The Social Construction               of School Readiness              Sadaf Shallwani, OISE / University of Toronto      ...
OverviewIntroduction: School readiness in a globaleducation contextMainstream discourse on school readinessAlternate appro...
School readiness in aglobal education contextGrowing global movement to improve access to qualityeducationSteps towards un...
DiscoursesDiscourses: constructed within socialcontextsMainstream child development discourse  Western / European notions ...
Mainstream conceptualization ofschool readiness  Mainstream conceptualization of school  readiness reflects and perpetuate...
1) Conceptualization of the childIndividual decontextualized child  School readiness as “children’s readiness for school”;...
2) Conceptualization of childdevelopment and school readinessLinear developmentCategories of school readiness (and child d...
3) Considering contextDiscourse maintains focus on the individual child, considerscontext primarily in terms of how it imp...
Mainstream conceptualization ofschool readiness  Focus on individual child, categorization, developmental tasks,  context ...
Alternate approach: Making meaningof school readiness in context Our ideas of school readiness are entwined with our belie...
Perspectives from theWestern / European WorldSmith & Shepard (1988)  Teachers’ beliefs about school readiness       ranged...
Perspectives from Outside theWestern / European WorldMeaning of school readiness?Related research…  Parents’ perspectives ...
Making meaning ofschool readiness in context In different contexts, very different expectations are held of children, fami...
Implications for theory,research, and practiceClaims of ‘universalism’ grounded inWestern/European assumptions and values ...
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The social construction of school readiness (presentation slides) (2009)

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Shallwani, S. (March, 2009). The social construction of school readiness. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Charleston.

Full paper available here: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=ED529814

Abstract: In the mainstream discourse on child development and education, 'school readiness' has been conceptualized as the skills and knowledge that children need when they enter school in order to learn effectively in the school environment. However, school readiness is an idea which is entwined with our beliefs about child development and child needs (E. Graue, 1992). Indeed, the mainstream conceptualization and operationalization of school readiness is grounded in particular values and beliefs about the nature of child development, ideas about vulnerability and competence, and the characteristics deemed valuable in a particular society. In this way, social context determine the focus of school readiness, what is valued, what is assessed, and what resources and supports are identified as needed. This paper will critically review the literature on school readiness, examining the cultural assumptions underlying the mainstream discourse, and exploring the social construction of school readiness. Although the alternative discourse on school readiness is scant at best, the paper will draw on literature in related areas to explore how school readiness might be alternately conceptualized in different socio-cultural contexts. The paper will also explore the larger theoretical discussion of universalism versus cultural relativism and social construction.

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The social construction of school readiness (presentation slides) (2009)

  1. 1. The Social Construction of School Readiness Sadaf Shallwani, OISE / University of Toronto CIES Conference – March 25, 2009Shallwani, S. (March, 2009). The social construction of school readiness. Paper presented at the Annual Conference ofthe Comparative and International Education Society, Charleston.Contact: Sadaf Shallwani, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies inEducation / University of Toronto. http://sadafshallwani.net
  2. 2. OverviewIntroduction: School readiness in a globaleducation contextMainstream discourse on school readinessAlternate approach: Making meaning of schoolreadiness in contextImplications for theory, research, and practice
  3. 3. School readiness in aglobal education contextGrowing global movement to improve access to qualityeducationSteps towards universal access to primary educationSchool system failing many children, especially at early primarygrades‘School readiness’: the fit between the child and the school atthe very beginning (at school entry)Need for early education interventions and indicatorsattempts to export conceptualizations of school readiness fromWestern/European contexts to other very different contexts
  4. 4. DiscoursesDiscourses: constructed within socialcontextsMainstream child development discourse Western / European notions ofdevelopment and functioningSchool readiness discourse
  5. 5. Mainstream conceptualization ofschool readiness Mainstream conceptualization of school readiness reflects and perpetuates Western / European values and assumptions in a number of ways: 1) Conceptualization of the child 2) Conceptualization of child development and school readiness 3) How context is considered
  6. 6. 1) Conceptualization of the childIndividual decontextualized child School readiness as “children’s readiness for school”; focus on child characteristics Relating child’s early characteristics to long-term outcomes Context considered usually in relation to child outcomes Western/European discourse on child as individual separate selfChildhood as a time of need and preparation Child is incomplete, lacking, and needs to be made ‘ready’ Focus on ‘changing’ early child characteristics; programmes to promote children’s readiness for school Western/European discourse on childhood (child vs adult)
  7. 7. 2) Conceptualization of childdevelopment and school readinessLinear developmentCategories of school readiness (and child development) Social, emotional, cognitive, language, physicalDevelopmental tasks School readiness assessments Individualistic, achievement-orientedCategories of development and developmental tasks expected tobe achieved by children at certain stages of life are not universal,but rather socially constructed and inextricably linked to children’scontexts.Goals and conceptualizations of child development and schoolreadiness reflect Western / European world and values What is socially acceptable and desirable in school (e.g., styles of communication and social interaction)
  8. 8. 3) Considering contextDiscourse maintains focus on the individual child, considerscontext primarily in terms of how it impacts child outcomes. Correlating factors in child’s immediate environment (e.g., parenting practices, family SES status, neighbourhood cohesion) to children’s readiness for school Increasing recognition of importance of other side of equation: schools’ readiness for childrenDiscourse ignores the macro-level systemic and political factorswhich actually marginalize certain groups in society. This‘depoliticizes’ the discourse and allows those who engage in it tocontinue to ignore issues of power and social injustice.
  9. 9. Mainstream conceptualization ofschool readiness Focus on individual child, categorization, developmental tasks, context is considered in relation to child outcomes Positivist approach one truth Quantitative methodology Top-downAlternate approach: Making meaning of school readiness in context Multiple truths Qualitative methodology Grounded in perspectives of those engaged in experience
  10. 10. Alternate approach: Making meaningof school readiness in context Our ideas of school readiness are entwined with our beliefs about child development and child needs. What does school readiness mean from the perspectives of those involved in the school transition experience?
  11. 11. Perspectives from theWestern / European WorldSmith & Shepard (1988) Teachers’ beliefs about school readiness ranged on a dimension of nativism and environmentalism associated with teacher practices tended to be shared in schoolsGraue (1992) Meaning of readiness in three different school communities (different resources, different ideas, different experiences) Meaning of ‘readiness’ had more to do with the context than with actual child characteristics, although children were the most impacted by the conceptualization.Dockett & Perry (2002) Perspectives of children, parents, and teachers on school readiness Focused on social aspects of transition (adjustment to school context, interpersonal and social adjustment, rules & dispositions) Importance of context in understanding school readiness
  12. 12. Perspectives from Outside theWestern / European WorldMeaning of school readiness?Related research… Parents’ perspectives in 9-country Value of Children study: children valued for obedience vs. independence & self-reliance Parents’ perspectives on their roles in teaching their children (parent’s role vs. teacher’s role) Teachers’ perspectives on caregiver sensitivity – teacher’s vs. child’s responsibility to clarify needs
  13. 13. Making meaning ofschool readiness in context In different contexts, very different expectations are held of children, families, teachers, and schools with regards to different aspects of ‘school readiness’. School readiness is a socially constructed notion grounded in beliefs about society, its systems, and the roles different members play.
  14. 14. Implications for theory,research, and practiceClaims of ‘universalism’ grounded inWestern/European assumptions and values areethically inappropriate and even damaging.Is cultural relativism a practical option?Global importance of education need for standardsor indicatorsNeed socially relevant and contextually valid theory,research, and policy/practice – which explicitlyacknowledge (changing) contexts, values, andassumptions.

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