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Postmodernist Ideas and Their Translation into a Critical Pedagogy for Young Children

Written By

John Eric Wilkinson

Submitted: February 8th, 2022 Reviewed: February 16th, 2022 Published: March 18th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103747

Early Childhood Education - Innovative Pedagogical Approaches in the Post-modern Era Edited by Maria Ampartzaki

From the Edited Volume

Early Childhood Education - Innovative Pedagogical Approaches in the Post-modern Era [Working Title]

Dr. Maria Ampartzaki and Associate Prof. Michail Kalogiannakis

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Over the past 30 years, postmodernism has established a firm foothold in the Arts, Literature, Architecture, and Philosophy. However, in Education, the adoption of the postmodernist paradigm into teaching and learning in educational settings is still in its infancy, especially in early childhood education and care where many argue that the ideas of postmodernism are most needed. Academics and some administrators now acknowledge that the social consequences arising from the Age of Modernity are adversely affecting humanity. A clarion call has been sounded for a radical re-alignment of the curriculum and pedagogy for young children to re-shape their social attitudes and behaviour. This chapter claims that the education of children in their early years needs to be informed and reformed by postmodernist ideas. In a recent publication, it was argued that the focus of early childhood education and care be shifted from a central focus on ‘the self’ to one where children learn to be located in social contexts where the emphasis is on greater critical awareness, social responsibility and social justice. After briefly contextualizing postmodernism, the chapter explores how a critical pedagogy for young children might emerge.


  • young children
  • education
  • post-modernism
  • pedagogy

1. Introduction

As the era of postmodernism gathers momentum, Education is facing a fundamental challenge, especially to all those involved in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). The existing paradigm in ECEC which is mainly based on psychological theories of child development that have been dominant in ECEC in the liberal world for the past 60 years is now subject to deconstruction [1, 2]. Both the purpose and process of Education for young children are under critical scrutiny from socio-cultural theory which advocates a radical shift in the content and pedagogy in ECEC from one based on the ‘self’ of individualism rooted in liberal ideology to one based on social responsibility and social justice rooted in democratic principles. Postmodernism rejects the pursuit of the individualism which encourages individuals to fulfil private ends mainly through relationships regarded as instrumental. Instead, it seeks to respect individualistic identity and subjectivity both within, and responsive to, social contexts.

Recognition of the ‘social’ function of Education is not new. Dewey, an influential American educationalist, writing at the beginning of the last century, claimed that the social function of Education was to help society survive by passing down the ways of the tribe[3]. This functionalist perspective was reiterated by Parsons, who was also an influential American educationalist in the second half of the last century [4]. An important function of Education during the Age of Modernity was to assimilate children into the dominant cultural norms and hegemony of the society in which they lived. Postmodernism offers a radically different perspective. It requires that many cultural norms be challenged and contested especially when they reproduce and perpetuate subordination, discrimination, and compliance to traditional hegemonic mechanisms of authority.

Challenging the status quoin society was also a feature of the birth of Modernity which emerged in Europe in the eighteenth century and quickly spread through the English-speaking world. Scottish enlightenment philosophers such as Smith and Hulme [5] promoted a mode of thought challenging the existing modus operandibased on superstition and religious dogma. They maintained that a mode of thought based on rationality and scientific thinking was essential for societal and economic progress as it offered universal truth and certainty about the world. Such thinking, which initiated the Industrial Revolution in Western countries [6], has been omnipotent in shaping the form and purpose of Education in pursuit of individual prosperity and social progress. There is no doubt that many people in the Western world have benefitted economically and socially from the Age of Modernity though many aspects of traditional hegemony have remained intact.

Enlightenment thinking of the eighteenth century was also contained in the work of the Swiss philosopher, Rousseau who is now regarded as an iconic figure in the history of ECEC. He was unquestionably a highly influential exponent of child-centred educational theory [7]. In his book, ’Emile’ [8], written in 1762, Rousseau took the view that the guiding principle of a child’s education should be an understanding of the child’s nature at each stage of development. This was in stark contrast to the prevailing thought in the eighteenth century based on religious dogma. Although Emile is not a blueprint for educating children per se, it had a profound influence on how to view children and childhood.

