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Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as International Cooperation Focus of NAEYC Conference

International Cooperation Focus of NAEYC Conference

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Toronto

International Cooperation Focus of NAEYC Conference: More than 20,000 educators from several nations gathered here recently to discuss international approaches to improving early-childhood education.

The Nov. 18-21 conference was the first time the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children held its annual meeting outside the United States.

The setting was used as an opportunity to discuss the benefits and challenges of working internationally, and educators participated in seminars on a wide array of topics--from advocacy and public policy to technology.

"The United States has a lot to learn from what's happening in other nations," said Sharon Lynn Kagan, the NAEYC's president and the moderator of a panel of international education leaders.

One of the major benefits of working internationally is the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise, several panel members said.

The challenges, however, are not so easily defined because they vary depending on the country. One difficulty is that the networking system of early-childhood educators within the global community is weak, according to Valora Washington, a panel member and a former vice president of the NAEYC, who now is the vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"There is a lack of agreement about principles and goals," Ms. Washington said.

Another serious concern that educators need to be vigilant about is the potential for cultural bias, she said.

American educators, in particular, need to be careful, Ms. Washington said, because "we want people to be like us."

Educators attending the conference represented countries including Canada, Finland, Israel, Singapore, Turkey, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

At one session, researchers from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released new research on the longitudinal effects of child-care quality in the early elementary grades.

The study found that children who were in high-quality preschool classes generally had better language, math, reading, and social skills than children who attended lower-quality classes and that those effects lasted at least through kindergarten.

Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, one of the researchers who worked on the project, said the study was important because of the increasing role that child-care centers play in children's development and lives.

In the United States, about one-third of 3- and 4-year-olds with mothers who work outside the home attend child-care centers.

And child care in the United States has often been below the standards for high quality recommended by early-childhood professionals.

The three-year study sampled 170 child-care centers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Researchers observed 3-year-olds at the centers and followed the children's progress through kindergarten.

The researchers focused on two aspects of child-care quality in their study. The first was classroom practices, which included classroom environment, teacher sensitivity, child-centeredness, and teacher responsiveness.

The researchers found that children in classrooms rating high in those areas had better language skills than children in classrooms of lower quality.

The second aspect measured how close a teacher's relationship was with each child.

The authors found that children who had closer relationships with their preschool teachers had better attention skills.

In other sessions, educators addressed some of the issues that men face as early-childhood educators and talked about why there are so few men in the field.

In trying to make early-childhood education more "male friendly," the stereotypes that keep men out of the field need to be acknowledged to change people's thinking, Barry Bussewitz, who teaches early-childhood education at Solano Community College in Suisun, Calif., told educators.

Men who want to go into early-childhood education are often questioned about their reasons for wanting to work with young children or have to deal with suspicions about their sexual orientation, Mr. Bussewitz said.

The best way to combat stereotypes about men, he said, is to actively recruit and promote men in early-childhood education and to provide training to encourage staff members to be supportive of male employees.

--Karen L. Abercrombie kaber@epe.org.

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 10

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