Recently I saw a headline article on the ‘School of the future’, with a particular focus on design, or to use the relevant term, the “built environment”. Whilst the focus was important and necessary, any content that referred to how the design of the built environment promoted best practice teaching was conspicuous in its absence. How often is discussion about structural environments contributing to culture, and very little about people? Talk to most parents and you quickly realise that the relationships between their children and their teachers are front and centre. This becomes particularly important in early education, the period of time before attending ‘school’ as it known.
In the early education sector, which is largely composed of preschools and long day care centres, the discussion assumes another dimension. There is not only a difference between the built environments of an early learning centre and a school, but also the nature of the educators and the skill sets required of them now and into the future. In fact, a glimpse into the future of early learning quickly alerts us to the realisation that the educators of tomorrow will need to assume a range of skills that are quite different to the educator in (say) a primary school.
Here are just a few some likely scenarios, hopefully with a lot more rigour than a Nostradamus prediction:
- The educator of the future will need to be more adept in recognising factors that inhibit learning. The earlier these are identified in a child’s development, the better. This implies that an early educator will play a more essential role in this process.
- Following on from that, the early educator will need to be better trained in how to best address these factors, particularly in children who have special needs. Again, remedial action sooner rather than later is advisable.
- Early learning centres will need to form stronger pathways and links to local schools so that children can transition more smoothly. The wealth of data and knowledge gained by the early educator would be invaluable to the next teacher, and the strength of this link can go a long way toward addressing the learning challenges of a young child.
- The manager and staff of your local preschool or long day care centre may assume a role as the parental counsellor and guide. Apart from the faithful local nurse, pediatrician or doctor; who stands beside the parent who is finding it tough adjusting to parenthood? Add to this the pressure on family relationships, financial adjustment and a busy lifestyle and all of a sudden, your child’s first educator becomes a confidant, counsellor and resident shoulder to cry on. How do we equip these people whose career was chosen based on other criteria?
- The educator of the future will need a deep understanding of diverse cultures and backgrounds. As a nation Australia has a unique blend of many cultures that challenges our established ways of understanding and relating. A better understanding of a child’s background can be essential in delivering better learning outcomes, particularly if it is assumed that ‘success’ in the early learning revolves around effective partnerships with families.
So, what does this have to with the built environment and design? Everything I say, if not a lot. If engagement with parents is important in these years then providing spaces for this to occur is important. The need to train and equip staff continually requires intelligent design. If we are truly committed to the individual requirements of children with special needs then thought needs to be given to how we best create the environment for our early educators to enable them to succeed.
The school of the future may look impressive, but education of the future needs to involve the educator of the future.