The emerging emphasis on the individual child during the Age of Modernity in Western countries was in sharp contrast to the prevailing thought in Eastern countries [9]. One Eastern tradition that was very influential (and still is) was Confucianism where the individual was located in a socially conservative context that was defined by role dominance. Everyone knew their place and behaved accordingly with deference practised by lower-status groups for generations. Criticism and challenges were severely discouraged and often punished. This is still the case in China. Postmodernist ideas regarding social justice will be strongly resisted.

Turning to more recent times in the West, as the world emerged from the devastation of WW2 some 80 years ago many countries were eager to embark on an ideological shift from one based on a rigidly conservative social order to one based on liberal principles where freedom of the individual was highly celebrated and cultivated. In the UK, successive governments during the 1960s initiated a significant programme of liberal reforms in Education as recommended by official reports such as the ‘Plowden Report’ [10], and Before five in Scotland [11]. These reports embraced child-centred education which was largely rooted in developmental psychological theory at that time. The work of the Swiss psychologist, Piaget was particularly influential. The curriculum and pedagogy in primary schools and pre-schools/classes were to be located in individual learning and development based on activity and experience with play central to ECEC. The social construction of the ‘developing child’ flourished in the latter part of the twentieth century [12] and is still evident today in national curriculum guidelines [13]. It is the application of these ideas to the education of young children that is the focus of the challenge from postmodernism.


2. Postmodernism and the challenge to ECEC

The central ideas of postmodernism are not new. European philosophers have posthumously inspired contemporary thinkers such as the French philosopher Lyotard [14] to develop these ideas in recent times. It was the work of the German philosopher Nietzsche over 100 years ago that has informed contemporary postmodernist writers. He claimed that in the social world there are only interpretations and constructs of various individuals and groups. Facts and objective truths were Modernist concepts [1]. At the end of the nineteenth century, this social relativism was in stark contrast to the absolutism and truth of science. For example, whilst no one would dispute that a water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the same thinking does not apply to social phenomena such as, for example, the existence of a deity. According to Nietzsche’s ideas, a religious deity is a psycho-social concept which, if challenged, can generate aggression in certain people with deep convictions. Given the supremacy of scientific and logical thinking during the lifetime of Nietzsche, it is not surprising that Nietzsche’s ideas were dismissed as the work of a lunatic.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the French philosopher and sociologist Foucault demonstrated how the exercise of inter-personal power using discourse can serve to perpetuate social divisions and inequality to sustain the dominant hegemony in any given society [15]. Foucault has focused our attention on how social differences are reproduced in the fields of gender, ethnicity, social class etc., and inspired writers on postmodernism to deconstruct and challenge existing social norms. Interest in the work of both Nietzsche and Foucault began to re-emerge in the latter part of the twentieth century and it is now widely accepted that both Nietzsche and Foucault are the founders of the postmodernist era. In contemporary times, Foucault’s ideas on discourse and power relations are now being applied to ECEC [16] in several countries.

One may wonder, however, why the appreciation and acceptance of postmodernism in European countries have only emerged over the past 30 years in disparate fields of human endeavour such as the Arts, Architecture, Literature and Philosophy but only more recently in Education [17]. Given that Education is a valued public service, fundamental re-alignment largely depends on the champions for reform having the ear of government. It happened in the UK in the 1960s and Sweden in the late 1990s where the newly elected social democratic government 1995 instigated a root and branch reform of the Swedish education system, especially in ECEC [18].

At the end of the twentieth century, the dominant debate in ECEC was the issue of ‘quality’ in early years settings following the publication of the ground-breaking research findings on the long-term effects of Project Head Start in the US [19]. The research showed that a quality pre-school experience was essential for long-term positive outcomes. Based on modernist thinking, an instrument for assessing quality in ECEC was constructed in the US [20] to help raise the quality in early years settings. This inspired Dahlberg and others [12] to advocate an alternative vision of a quality environment for young children based on postmodernist ideas. It was revolutionary.

Around the same time, new developments in the sociology of childhood were beginning to emerge. These ideas offered an awakening of social theory’s concern with childhood and underlined the importance of postmodernist ideas [21]. It was the work of Dahlberg et al, however, that inspired others to advocate the reform of ECEC based on postmodernist theory. In 2006, Robinson and Diaz, working in Australia, published a book on social justice in ECEC based on postmodernist and feminist post-structuralism offering a radically different approach to the education of young children [1].

