union-supported projects exploring the impact across the education and training sectors of increasing expectation from governments and industry that vocational education and training and higher education resolve issues related to unemployment, ageing populations, quality of life, participation in a democratic society, and economic growth and development (Briefing papers 3, 13, 18, 30 and 55).

Links and articulation between the sectors, and the broad impact of social, cultural, political and economic factors are examined for example, in Briefing paper 7, where the idea of a learning patrimony (p.24) was developed as a means of addressing the series of tensions from economic and political spheres. The impact of the knowledge society is also identified as a key impact both on issues related to access and equity (Briefing paper 8, p.27), and on lifelong learning (Briefing paper 20). Further, the changing nature of work and unpredictable and constantly changing job situations (Briefing paper 30, p.96), and the human capital required for a more complex and technological working life (Briefing paper 50, p.15) are explored in this context.

On the other hand, the European Union approach promotes a 'helicopter view' of issues and challenges for educational research, identifying and investigating broad common themes such as changing requirements for qualifications (Briefing paper 10, p.32), and transitions from school to further education, training and employment for young people (Briefing papers 3 and 16). This approach is similar in a sense to the national ANTA[3] Blue Skies project[4] that was aimed at advancing lifelong learning and making connections between learning policy and practice. The project was undertaken for the VET sector, and used focus groups with VET professionals and practitioners in every State and Territory to identify a range of strategies to improve connections between teachers, learners and policy in the broadest sense.

The concept of 'connective models of learning' (p.15) with links to the workplace as a cultural context for learning and assessment, and the briefing papers discussing students and workers as 'journeymen' (p.151) and 'boundary crossers' (p.15) who have to manage the different cultures and traditions, not only between education sectors, but also between institutions and the workplace, targeted significant policy issues for improving articulation and credit transfer arrangements for students in Australia. The report from the Forum of European Research in Vocational Education and Training (Briefing paper 24, p.79) explored these issues specifically in a vocational education and training context.

The focus of the Forum on developing understanding about the nature of the diversity of traditions, cultures, legislation and institutions - both in the national/trans-national context, and within the VET sector - and the impact of these on policy, reflected a critical issue for Western Australia in addressing improved relationships between further education and higher education. This issue relates to those different cultures, traditions and legislation, and the complexity of establishing non-linear pathways for students that respect the fundamental difference between VET and the other education sectors - VET is work-based rather than academic in nature - the culture and traditions of VET are embedded in practice.

Of further interest in this report (Briefing paper 24) was this network of research institutions across Europe exploring "a new approach to trans-national research in vocational education and training ... which relies less on comparison and more on a collaborative approach to research" (p.79). Within this approach, the commitment of the Forum to the "involvement of young researchers in the network" reflects a growing concern in the VET sector in Western Australia - and nationally[5] about the need to foster a research culture and to develop and train VET-based researchers.

European Union-supported Educational Research 1995-2003: Briefing Papers for Policy Makers addressed issues that I have been grappling with - both in my research and my policy role in the public sector, and as a doctorate student at university - and established at least some common ground across nations, sectors and institutions. The document also provided me with a range of links to other projects and readings of interest.

Chris Buckley
(EdD Student with the Graduate School of Education; University of Western Australia; and Public Servant working with the WA Department of Education & Training)

  1. Acronym for vocational education and training, referring in Australia to those organisations, including Commonwealth and State government agencies, private providers and the network of autonomous TAFE colleges responsible for management and delivery of vocational education and training services.
  2. R Shreeve (2003; p8) discusses the 'swirling' patterns of student pathways between TAFE and other sectors of education as the world of work continues to change.
  3. The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) which has responsibility for oversight of the national system of vocational education and training
  4. On website http://www.anta.gov.au/publication.asp?qsID=494
  5. TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) August 2004 Position Paper. On website http://www.tda.edu.au/

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