Intercultural Pedagogy In Early Childhood Education

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For this essay I will be analysing the theoretical concepts of critical multiculturalism and intercultural pedagogy, analysing how these are reflected in Te Whāriki and critically examining ways I can foster culturally inclusive and responsive early childhood education for children and whānau/families within my centre community.

The number of children that are living in Aotearoa New Zealand who come from a diverse cultural background are increasing in numbers, this is leading to an array of culture being signified by tamariki within early childhood education centres (Kendall, 2015).

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Within Aotearoa New Zealand, in regard to the increasing number of families with diverse cultural backgrounds in early childhood education [ECE] services, the national early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (2017) supports the diversity of culture and fosters culturally responsive pedagogies to include all families of Aotearoa New Zealand (Chan, 2011). Within Te Whāriki (2017) this support is clear and states “Those working in early childhood education respond to the changing demographic landscape by valuing and supporting the different cultures represented in their settings” (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017, p. 3).

Critical multiculturalism

Critical multiculturalism is about asking the problematic queries and looking more in depth about our own practices as educators and how these fit with the children we are teaching. The dominant discourse often needs a critical reflective lens to ensure minority cultures feel a sense of inclusion and identity. This starts with examining power imbalances and social inequity as this may serve as a more meaningful and effective way in including diverse families (Chan, 2011). According to Chan (2011) when critical pedagogy and multicultural education merge they balance one another. This helps teachers (Sleeter & Mclaren, 1995, p. 7) “to confront and engage the world critically and challenge power relations” (as cited in Chan, 2011).

It is essential for Kaiako to be open-minded regarding diverse culture, to engage in the authentic cultural backgrounds within the centre, this also includes their own cultural background. A kaiako implementing a critical multicultural pedagogy will also need to be reflective about their culture, personal beliefs and values and how this impacts their practice as well as being mindful of dominant discourse and the impact this has on minority groups. This is vital in recognising the different status of each individual child (Chan, 2011).

Building strong reciprocal relationships with tamariki and whānau to foster communication allows Kaiako to gain authentic knowledge and have the skills to know and support each individual families identity and culture and to support the child who is gaining a sense of belonging. However, Kaiako need to be mindful as this can be a challenge and the only means of supporting such cultural groups can be seen as superficial or tokenistic (Kendall, 2015).

Early childhood teachers need to become more conscious that the national early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki is a political document (Chan, 2011). Within society there is an inferior group who exercises power and has dominant values, beliefs and knowledge. However, there are also minority groups where those who voice their opinion are dismissed and are seen as non-valued (Chan, 2011).

While multicultural strategies may be well-intended, such as co-celebrating Chinese New Year and Diwali, these often run the risk of translating into a tokenistic or superficial respect for differences of culture (Chan, 2011). These differences in authentic culture can be see as “a tourist or additive form of multicultural education that simply focuses on lifestyle and cultural differences (Chan, 2011). As Berlak and Moyenda (2001) argue: “Central to critical multiculturalism is naming and actively challenging racism and other forms of injustice, not simply recognising and celebrating differences and reducing prejudice” (P. 92).

As Kaiako working in early childhood education we work with children and their whānau that come from authentic and diverse cultural backgrounds and as a culture we have grown into a more “increasingly multiracial, multilingual, and multicultural” (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012, p. 23) society. Loyola Marymount University (1990) states ‘interculturalism’ is the term for “sharing and learning across cultures that promotes understanding, equality, harmony and justice in a diverse society” (as cited in Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012, p. 23).

With the connections in meaningful, authentic information and discovery

Through interculturalism, exchanges in authentic and meaningful information and exploration with each other influences historical and cultural development (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012). Intercultural dialogue between children and teachers develops the opportunity of learning from one another and can gain an understanding of how each individual “is unique and special and contributes to the diverse fabric of society” (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012, p. 24)

Throughout the national early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki, the importance of a child’s well-being is acknowledged and it is clear that it is an indispensable aspect of a child’s learning and development (MoE, 2017). It is also mentioned within Te Whāriki that when a child gains a sense of belonging this contributes to their wellbeing which is supported through respect and recognition of their culture and family background (MoE, 2017). “Children experience an inclusive curriculum that offers meaning and purpose” (MoE, 2017, p. 31). Critical multiculturalism supports collaborative relationships with families, communication and participation from parents and whānau should be promoted towards their child’s learning and development (Chan, 2011). Critical multiculturalism gives Kaiako the encouragement to support children holistically through developing an understanding of the child’s cultural background (Chan, 2011). Parent – Kaiako partnerships are vital in supporting cultural backgrounds, through collaboration teachers are able to support a child’s sense of belonging which promotes their overall well-being (Clarke, 2009).

Te Whāriki, our national early childhood curriculum is a socio-cultural document that supports and advocates for critical multiculturalism. We see this strongly woven through the principles of relationships and family and community as well as through the goals linked to the strands. Te Whāriki advocates for strong partnerships between Kaiako and whanau, fostering individual families culture and home language and providing a physically and emotionally safe environment where tamaiki are provided ‘equitable opportunities irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity or background.’


To have a better understanding of the diverse cultures within the centre I believe that we as Kaiako need to develop a more in depth understanding of what the children’s parents are wanting for them. We then need to make this visible through planning and assessment, with this deeper understanding of the parent’s voice if their need and wants we will be able to then make children’s culture more visible within the centre and through our everyday practice. For us as Kaiako to effectively support the learning and development of all children within the centre, we need to ensure we are actively promoting each child’s culture. Through collaboration with parents and whanau we will be able to work towards effective critical multicultural practice (Chan, 2011).

For children to experience and receive quality learning, they need to be within an environment where their holistic needs are being met and their well-being is supported (Herczog, 2012). However, for this to be achieved, Kaiako need the skills to effectively work in partnership with parents and whānau, this allows them to utilise the cultural perception when planning and assessing the child’s development and needs (May & Sleeter, 2010). Additional professional development is a great tool for Kaiako to gain more knowledge and develop their skills to effectively create an environment that promotes equity (Kendall, 2015).


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