This approach has emerged from postmodernist writers’ deconstruction of the current theoretical basis of ECEC, a basis which has focused on the application of developmental psychology to educational practice since the 1960s. It regarded development’ as a linear movement along a biologically driven sequence of stages and its notion of the decontextualized child [12]. Osgood has presented a succinct overview of the contemporary postmodernist approach to ECEC [1]. It is a clarion call to all those involved in ECEC to shift the basis of education in the early years from one largely based on learning aboutthe world to one based on learning how to be a critically active agent in the pursuit of social change. Based on the work of Vygotsky on children’s learning, the argument for this shift was also put forward over twenty years ago [22]. Drawing on socio-cultural psychology it was claimed that learning is a process of becoming increasingly effective in the world in which we live, a claim that is consistent with postmodernist theory.

This theory maintains that the dominant influences on shaping children’s social attitudes and behaviour are socio-cultural. These influences are at work, often covertly, within the family, in ECEC institutions, schools and the wider society including various media and religious organisations. They work to shape children’s identity and subjectivity from the day they are born and serve to normalize and label children within categories that result in subordination for some and in dominance for others. The theory presents an inspirational challenge to Education to dislodge such normalizing processes recognizing in so doing will not be an easy option as existing entrench attitudes and constructs in society will be threatened.

Learning about the world has been the cornerstone of Education in schools and colleges throughout the Age of Modernity. Undoubtedly many generations have benefitted from their time spent in educational institutions often driven by the promise of personal improvement [23]. However, it cannot be claimed universally throughout the modern world where many young people have learned to assimilate existing hegemonies and to accept a subordinate sometimes dehumanizing role [24]. Furthermore, the social attitudes and behaviour shown by many adults even with the experience of ECEC in their formative years have been shown to be wanton in relation to the deep-seated problems now facing the whole world [25]. Concern for such problems as expanding inequality and dehumanization is now the main driver for educators to find a way to a more humane and fairer social order.

The overarching purpose, therefore, of embracing postmodern theory is to generate a commitment to a better world in which social responsibility is a dominant hallmark. Education has a key role to play in social reconstruction by redefining the social attitudes that are transmitted to our children. The process of this challenging transformation begins in early childhood as it is during this stage of the human lifespan that young children can assimilate a commitment to social justice. It is well established that children are very receptive to learning when they are young [26]; it is a period in the human lifespan when they acquire foundational social attitudes that often prevail into adulthood. It is a significant challenge for postmodern educators to help dislodge current norms in many countries and replace them with greater critical awareness, responsiveness, and a sense of responsibility. To do this not only requires a curriculum for children’s learning in ECEC which is rooted in social attitudes and behaviour but also a pedagogy that is arranged to help teachers and others engage sensitively with children in critical discourse and example [27]. A curriculum founded on postmodernist theory should encompass the following themes:

  • Awareness and reflection

  • Social responsiveness

  • Social responsibility

  • Social justice

The postmodernist theory implies that these themes should intersect in a matrix arrangement with other aspects of learning in most national ECEC curriculum guidelines, which contrasts with the linear arrangement common in such guidelines [13, 28]. This arrangement requires a more socially engaged and critical pedagogy than at present. If the curriculum refers to the ‘what’ of children’s learning, pedagogy refers to the ‘how’ children’s learning experiences should be planned and organized. The extent to which these social learning themes are given overt priority in the pedagogy deployed in ECEC settings often depends on the culture and prevailing ideology in each country. For example, in Western liberal countries such as the UK, considerable importance has been given to supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development [29]. However, in some Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Japan, socio-emotional learning in young children has traditionally been regarded as the responsibility of the family and not the kindergarten [30]. With the introduction of new curriculum guidelines in Taiwan, however, and the national ideological transformation now taking place in a liberal direction, kindergarten teachers are now expected to address such matters in a meaningful way as part of the daily routines of the kindergarten with a growing emphasis on play [28].

