By SHOAGA, Opeyemi (Ph.D)
The contemporary dynamics of educational curriculum and the unmet expectations of the society in relation to early childhood education have brought to the fore the diagnosis of the curriculum contents at the first rung of the educational life of the Nigerian child. As a result, the question on the workable curriculum approach that will be suitable enough to nurture the 21st century child was raised. In view of this, this paper discussed the sensitivity of early childhood period of life; the policy gap and operating curriculum on early childhood education in Nigeria. The concept of integrated curriculum and its indispensability formed part of the discourse, while teachers’ factors in its implementation were underscored. Hence, workable strategic options towards adopting integrated curriculum in the Nigerian early childhood education system were adequately recommended.
Keywords: Integrated curriculum, early childhood Education.
The disturbing trend of talent gap within the global economy and the plague of unemployable graduates within the labour force are quite alarming. The gulf between the town and gown demands a re-engineering of the Nigerian educational system from the cradle (i.e. early childhood) education. Researches (Osanyin, 2012; Council for Australian Governments, 2010; UNESCO, 2007; Ejieh, 2006) show that a child’s experience in their first five years sets the course for the rest of their life. Osanyin (2002) acknowledged that the quality of life, as well as the contributions a child makes to the society as an adult can be traced to the first few years of his/her life. Thus, early childhood is a highly sensitive period marked by rapid transformations in physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. In fact, it is far more challenging and costly to compensate for educational and social disadvantage among older children and adults than it is to provide preventive measures and support in early childhood (UNESCO, 2007).
According to the National Policy on Education (NPE, 2004) early childhood education is a type of education given to children in a formal educational institution from the ages of three to five, prior to their entering primary schools. It includes the crèche, the nursery, and the kindergarten. It supports children’s survival growth, development and learning – including health, nutrition and hygiene, and cognitive, social, physical and emotional development – from birth to entry into primary school in formal, informal and non-formal settings. Olaleye, Florence & Omotayo (2009) states that the early years are precious and critical in an individual’s life because it is the time the foundation for adult development is laid. Hence, Keng (2010) affirms strongly that access to quality early childhood education is not a privilege but a right as enshrined in the world convention on the rights of the child.
Keng (2010), opines that quality early childhood education provides a sure start for a child’s development and capacity building. Qualitative early childhood education is not only an end in itself; as the EFA (Education for All) goals recognizes, it is also an important foundation for subsequent education (UNESCO, 2007). It brings about ‘school readiness’ and ‘ready schools’ (Fabian & Dunlop, 2006). The former stresses the importance of early childhood education in promoting children’s development and assuring their school readiness; it seeks to identify the characteristics that children should display if they are ready for school. It encompasses development approach to qualitative early childhood education in the long run, then builds employable and educated workforce. Children who receive quality early education are likely to arrive at school ready to learn and do better in school. They need fewer costly special education classes. They are more likely to graduate from high school with a changed orientation to create and hold jobs with higher salaries. They are less likely to be on government welfare scheme and significantly less likely to wind up as criminals in jails (Calman, & Tarr-Whelan, 2005).
Education is dynamic and also the medium for its implementation which is the curriculum. Over the years, every society has witnessed drastic changes in all spheres of life. The era of information superhighway, unhindered expansion in the body of knowledge and unprecedented fragmentation of disciplines into emerging fields of specialisation are making the twenty-first century education to be more challenging in relation to diverse curricula contents. In essence, the curriculum needs to be socially relevant to meet up with the increasing demands of the society. Albeit, there have been persistent advocates of learner-centred education such as John Dewey (1966) who believes that the education given to the child should primarily meet his needs. It should be practical in nature, functional and relevant.
Nwagbara (1999) sees curriculum as the sum total of learning experiences acquired through a planned programme of activities whether in a formal or non-formal situation and the questions to consider are the what, why, when, how, to whom, and by whom of activities outlined. Consequently, the learner is considered the focus of learning and the learning experiences are also emphasized. Based on this, the learner and the experiences acquired as a result of learning becomes vital in the heart of both the curriculum planners and the executors. As a result of this, when designing the curriculum at the early childhood education stage, consideration is usually given to the developmental rights of the child which include his peculiar nature and his characteristic features. As much as this is considered, it should be noted that the child should not be left out of the prevailing situations in the world at large hence such curriculum will turn out to be a fiasco.
The trend of events, especially in this global era has great influence on the school curriculum and no single or isolated curriculum is good enough to meet the needs of both the pupils and the global society in which we have found ourselves. To this end, there is the need for a shift from the content and subject-oriented curriculum to that which stresses hands-on learning, promotes acquisition of relevant literacy skills and advocating a constructive view to learning. Hence, ensuring qualitative early childhood education in Nigeria via the adoption of integrated curriculum approach and strategic options to resolve the capacity deficit of the teachers at that level is the thrust of this paper.
Early Childhood Education in Nigerian and the operating curriculum
Ejieh (2006), affirms that although, the National Policy on Education prescribes that the child in the pre-primary institution should be involved in active learning, the document detailing guidelines on provision and management of pre-primary education is silent on the curriculum contents of such an institution. Hence, the curriculum for early childhood education is at the whims and caprices of proprietors and teachers who may not be experts in that field.
