Safe Schools Resource

Culture and Learning

Grade Levels

Pre-Kindergarten , Kindergarten , 1st Grade , 2nd Grade


Any comprehensive vision for early childhood respects every child’s right to a decent life and also respects the autonomy of those responsible for implementing that right in diverse contexts. These universal principles may appear to be in conflict with each other. But young children’s successful learning and development are contingent on applying both of them together. ~ Helen Penn, Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of East London, United Kingdom One central question addressed in the following publication is “how far development and learning should be understood as cultural processes that vary between communities and societies, and how far as natural processes that are the same for all children, everywhere. On one hand, cross cultural research describes diverse developmental niches inhabited by young children, which shape what they learn, how they learn and where they learn. On the other hand, universal features of early childhood, such as the progressive development of physical, motor, cognitive and communicative capacities, are equally well documented. One resolution of these conflicting accounts comes through recognizing that learning and development are ‘naturally cultural’ (Rogoff, 2003). Babies are biologically pre-adapted to engage in social relationships, and to make sense of their surrounding by sharing with others in a process of intersubjectivity which supports joint activity, cooperation and communication. These processes in turn are strongly shaped by the cultural practices of families and communities, including early childcare settings and schools. ‘Education for all’ goals cannot be implemented in a vacuum, without taking account of children’s specific circumstances, including caregivers’ and professionals’ beliefs about their development and learning. Respecting cultural diversity is not an alternative to ensuring children’s basic rights. The place of ‘working and contributing’ as well as ‘playing and learning’ in the daily lives of young children is a salutary reminder that cultural diversities are not disconnected from economic inequalities. Innovative models are available, demonstrating what can be achieved in promoting development and learning, while respecting cultural diversities. “


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