Wednesday 29 March 2017

Empowering children

A not-for-profit early years education and care initiative in Dublin was one of the recipients of a share of the € 500,000 prize in the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland awards on 1 October. Sorcha Corcoran reports

Sorcha Corcoran

WITH 40 years' experience in the commercial sector, Dara Hogan joined An Cosán in Tallaght West to set up Fledglings Early Years Education & Care in 2008 after he identified a significant shortage of early years education places.

Through a social-franchise model Hogan has set up four sites, creating capacities of over 150 early years education places and 38 jobs. He plans to open 10 sites by 2012 and to extend the Fledglings social franchise to other disadvantaged communities.

" There is a significant shortage of high-quality early childhood education places in disadvantaged areas in Ireland. For example, in 2008 in Tallaght West there were fewer than 450 places catering for a child population of more than 3,000," he says.

"Due to the financial pressures on community early years services, early years educators are relatively low paid and many early years services work at the maximum legal staff ratio of 1:8 for pre-school children. This is one of the main challenges I have seen facing the community early years sector."

Using a not-for-profit franchise model, Fledglings helps early years educators to set up their own affordable services with a focus on quality and better staff ratios than the legal limit – between 1:5 and 1:6 for pre-school children.

Modelled in a similar way to commercial franchises, Fledglings provides a variety of services to the social entrepreneurs in the community, including site-finding, marketing, accounting, payroll and architectural services. In addition, each location receives intensive training in implementing the Fledglings Early Years Education & Care manual, using the HighScope method.

Children as active learners

The HighScope approach is based on the belief that young children build or construct their knowledge of the world – in other words, they're 'active learners'.

This means learning is not simply a process of adults giving information to children. Rather, children discover things through direct experience with people, objects, events and ideas. They learn best from pursuing their own interests while being actively supported and challenged by adults.

HighScope practitioners are as active and involved as children in the classroom. They thoughtfully provide materials, plan activities, and talk with children in ways that both support and challenge what children are experiencing and thinking. HighScope calls this approach active participatory learning — a process in which practitioners and children are partners in the learning process. The goal of promoting active learning is reflected in every other aspect of the curriculum.

" The approach taken in Fledglings is child-led. Confidence, independence and self-esteem are nurtured and each child is helped to reach his or her potential. Most importantly, each child is encouraged to develop at his/her own pace using play-based learning," Hogan explains.

Each Fledglings service has an outdoor play area that is carefully designed to bring the children closer to nature in a beautiful setting.

Research shows that children who benefit from HighScope early years education have much better outcomes in terms of educational attainment and personal development in later life, according to Hogan.

He cites The HighScope Perry Preschool Study through age 40, which examines the lives of 123 African Americans born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school.

Between 1962 and 1967, at ages three and four, the subjects were randomly divided into a group that received a high-quality pre-school programme based on HighScope's participatory learning approach and a comparison group who received no pre-school programme.

The study found that adults at age 40 who had the pre-school programme had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have pre-school.

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