Can you believe that Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework is nearly 12 years old? I know, I can’t believe it either! And on top of that the Early Childhood Ireland Scéalta blog, one of the many quality initiatives that support the implementation of Aistear and Síolta is five years old already. How time flies!
With so much change occurring since the publication of Aistear in 2009 the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) had planned to hold an event in early 2020 to mark Aistear’s contribution to the learning and development experiences of babies, toddlers and young children here in Ireland and to begin a process of updating the framework. However, a worldwide global pandemic got in the way and so here we are in summer 2021 and with things looking more positive we want to draw your attention to the consultation with adults and children on the updating of Aistear which will take place over the next three years. The face-to-face celebration will have to wait for another while but for now, we have a plan in the train to engage with a range of stakeholders including children, parents and practitioners to gather perspectives on the framework to help us see what aspects of Aistear need to remain and what needs to be updated.
Aistear – the journey so far!
But first, let’s take a step back and reflect on your practice before the advent of Aistear and then take a few minutes to remember what the framework has meant for you and the children that you have worked with over the years. Little did we realise in 2009 the impact Aistear would have for children all over the country and that is thanks to each and every one of you, who embraced the framework and made it your own. Firstly, the Aistear Toolkit and then the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide became conduits for sharing Aistear-inspired-practice around the country. Many of you welcomed me and my colleagues into settings to record Aistear-in-action in your settings and to talk about your different journeys as you navigate your way in partnership with children and their families.
The rationale for updating Aistear now
As mentioned earlier, since 2009, there has been considerable change in the early childhood sector in Ireland in terms of qualifications, national developments, policies and strategies, curriculum and assessment developments not to mention the changes in the lived experiences of babies, toddlers and young children. For example, who could forget the announcement in Budget 2009 of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme? Since then, we’ve also seen the introduction of Department of Education early years education inspections alongside an increasingly qualified workforce, with over 20 higher education institutions offering early childhood degree programmes. Add to that First 5, a Whole-of-Government Strategy, with its vision for children in their first five years of life. And last, but by no means least, we have our more recent lived experiences as a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic. You can understand why NCCA has chosen this moment to shine a light on Aistear. Just like children, a curriculum doesn’t and shouldn’t standstill. It’s time to step back and ask,
- Is Aistear still the best curriculum framework it can be for Ireland in the 21st century?
- What is working well in the framework and what needs to change?
- Is Aistear as inclusive and empowering for all children as it could be?
- Does Aistear do enough to promote sustainability?
NCCA is undertaking this updating process now so that Aistear continues to support high-quality learning and development experiences for children from birth to six years in Ireland.
What we know so far
So, what is this update all about? As you know Aistear is made up of Principles, Themes and Guidelines for Good Practice. We want to reassure the sector that the main thrust of Aistear will remain the same. It will be underpinned by principles of learning and development and the four themes of Well-being, Identity and Belonging, Communicating and Exploring and Thinking will be there following the update as a recent review of international early years and primary curricula commissioned by the NCCA in 2018 (O’Donnell) indicated that Aistear’s four themes remain broadly appropriate when compared with international early childhood education curricula. However, NCCA intends to update the research base for the themes so that the updated Aistear reflects any advances in research made over the past decade.
Getting involved in the consultation
This updating work on Aistear will take place over the next three years and during that time there will be lots of opportunities for you to get involved to share your thoughts and ideas about Aistear and to tell us what needs to be retained and what needs to change. Very importantly, as we did with the development of Aistear, we’ll be asking babies, toddlers and young children for their perspectives on what matters most to them. Children are at the centre of Aistear and so will also be at the centre of Updating Aistear. Their participation will provide opportunities to meaningfully connect with their everyday experiences in the range of out-of-home settings and schools in which their learning and development is shaped and informed by Aistear. Their participation also recognises the importance of them being involved in making decisions that affect their learning and development as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
On May 26th a new page called Updating Aistear was added to the NCCA website. The consultation is now open and will remain so until 31/12/2021.
Phase 1 focuses on what is working well with Aistear alongside suggestions on how it might be enhanced and updated. Three different options are available for you to share your views.
- There is an online questionnaire on the NCCA website – one for professionals and one for parents/guardians.
- There is a written submission template for you and/or your setting or organisation to complete.
- There is an option to register your interest in attending one of our consultation seminars. We hope to hold a series of these throughout Autumn and Winter, 2021. Once you register your interest you will be notified of the events. It is not clear yet whether these will be on-line or in person.
In addition, you will also find:
- A short video message from our Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Arlene Forster who along with myself was part of the team that was originally involved in the development of Aistear all those years ago.
- A short information video on Updating
- A background paper about Updating
Phase 2 will begin in mid to late-2022 with a sharing of proposals on updating Aistear based on the findings from Phase 1. Here again, there will be an opportunity to feedback about the proposals in relation to the different aspects of Aistear that are being updated/retained. Following this round of feedback, NCCA will complete the updating process.
So now you know more about updating Aistear, why don’t you take the next step by getting involved in the consultation. Your views are important to us so please do try and find the time to complete the questionnaire. It will only take a few minutes. Making a written submission will take a bit more time but it is worth doing particularly if you have ideas on things that need to change or things that you think we should hold on to. Another option is to register your interest in attending one of the events that will happen later in the year. Also, remember that we are relying on you to alert parents/guardians about the update and would really appreciate it if you could encourage them to fill in the parent questionnaire. Already several hundred of you have filled in the professional questionnaire and as one practitioner and contributor to the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide Lee Herlihy from Cork, said on Twitter Really excited to see what the next stage of Aistear will look like!! I feel we know so much more now! To be fair it has stood the test of time but so good to be looking forward to it.
For more information on events and updates during the updating of Aistear, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or visit www.ncca.ie/earlychildhood
NCCA (2009) Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, https://www.curriculumonline.ie/Early-Childhood/
O’Donnell S. (2018) Audit of the Content of Early Years and Primary Curricula in Eight Jurisdictions Desk study for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Key findings synthesis: curriculum breadth, depth and organisation https://ncca.ie/media/3927/ncca-key-findings-synthesis-breadth-and-depth.pdf
United Nations (1989) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
Dr. Mary Daly lives in Tipperary and has worked in the area of early childhood care and education in Ireland in a number of different capacities over the past 20 years. Mary has a BA in Early Childhood Studies from University College Cork and in 2002 she completed a Ph.D. which focused on the emotional, social, moral and spiritual development of the young child. In 2004 she published a book based on her Ph.D. Mary has worked with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) for a number of years and was involved in the development of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, the Aistear Toolkit, the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide, and the Mo Scéal Reporting templates which support children’s transition from preschool to primary school. At present, she is working on the updating of Aistear. Mary is also one of a number of NCCA staff currently supporting the HSE Public Health Teams’ work with early childhood settings and schools in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.