2.1 Awareness and reflection

Awareness is a complex concept. It has at least two levels in social contexts as well as mindful awareness of oneself [31]. The first is the level of observation/noticing in both social and physical environments [32]. The second higher-order level concerns our knowledge and understanding [33, 34] which many would argue is central to the education process. In childhood, awareness at level one often becomes habitual unless children encounter someone or something that attracts their particular attention. For example, young children can display an awareness of others who differ from the norm in each culture such as skin colour. If a child’s curiosity gets triggered, she/he will stare continuously for a short time often embarrassing the person who is the focus of attention. An informed parent might then ask the child not to stare as it would be considered rude whilst some parents might try to explain the difference that the child finds curious thereby taking the child’s awareness to level two.

Another example of awareness at level one is how children learn to differentiate between private and public spaces. For example, how do children learn to behave somewhat differently when eating at home compared with eating in a restaurant? Again, an informed parent would offer the child an explanation at level two. A postmodernist approach to this learning would follow up the awareness with reflection such that the child understands that the consideration for ‘others’ is considered important.

2.2 Social responsiveness

This is also a complex issue as it often requires a response to social encounters which differ according to the context. Even from an early age, a child’s response to a parent will normally be quite different from a response to a stranger or friend. To respond appropriately in each situation (parent, sibling, friend, teacher, or stranger), the child has first to be aware of ‘the other’ then decide if, or how, to respond overtly or covertly [35]. Most of the literature in this field focusses on children with some form of social disability such as autism [36]. However, it is relevant to all children as even so-called ‘normal’ children are constantly called upon to respond to others.

As with other social issues, learning how to respond to others is culturally loaded. How adults, both parents and teachers, help children to engage with others is important and will play a large part in children’s responsiveness when they themselves become adults. A postmodernist approach would encourage not only children to be aware but to reflect critically on their social encounters and respond to others, especially when in need or difficulty. ‘Passing-by on the other side of the road’ would not be encouraged.

This level of responsiveness requires children to apply their socio-emotional learning in their response to others. Socio-emotional learning is the process through which children and adults undertake and manage emotions, and achieve positive goals and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions[37]. Not all countries have traditionally regarded such learning as the responsibility of the kindergarten stage, especially in some Asian countries where the family is a powerful social unit [30].

Yet another situation that requires a response is in learning to take turns in a context in which other children wish to participate, examples being in children’s games [38] and the use of other equipment in the kindergarten. Here again, it is crucial that teachers and others help children to understand why this social skill of taking turns is important. Failure to do so allows selfish behaviour to become embedded in day-to-day social interactions.

Responsiveness in some children can also involve anti-social behaviour. During the first few weeks of arriving at a kindergarten, some children may respond to a perceived threat from another child by biting the other child. Helping the child to understand that such behaviour is unacceptable and requires the child to learn how to regulate their emotions. Involvement of the parents of a child displaying such behaviour is essential but requires sensitive social skills on the part of the teacher and childcare worker to address the problem [39].

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of helping children to learn appropriate social responsiveness, however, is to equip children with the skills and confidence to question the normalizing discourses that perpetuate social inequality [1]. How this is done is crucial as for some children there will be a clash between a critical perspective promoted in the kindergarten and the discourse prevalent in the family. In some Asian countries such as Taiwan and Japan, Confucianism is still highly influential [40]. The family is a very powerful social unit that both supports and controls its members sometimes to the detriment of individuals. Many parents expect their children to obey them at all times [41]. In such situations, the transmission of traditional cultural norms can be a significant impediment to the ECEC teacher tying to instill in children a mindset that can challenge such norms, norms that extend well into adulthood, especially in matters concerning gender [42]. For example, in Taiwan, a married couple is expected to spend the first day of the Lunar New Year with the family of the husband/father and then the second or subsequent day with the family of the wife/mother. This traditional cultural practice only serves to reinforce the greater esteem given to males in such countries [41]. A child with an awareness of social justice issues would propose to her/his parents that visiting families at this time of the year be alternated.

2.3 Social responsibility

One of the first connections between ECEC and children’s learning about responsibility was made in the evaluation studies of the effectiveness of Project Heard Start. The researchers investigated whether participation in high-quality ECEC centres in the US would lead to greater social responsibility in adulthood. In these studies, ‘social responsibility’ was regarded as having four aspects: involvement in crime; formation of new family linkages; relation with the family of origin; and other personal and social characteristics. Whilst this perspective on social responsibility is consistent with that associated with the Age of Modernity it is interesting to reflect on the finding that successful persons (in terms of social responsibility) take control of their own destinies whereas the less successful feel that control is out of their hands [19].

