ECV2020-164

Social justice in the early childhood context: Educator voices

Vicki Christopher, University of Southern Queensland, Australia (vicki.christopher@usq.edu.au)
Michelle Turner, University of Southern Queensland, Australia (michelle.turner@usq.edu.au)
Nicole Green, University of Southern Queensland, Australia (nicole.green@usq.edu.au)

Background: Early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Australia has long been associated with the concept of social justice, however a clear understanding of what this looks like across contexts is not clear.  Changes occurring in contemporary Australian contexts demand consideration of the critical influence of social justice within early childhood education.  Early childhood educators in rural contexts may face social justice issues, mirroring those in their local communities. They contribute significantly to building the resilience and resourcefulness needed to address contemporary challenges in these communities.  The research team identified opportunities for research to explore the multiple meanings, varied understandings and practices of social justice through the voices of early childhood educators working in changing rural contexts. 

Aim: To understand, and give voice to, educator practices that reveal notions of social justice inherent in their everyday practice in changing rural, regional contexts. 

Method:  Data were collected through one-on-one in-depth semi structured interviews with five educators from rural settings identified as areas experiencing significant growth in population diversity.  Interviews were guided by the overarching research question: How do early childhood educators perceive early learning environments as places and spaces for privileging social justice in rural areas?   Two layers of analysis were employed to analyse the data.

Results:  An initial thematic analysis of the data revealed three key themes to identify the premise of social justice as complex and difficult to define; social justice as creating a learning place; and social justice as contextual relevance. These revelations by participants underscore the way the early learning places were part of the larger context of the surrounding communities. The everyday lives of the children and educators in these rural places circumscribed the ways social justice was attended to in the early learning place.

A recursive phase of analysis and interpretation adopted the conceptual framework of ‘place and space’.  This framework overlaid each of the three themes, serving to attend to the significance of the resources used, the rules and routines introduced, the relationships developed specific to this place, and the meaning that forms from educator narratives about what has happened in the early learning place.

Conclusions: Educator interviews allowed for the sharing of perspectives, philosophy, experiences and practices. Although identifying a lack of intentionality, educators revealed dispositions consistent with social justice notions, reflecting curricular guideline expectations.  Educators voiced an understanding that social justice exists as a part of their pedagogy.    This research is important in bringing pedagogical conversations to the forefront regarding ECEC educator’s understandings of their role in creating a socially just learning environment.

Implications for children: Educators want you to thrive in a place where you feel safe, where things are fair, and where you develop a strong sense of belonging.  Educators are learning about who you are and where you come from.  You can help by sharing about your family and your experiences at home and in your community. 

Implications for families: Educators are committed to your children, your family and your community.  They work hard to understand how they can support you to feel that you belong.  Being in partnership with you is both welcomed and appreciated.

Implications for practitioners: Be confident in your skills, knowledge and dispositions.  Take the time to critically reflect on your practice to enhance your intentionality for promoting social justice.  

Key words: professionals’ voices, regional/rural communities, social justice

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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