I am seeking admission into the Masters of Early Childhood offered by your institution. Although I will be diligent in my studies, taking from them all the mastery of skills I can garner, I am not seeking teacher licensure in the United States. I completed my Bachelor of English degree at the University of Massachusetts—Boston, and it is my desire to also complete my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood, if possible, from the same institution. Following graduation my plans are to return to China to help reform early childhood education. Further impetus for me is that my father is presently a middle school principal in China.
Early childhood education in China is given only at the kindergarten level. Presently there are only two forms of kindergarten. The first is state-operated. The second is located in private schools where children are prepared to enter the first grade for regular classroom instruction. Thus, regardless of whether the kindergarten is state-run or private, early childhood instruction is limited to a single year for all children. In order to fully measure the effectiveness of early childhood education in China it is necessary to examine it from a global perspective. Caring early childhood education teachers seek their personal education from within the United States and other Western cultures. Because of the lack of solid early childhood programs in China, two kinds of teachers seek their education elsewhere. There are those who can best be described as opportunists. Because of the recent worldwide economic downturn they matriculate in the United States or another country and then relocate to China to apply the knowledge they have gained. However, not being from China originally, they are strangers to this exotic land and its customs. Sometimes these new arrivals immediately fit in; usually they need several years before they are truly an asset to the educational community. The second kind of aspiring early childhood teacher is someone like me: a Chinese citizen who is aware of China’s customs, her people, and her problems. Being educated in the United States, I can then take my newly acquired knowledge and adapt it to the problems of children who, like me, are Chinese nationalists.
Although culture is important, China’s educational beliefs, dating as far back as Confucius, places strong values in education. Regardless of poverty or wealth, every Chinese family believes in a strong education for their children. State-owned Chinese education only believes that children need to attend schools from the first grade through the ninth. There is strong competition to get children into high schools or those institutions offering education beyond the ninth grade. Because the academic competition is so great and college entrance tests are even more difficult, parents become anxious about their children’s academic achievement from the day they enter school. As a result Chinese parents care more about the drilling memorization of songs and verses combined with obedience of the elderly than for the development of creativity or learning through play. Chinese parents want kindergartens to identify more closely with the early academic grades, focusing their attention on teaching reading and mathematics more so than the requirements of early childhood education.
Another influence that conflicts with early childhood education is the child-oriented educational theory of Chairman Mao’s philosophy. The People’s Republic of China was founded under the leadership of Chairman Mao in 1949. Chairman Mao mandated a curriculum of socialism beginning with the elementary grades and continuing through their university training. Chairman Mao’s expectation was that all children would perform at high levels and in similar ways. Under socialism, individualism was unacceptable. Curriculum, instruction, and learning activities were not expected to contain differences. This standardization of learning continued to about 1976. Through this era many preschools or kindergartens simply closed because the early childhood education they espoused was not wanted by the government. The faculty and staff operating these preschools and kindergartens were ill-prepared to teach pure academics and their knowledge pertaining to early childhood programs were simply unwanted by the Chinese Republic.
Thoughts about early childhood instruction began to change in China around 1978. This occurred through the enactment of Reform and Open-up Policy. As a result, early childhood education in China began to expand. Much of this expansion was introduced gradually and implemented. Globalization has helped the Chinese people to introduce the principles of early childhood education as they have been successfully used in Western cultures. Continued growth of successful early childhood programs will depend upon individuals like me: Chinese nationalists who understand Chinese culture, trained in early childhood education, and returning to our roots so that the knowledge gained in the United States can be successfully applied in China.
Although academic subjects are important, early childhood education has been identified as a crucial time for children. Children learn through play and self-exploration. Early childhood education provides the student an opportunity to learn about human development. Students taking early childhood education get the opportunity to find out about pediatric diseases and disorders. Early childhood education does not aim toward a medical degree, but often teachers are the first individuals to recognize the differences in children and thus can offer a first observation of abnormal behavior. Western research has found that education at any grade level is not simply a school undertaking. Children learn by mimicking their parents and other adults; they learn from examples they experience in their daily lives. Thus, an early childhood educator needs to also be an activist in social and community services provided in the localities that will affect her students.