A more recent approach to social responsibility and resonant with postmodernist ideas was articulated by Wray-Lake and Syversten [43]. They claimed that social responsibility is founded in democratic relationships with others where moral principles of care and justice motivate certain civic actions, a position also supported by Moss [44] who maintains that ECEC institutions should be places of democratic political practice. Reflecting on the prevalence of social responsibility in our contemporary world, especially with reference to the current virus pandemic, raises serious concerns that Education as is practiced in many liberal countries is deeply flawed. For many citizens, especially in such countries, to refuse vaccination and refuse to observe social restrictions in their daily lives in the name of ‘freedom of the individual’ is a moral rejection of social responsibility. It is an acute political issue. Humans live in a social world that requires mutual responsibility, not selfish individualism. Clearly, educators involved in ECEC in many countries now need to reconsider the importance they attach to their current practice of helping children to learn how to be responsible people. It requires a fundamental mental ‘reset’ based on postmodernist ideas in which ECEC has a crucial role to play.

A powerful way of achieving this is to involve children in group activities in which all the participants are interdependently involved. A successful outcome for a particular activity requires each child to fulfil her/his obligations to all the others. It has been shown that awareness of such obligations can become conscious in the first years of a child’s life as a moral issue [45].

2.4 Social justice

In a previous publication, I outlined the essential features of what it means to pursue social justice, particularly in ECEC [46]. Settings that consciously pursue social justice education in a positive way will constantly require the teachers and child-care staff to instill in children the need for fairness, respect and opportunity. In so doing, social justice education aims to disrupt the normalizing discourses that constitute and perpetuate social inequalities in society and operate to privilege certain identities and marginalize others[1]. The authors outline what a kindergarten might do at the institutional level to promote a commitment to social justice. They claimed that social justice education is far more successful if a whole institutional approach is taken encompassing management committees, staff, children, and families regarding equity issues. This is a very demanding task for the managers of a kindergarten and requires a high level of negotiating skill such that children are well supported in cases of acute conflict which can flare up quite quickly. For example, based on my personal experience of spending time in kindergartens in liberal countries such as Scotland, it is quite common that when children arrive at their kindergarten, they can choose, if they wish, an outfit/costume to wear for the day that crosses the gender divide such as a boy choosing to be a princess. When a child who has made this choice returns home and casually informs his parents of his choice, the father, particularly if he is not well educated, could be seriously threatened, and extend his threat to the child’s teacher with a display of anti-social behaviour.

An enlightened teacher (and the principal/headteacher) committed to social justice would anticipate such reactions and place considerable importance and time in generating policy statements for the kindergarten followed up with extensive communication and negotiation with all the families of the children involved. This institutional response applies to all the areas of inequality such as gender identity, ethnicity, socio-economic status to name but three. It also requires an enlightened pedagogy that operates in the day-to-day routines of the kindergarten. The effects of such a pedagogy using judicious children’s literature were demonstrated in two preschools in Australia [47]. The findings of the research showed that the children involved learned greater respect for human diversity and differences.


3. Towards a critical pedagogy

In its broadest meaning, pedagogy addresses both the organization of the learning environment in terms of the layout and deployment of the available resources and the professional approach of the teachers/childcare workers in supporting children’s learning. In present-day practice in kindergartens/nurseries, the pedagogy is very often play-based and informal. Children can move about the playroom choosing activities and contact with other children at will [16]. The teacher/childcare worker will spend short periods of time with individual children and whole class groups in a supportive role influencing children’s learning in aspects of the defined curriculum.

A feature of a postmodernist pedagogy, however, is the priority given to children working together on various collaborative activities such as with ‘buddies’ or mentors and in both small and large groups. Central to such arrangements is the discourse that takes place during the activity. ‘Circle time’, which is often deployed in ECEC settings, is a particularly important opportunity for the teacher/childcare worker to illuminate social justice issues [48].