The curriculum of a typical nursery school owned by most private individuals include alphabets, numbers, nursery rhymes, colouring and story time and, in some cases, rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. The emphasis of most is on the intellectual development of the children. Much time is devoted to the learning of alphabets and memorization of facts, information, poems and some short passages from various books in English language than to recreational and social activities. Emphasis is laid on children’s intellectual development. This is because the yardstick for assessing the quality or effectiveness of nursery schools by parents seems to be the age at which the children attending them are able to count, recognize the alphabet, read and, in particular, recite memorized information, poems, verses and passages. The younger the age at which children attending a particular school can do these, the higher the quality (Ejeh, 2006).
Turja (2009) reported that most of the analysed early childhood education curricula had adopted a discipline-centred approach to curriculum, where subjects are separated and taught in isolation from one another. He suggested a thematic approach, an integrated or project-based curriculum model, where various subjects intersect and are supposed to teach within a selected theme, unit or project that makes learning holistic and meaningful for children. In these cases the content of learning was classified under “content orientations”, “subject fields”, “key aspects of development and learning” or “areas of activity” in order to give teachers a vision of the content areas to be integrated and promoted within some theme or project.
According to New (2002), integrated curriculum is the blending of content areas into thematic or problem-focused units of study and a child centred approach to learning and instruction. Since learning is meant for the holistic development of the child, the integrated curriculum is holistic in nature, unifying all the subjects in order to bring about comprehensive learning. In contemporary schools where teaching and learning was predominantly done by memorization, recitation of facts and figures that are isolated and disjointed, makes no meaning to the child.
Besides, the current movement toward an integrated curriculum has its foundation in the works of some learning theorists who advocate a constructivist view of learning. There is a body of brain research that supports the notion that learning is best accomplished when information is presented in meaningful, connected patterns. This includes interdisciplinary studies that link multiple curricula areas (Lake, 1994).
Suffice it to say that subjects and contents are not totally out of place in the curriculum of pupils but there is a great need to combine both content and practical activity in order to educate a ‘total’ child. Scholars have argued that curricula are over loaded in terms of content and this does not augur well for both the pupils and the school system.
Indispensability of Integrated curriculum
In view of the foregoing, it may be stated that no curriculum is good enough except the one that captures the global mood and satisfies the pressing needs of both the pupils and the society at large. To this extent, this paper considers the integrated curriculum as good for the child since it makes the child socially relevant.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2006), reported that in Flanders-Belgium, there is no national curriculum as each school develops its own curriculum and method of teaching. In 1997, a set of minimum developmental goals that are desirable and attainable for children in pre-school was ratified by the Belgian government while all schools work to these goals. They emphasise a broad and harmonious approach to education, addressing: personal characteristics – positive self-image, motivation and initiative; general development – being autonomous, communicating and cooperating, determining own direction, creativity and problem solving; and specific skills in selected domains: physical education, expressive arts, language, environmental studies, mathematics. It was discovered that through theme-oriented work, children have more opportunities to understand inter-relationships and contexts and test their own theories about their surroundings. Cross-curricula teaching is stressed to achieve the broad objectives of social competence and lifelong learning skills (UNESCO, 2003).
An integrated curriculum in early childhood education is one which incorporates all areas of development-physical, cognitive, emotional and social of the child. Since the main goal of education is to help in the development of all these areas of the child’s life, the integrated curriculum seems the ideal. Shoemaker (1989) sees integrated curriculum as education that is organized in such a way that it cuts across subject-matter lines bringing together various aspects of the curriculum into meaningful association to focus upon broad areas of study. It views learning and teaching in a holistic way that reflects the real world which is interactive.
Integrated curriculum is an educational approach that prepares the child for lifelong learning. It helps the child to take charge of his own learning, promotes creativity, brings novelty into learning and facilitates learning. By implication, adopting an integrated curriculum creates room for engaging the combination of subjects, emphasizing projects, flexible schedules, flexible children grouping and its teaching and learning goes beyond the use of textbooks.
Greene (1991), reported that teachers who involved in integrated curriculum program and taught year-long themes, with a blend of science, language arts, social studies, mathematics, and fine arts improves the students attitudes and achievement. These teachers who participated in the Mid-California Science Improvement Program were interviewed by an independent evaluator with the findings that indicated a dramatic increase in science instruction time and comfort with science teaching.
Dressel’s perspective of integrated curriculum (cited in Adesanya 2006) goes beyond the linking of subject areas to the creation of new models for understanding the world but develops in the learner the ability to perceive new relationships and models. In the integrated curriculum, the planned learning experiences not only provide the learner with a unified view of commonly held knowledge (by learning the models, systems and structures of the culture) but also motivate and develop learners ‘power to perceive new relationships and thus to create new models, systems, and structures.
The great support given to integrated curriculum could be attributed to the fact that it gives ample chance to eradicating teaching in fragments and in isolation. It can be stated that hardly is there anything done in this world that can be handled in isolation or in segments. The life that the child lives daily is not lived applying the knowledge of Maths, English, Science, Music and Rhymes in isolation but all knowledge that is got from education are used to tackle all the life challenges that face the child.
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