Early Childhood Hub

Decolonising and diversifying the Early Years curriculum

Chandrika Devarakonda, Associate Professor of Diversity and Inclusion, Faculty of Education and Children’s Services, University of Chester


In this video, Chandrika Devarakonda discusses approaches to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum in early childhood education, including:

  • the actions practitioners can take to decolonise and diversify their practice
  • how we can move beyond tokenism
  • the barriers that may be encountered and how we can overcome them.

I personally feel that early childhood is a very important stage of anybody’s life, and then anything that you experience that you learn has got a huge impact on the later life. And I also strongly believe that instilling good values in the early childhood, especially to value and respect everyone, is very much important. And from that perspective, decolonising and diversifying curriculum in the sense that I always feel that curriculum is very fluid in early childhood stage, and it’s again raising awareness through their experiences, their activities. 

The resources that they use should actually reflect diversity and ensure everybody in the group or the room is positively represented, portrayed in stories, for example. So it will enable children to be open and accept differences. And also, it’s important for children to be aware of the visible and invisible diversity as well. Not everybody who is visibly different might have similar characteristics, or similar needs, for that matter. So from that perspective, it’s acknowledging and respecting the diversity, and giving opportunities to be included is important from early childhood stage. 

It’s important to audit, or keep an eye on what types of resources are they using. In terms of are they reinforcing any stereotypes or prejudices among children. Maybe there should be opportunities to think of alternative ways of how to make the story reflect the diversity, and make it… tweak the story in a positive manner. And also from a practitioner’s perspective, it’s important to walk the talk. So what they are preaching, they have to be providing a good role model and a good example by verbalising or by expressing good values and beliefs, and not reinforcing the stereotypes as such. 

And I always believe in the concept of learning, unlearning and, relearning. So learning what your stereotypes are, and unlearning them, and relearning to reflect the right values towards diversity and inclusion. And from a settings perspective, I also strongly believe that celebrations are important, whether it is something that is important to an individual child, or an individual family. Successes in relation to that, and also celebrating birthdays, which are very much important. 

Whether it is the children, absolutely, even adults for that matter. Practitioners or other staff working in the setting should be celebrated, as well as the festivals from a local perspective, national perspective, and also a global perspective, giving opportunities for children to gain a different knowledge and understanding of how celebrations are happening in different parts of the world, really. 

I think tokenism, it actually happens at different levels, in terms of from the perspective of a practitioner. So you’re actually in your own room working with six children or eight children, depending on who you are working with in terms of staff–children ratios. So from your own room, do you necessarily see that you’re actually working with your… well I feel that you have to work with your heart, and especially working in early childhood, you cannot really do it as “a job”. It’s got to be “the job” that you really enjoy, and you really want to be there. And you can make the difference to children, to families, as well. 

And tokenism is something, I think that’s a good start to believe what you want to do and how you want to do. And how you want to do in terms of how you’re familiar with it. If you’re not familiar with it, can you actually spend some time to gather more information, more recent information, or maybe talk with families or bring… engage with families, encourage, invite the families. 

I would say grandparents are the best people in the world, too. They would be very much interested to share their celebrations, whether it is a festival, or whether it is birthdays. Like all… everybody would not be celebrating birthdays in the same way as cutting a cake… cutting a cake and blowing candles. So there would be different ways of celebrating birthdays, for that matter. 

So it’s, again, wanting to do things. That’s at the room level, personal level, but then that’s not to happen in the setting level as well. So what is the values of the setting? Do they really believe in bringing in diversity into the setting? And so it’s not enough if we just have the right resources, right displays, and right opportunities at a superficial level. 

So how are we ensuring that we are unpacking them? We are actually seeing the relevance of all of those resources, and how we are tweaking them. How we are actually changing the nature of a story or a character in a story with different characters, perhaps, or like how would somebody in the room would be celebrating their own birthdays. So that could be an opportunity to maybe gain more knowledge and understanding during circle time, or bring in persona dolls, for example, from different backgrounds. 

I think lots of the barriers I would actually put this at the forefront, again, about our own unconscious bias, and how that leads to attitudes towards diversity, inclusion. And sometimes we might presume that whatever we’re doing, our opportunities that we’re giving or the experiences that we are giving the children may, from our perspective, be positive. But then it’s again… we may not necessarily be open… so that happens only we really want to do it. So it’s more of an introspection as well on what are you reading. Is it something that you have bought 20 years ago, or is it a storybook that has been currently bought? 

And it’s always a good idea to prepare a little bit, and understand what is this book giving, what ideas is this giving, and what knowledge is it adding? And is it something new? It could be as simple as celebrating Christmas, and I always give this example because what we are familiar with in terms of celebrating Christmas is what we think is “normal”. I always put that in quotes. 

Whereas if you read something from Australian perspective, they celebrate Christmas on beaches, perhaps. It’s summer for them, which is totally… we cannot even probably think of celebrating Christmas in summer weather, perhaps outdoors in beaches for example. So it’s again how the values of Christmas can be different, the beliefs can be different. And going back to barriers, it’s about how we accept this new information that is more important. 

And the other barrier, for me, is actually tokenism. So as long as we are doing things for the sake of getting ticks or being politically correct. So I think that is important not to do things for being politically correct, and for tokenism, really. So whatever we’re doing is for the sake of instilling those values and beliefs, and what I strongly believe is that once you have influenced, inspired a young three-year-old child to be taking in all this information openly, so you are snowballing from the child to the family, perhaps into the community, and hopefully we’ll have a community in 10 years, 20 years later, the world will be a better place to live. Hopefully. 

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