An example of such group activity that requires an interactive and reflective pedagogy is in the realm of Moving Image Education (MIE), which has been argued, enables us to search for new and unimagined pedagogies [49]. In MIE, the idea is to generate a short video on a topic democratically selected with the teacher and children. All the children would then search out visual images associated with the topic in magazines, picture books etc. The various inter-dependent roles in creating the video would be distributed by negotiation to the children involved such as the script ‘writers’, the actors, the camera operators, the prop designers, the editors, the producer, the music selectors and the video director. The teacher’s initial role would be to locate short films associated with the topic to show to the children and stimulate discussion and subsequent detailed planning. The value of such activity is in helping young children to learn about inter-dependency. The eventual production of the video depends on each child fulfilling her/his role in the production process.

A popular topic with children in ECEC is an imaginary journey to the moon [50]. The idea might seem complex for young children and beyond the normal pedagogic skills of teachers but with a suitably trained and skilled teacher it can be very effective in promoting children’s awareness, reflection, responsiveness, and responsibility as all the roles in the production of the video are inter-dependent. It is a highly motivating activity, and the children can feel a sense of pride when the video is shown to their parents. It is also claimed that MIE offers an opportunity for the realignment of the power relationships in groups of learners and teachers with consequences for learner and teacher identity [49].

Another important pedagogical practice that is open to a postmodernist approach is in the use of storybooks both by reading storybooks with a group of children and in children making their own picture books. The selection of appropriate storybooks is crucial as is the approach to the story used by the teacher. Reading storybooks with young children can enhance their prosocial behaviour [51] and can provide the opportunity to illustrate and illuminate social justice issues. For example, in Taiwan, the government has produced a series of colourful picture books with brief narratives for teachers and children in ECEC settings to explore the cultures of the various aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. On reading the narrative with the children the teacher will then engage the children in critical reflection which might be followed up with a member of a tribe visiting the kindergarten to extend the storybook narrative and/or a visit to a local aboriginal museum.

Storybooks can also be used to let children identify with the characters (sometimes animals) in the story. A multitude of social situations can become the subject of stories, particularly, where powerful emotions of happiness and sadness are involved. Storybooks can also illustrate everyday situations where power is deployed to control others. The use of puppets is another pedagogic practice that has high motivational involvement for young children which improves moral responsiveness to others [52].

A particular activity popular in Taiwan is for individual children to generate their own personal picturebook consisting of the child’s drawings, paintings, and pictures created over a period and clipped together. Each child will then, in turn, present her/his book to all their peers. By using a microphone each child will stand in front of the group to describe each page of her/his book and answer any queries/discussions that may arise from the other children. Again, it is highly motivating and a confidence booster for the children involved.

Role-play is also a popular pedagogic activity in ECEC settings where the children take turns to act a particular role. Here, again, how the teacher uses such situations is crucial. A postmodernist perspective would be for the teacher to activate children’s awareness of the context of the role-play then to help children reflect followed by highlighting the responsibilities of the various roles.

Another opportunity for group activity is in the preparation of snacks and other foods such as soup for the children to partake at snack time. Children learn to cooperate in the planning and the subsequent procedures. Clearing up after such activities underlines the importance of children’s social responsibility to others.

Essential to these pedagogic activities is the use and frequency of ‘circle time’ [48]. It is part of the daily routines of many ECEC settings though it has been found to be underdeveloped [53]. In a small group with the teacher and children sitting together in a circle, the teacher can raise key postmodernist ideas. Twice daily, there is an opportunity for children to share their recent experiences both inside the setting and in situations either at home or in the local area such as awareness of social events on the way to the kindergarten during the morning circle time or visits to places of interest with their family members. The teacher could then steer any discussion into a reflective mode by asking children what they found special about any event and/or what they found likeable/unlikeable. The afternoon circle time could focus on activities inside the setting. When appropriate, the teacher could explore social justice issues such as fairness and respect by asking children to share their views and feelings with everyone in the group in response to their experience of the activities available.

Once the children become confident to talk and discuss issues in circle time, a skilled teacher would be able to reflect on children’s experience by adopting a more critical dialogue informed by the recent work on critical pedagogy [27]. Such dialogue would initially be based on the teacher asking children to reflect and to propose better ways of organizing their activities. However, in some countries particularly in Asia, being critical is not encouraged in the culture. It can often be taken as a threat. There is little awareness of the need to differentiate criticism of ideas per sefrom criticism of persons. As such, postmodernism in ECEC presents a challenge to aspects of deeply entrenched traditional cultural norms.


