Guest Post: A First-Time EECERA Conference Attendee’s Experience and Learnings
Posted 16th September 2019
Emma Cooke, PhD (Sociology) Candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia, and intern at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, UK, recounts her experience attending the 2019 EECERA conference.
*The following guest post represents the author’s personal view and does not necessarily represent the view of EECERA as a whole. Any issues or questions arising from the content of this post should, therefore, be directed to the author and not EECERA.
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What makes EECERA different from other conferences?
Only a relatively small proportion of sociologists conduct research with children, and when they do, it is typically with older child participants rather than young children. When I tell people that I conduct interviews with three to five-year-old children on their relaxation experiences, I often receive surprised looks, as if I’d just said that I conduct interviews with yoga-practising goats (I don’t, but I think this hypothetical researcher would be interesting to meet). However, at EECERA you will receive no such looks because you will have the pleasure of being surrounded by people who strongly believe in the competence of young children, and value and advocate for the early years.
EECERA is wonderful for its diversity of participants who come from around the world and work in diverse roles, including policymakers, academics from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, and practitioners including early years educators and social workers.
What were some of the key takeaways from the EECERA 2019 conference?
It is difficult to summarise a conference with ~900 participants and up to 24 concurrent symposiums in a session! Some recurring themes included the importance of family context and ongoing difficulties with defining and ‘measuring’ quality in the early years.
Interventions in the early years can have significant benefit for children and their families, but Dr Maria Evangelou advised us that such interventions need to work with both children and parents, and should prioritise trust and avoid stigmatising families if they are to be successful. As researchers seeking to improve the lives of children, these are important lessons and reminders.
As researchers and stakeholders within early childhood education and care, we are familiar with the ongoing debates regarding what constitutes ‘quality’. In a context of increasing pressure to measure, Dr Jan Peeters asked us to reflect on how we can capture those heartfelt moments of active child engagement, and consider if it is even possible for such experiences to be measured on scales.
We learnt that measurement is not just a methodological issue that early years researchers grapple with – it is also a pedagogical issue in early childhood education and care. Many of us were shocked to hear from Professor Samuel Meisels on the standardised testing that young children in the United States are required to undertake, and how young children were already being ‘taught to the test’ so that they would, for example, be able to correctly mislabel a bad drawing of an urn as a ‘vase’. Priorities. There were sounds of consensus in the crowd when Meisels stated: “early years testing creates more problems than it solves”.
I left the conference feeling inspired and rejuvenated to continue my research on understanding the experiences of young children. Given the current social context where there is significant focus on measuring children’s outcomes, it is arguably more important than ever to seek to understand children’s experiences and perspectives and endeavour to ensure that their voices and ideas are heard by educators, parents, and policymakers alike.
About the Author
Emma Cooke is a PhD Candidate (Sociology) and a Research Assistant in the Child Development, Education and Care Group (Thorpe) at the Institute for Social Science Research, the University of Queensland.
Her Honours thesis investigated children’s experiences of well-being in childcare. Her PhD thesis examines the relaxation and spiritual well-being experiences of young children who attend Early Childhood Education and Care.
As a research assistant in the Thorpe Group with expertise in qualitative research, she has worked across a range of projects, assisting with study design, ethics applications, recruitment, data collection and analyses, research and writing publications.
To access her publications please follow the link: https://issr.uq.edu.au/profile/653/emma-cooke