Early childhood education focuses on five domains: cognitive, language, social-emotional, fine motor and gross motor. By itself, cognition has several stages. Jean Piaget, one of the first individuals to discover this phase of children’s growth, identified the sensorimotor and the preoperational stages as the two areas that can be most affected by early childhood education. In the first, the sensorimotor stage, children are affected simply by external stimuli, grasping at things felt by their somewhat undeveloped nerve endings. At this stage when an adult places a single finger in the hand of an infant, the child will curl his/her hand around the adult’s finger. In the preoperational stage, that stage which most greatly affects kindergarteners, children begin to use language. They have not yet reached the point where they can manipulate logic but they are beginning to form and use simple words.
The earliest language stages for all babies is cooing and babbling. These infants are not talking but they are beginning to experiment with the same sounds that will eventually form adult linguistics. By their first birthdays, children are usually uttering single words. They have no substantive meaning behind those words. They are simply mimicking the adults in their lives. With each year of growth up to about six years of age an additional word is added. By two years children have two-word phrases, by three years of age they have three-word phrases. This format continues until about the sixth chronological year after which children find they can assemble several words into a coherent sentence.
During the early part of the 20th century when China maintained its socialistic republic, detaching itself from the rest of the world, social-emotional problems among children went largely unrecognized. Since 1978 and China’s development of an open-door policy combined with the recognition of Western cultures largely through globalization, social-emotional issues among China’s schoolchildren have been readily identified. Income levels have been positively identified as causing children’s social and emotional problems. Not too unlike Western cultures, China is developing a huge population of immigrants who come to China’s cities seeking work in low income positions. When these people seek housing they tend to center themselves in their neighborhoods close to their places of employment. This is similar to when the United States experienced mass immigration at the turn of the 20th century; immigrants lived in their own neighborhoods close to the institutions that offered them employment.
The offspring of these immigrants have been identified as having more social and emotional problems. These problems manifest themselves by the time the child first enters school. Thus, teachers in early childhood education are confronted by children who have special needs almost from the day of their first entrance into school.
Fine motor skills can best be defined as the smaller actions that affect human beings. When they enter school children with deficiencies in fine motor skills have difficulty grasping a pen or pencil; sometimes they are unable to write. These same children have similar difficulties with other pencil-shaped instruments; they may have problems grasping an eating utensil. Another area of fine motor skills identified by professionals but not easily recognized by the non-professional community is the use of the human tongue. As a result children with defects in fine motor skills may have problems forming certain words. They may also drool excessively or have problems removing food from a fork and placing it in their mouths without using their hands. The problems associated with fine motor skills may be associated with childhood diseases, abnormal brain formation, or diseases such as cerebral palsy. An early childhood trained professional is best equipped to make observations about a child’s fine motor skills and make referrals to those individuals who are best suited to diagnosis.
Gross motor skills use the larger muscles of the human body. These include the arms, the legs, and the entire torso. Activities may involve walking, crawling, kicking, swinging, and swimming. Like in the case of fine motor skills, a trained classroom professional maintaining copious notes may be the first person to observe children who are displaying developmental problems. These classroom professionals can then make referrals to professionals skilled in diagnosis.
In summary, I see myself as an early childhood teacher and hope to acquire that training at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Uniquely, I am not interested in credentialing to become a teacher in the United States. Granted, not every American who attends school is successful, but American education offers that ability to gain personal success to any individual who will do the assignments necessary. Chinese success in early childhood instruction is relatively new; authorities in China find that the newly afforded success comes from the influence of Western civilization. I am in a unique position. After graduation I plan to return to China. I am doing so not merely as an opportunist/job seeker, but as a resident of China, trained in America, and in the best possible position to blend together the principles of early childhood education with the rich Chinese culture of which I am already familiar.