4. Involvement of parents as partners

The involvement of parents and other family members is vitally important if practices based on postmodernist ideas are to be successful [1]. Clearly, communication between the kindergarten and each child’s parents is essential. But communication per seis not enough to establish a working partnership between the family and the kindergarten. First, it must be understood that a kindergarten is neither a school even though it may be located inside a school building nor an institution simply to help prepare children for the demands of formal elementary schooling. In the era of postmodernism, the kindergarten requires an active working relationship with parents, both as a stakeholder group, and individually as key persons in a child’s life.

An important feature of this working relationship is the process of formulating the kindergarten’s policies not only on such matters as anti-social behaviour and provision for children with special educational needs but also on the profound social justice issues of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and sexual identity. This process requires highly skilled professionals who can negotiate with and navigate through diverse social attitudes which requires the professional functions of ECEC teachers and childcare workers to be revisited [54].

Regular communication between the ECEC setting and the parents is essential to minimize any potential confrontation as the teachers help to raise children’s awareness and challenge entrenched social attitudes. This makes the political function of kindergartens explicit, though the exercise of that function should be done in a context of democratic negotiation [44]. Similarly, when a teacher provides feedback on each individual child to her/his parents, the feedback should be located in the child’s social and democratic context. Using ‘tests’ to assess each child’s abilities is counter-productive.


5. A new professionalism for teachers in ECEC

From the above, it is evident that a pedagogy based on postmodernist ideas places considerable demands on the professionalism of ECEC teachers and childcare workers. Current practice for the education and training of professionals in ECEC is inadequate to give teachers and childcare workers the skills now required. The education of ECEC professionals needs to be reconceptualised in the era of postmodernism [55]. Current constructions of professionalism leave few opportunities for ECEC teachers and others to engage in meaningful critiques of the status quo[56]. To engage in such activity, postmodernist ECEC teachers and childcare workers need a thorough understanding of and commitment to postmodernist theory. This requires ECEC professionals to act with awareness and responsiveness both in themselves and with children such that children, even when young, become active agents in the construction of their own subjectivity[1] and become motivated to pursue social justice in their own lives [57].

In the postmodernist era, a new approach to the education of ECEC professionals is required. An example of a 1-year postgraduate course at Linkoping University in Sweden is transforming how ECEC professionals are educated [58]. Based on a postmodernist curriculum framework this course trains ECEC professionals to help young children become more aware of their social environment through group-based activities, stories, and critical dialogue in order to equip children with resistance to the often-subconscious transmission of normative constructs on diversity and difference. It is now time to provide post-qualifying courses for childcare workers like that in Sweden and reform the professional course for ECEC teachers to provide early childhood education with critically reflective practitioners. In due course, consideration should be given to making such courses statutory for leaders (principals and headteachers) of kindergartens and nurseries in both the public and private sectors [59]. In so doing, the era of postmodernism will flourish.


6. Conclusion

This chapter has argued that the era of postmodernism requires us, humans, to think and act in a more sophisticated way than hitherto. The basis of such thought and corresponding action can begin when children are young and are receptive to learning new ways of thinking. Whilst the Age of Modernity has taught many of us to be rational and think logically, the emerging postmodernism requires our cognition to be more socially connected and less concerned with the pursuit of self-centred goals to the detriment of others.

In the postmodernist era, the potential role of ECEC professionals requires a more substantial recognition than at present. A major transformation is necessary. First and foremost, such a transformation requires a critical mass of educators to embrace postmodernist ideas and then to persuade governments of the need to allocate resources to initiate change at the national level. ECEC educators can become the instigators of a new social order which, above all else, embraces obligatory concern for others’ welfare, rights, fairness, and justice. Throughout the world, parents, ECEC professionals and governments need to be persuaded that a transformation of how young children are educated to become global citizens should be a priority. This chapter has addressed how this can be achieved by adopting a more critical pedagogy in ECEC.



The author wishes to place on record his appreciation to Su Yu-ling, the chairperson of the Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Taipei, Taiwan for her personal support and encouragement and Wang Hsiu-Ying, the secretary of the same department, for her technical advice in the preparation of the manuscript.


Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Written By

John Eric Wilkinson

Submitted: February 8th, 2022 Reviewed: February 16th, 2022 Published: March 18th, 2022