Jones_whole_thesis.pdf (4.6 MB)
Understanding family use of a universal early childhood education program in Tasmanian communities experiencing disadvantage
thesisposted on 2023-05-28, 01:05 authored by Jones, RP
Access to high quality early childhood education appears to be particularly important for children from low SES backgrounds who receive proportionately greater benefits than children from less disadvantaged backgrounds. Launching into Learning (LiL) is a Tasmanian Department of Education program that provides universal school-based education services to support families and young children aged 0-5 years. At LiL sessions, children and their parents/carers engage in a range of indoor and outdoor play-based learning activities under the guidance of an early childhood educator. The research presented in this thesis explores how Tasmanian parents living in two communities experiencing disadvantage use and experience LiL and the factors shaping their use and experiences. In addition, policy and other documents related to LiL are analysed to identify the intended purpose of LiL and how LiL users are framed and positioned. Research was conducted between April 2017 and December 2018. Participants were 39 parents/carers ('families'), 32 early childhood education professionals. Over 100 naturalistic observations were collected during an extensive period of fieldwork at LiL sites and a range of other early childhood settings. Policy documents relevant to LiL were analysed using Bacchi's (2009) 'What is the Problem Represented to Be' approach. Parent information brochures were analysed using thematic analysis. Parents' use and experiences of LiL were investigated using participant observation (PO) of LiL sessions, and interviews with parents and early childhood educators. Between 2017-2019, 39 parents with one or more children aged under five years, and 20 educators (teachers and aides) were recruited into the study from two Tasmanian communities. PO and interview data underwent a thematic analysis that included theoretically informed coding derived from Bourdieusian concepts including cultural and social capital. The analysis of policy documents found that the intended purpose of LiL is to create school readiness, ease transitions of children and their parents into schooling, and to support improved learning outcomes amongst Tasmania's children. Parents who were viewed as 'less engaged' in schooling or LiL were often problematised in policy documents. Analysis of interview and PO data found that key factors shaping parents' use of LiL are social and geographic isolation, family life complexity, and aspects of services that helped them to feel either at ease, or as 'fish out of water'. Parents who made less use of LiL often described multiple barriers to engagement. Parents and early childhood teachers generally shared similar understandings of LiL. Both saw LiL as supporting school readiness, transition into schooling, and early social and academic skills. Differences in how teachers and parents viewed appropriate engagement with LiL sometimes created tensions between them. Bourdieu's concepts of social and cultural capitals were useful in understanding how parents use and experience LiL. Participating in LiL helped parents who were socially isolated by expanding their social capital. It also provided opportunities for diversification of family level cultural capital. Engagement with LiL was more likely to be precarious amongst families whose cultural capital resources were likely to be of less socially dominant forms. The influence of social class was strongly evident. Parents who used LiL reported a range of benefits to them and their children. Transitions into schooling were eased, with LiL building familiarity with the school setting, routines ad expectations. This thesis also highlights a paradoxical relationship that exists between schools and families living with disadvantage. Families residing in low SES communities are less likely to belong to dominant social class groups, and therefore tend to possess differing levels of capitals from those who occupy the middle and upper classes. It was evident in this study that the benefits of LiL were also accompanied by some drawbacks. Families using services such as LiL can experience a delegitimisation of their capitals, and symbolic violence. In this study, some parents were observed to respond to this with a passive resistance to LiL messaging, non-engagement, or withdrawal from the program. This study points to the need to further address the lived realities of symbolic violence in early childhood education, which can occur in the process of enacting the well-intentioned goal of building school readiness. Programs such as LiL are still novel and little is known about how they are being experienced and used by parents. This thesis provides valuable information to support service providers and policy makers in the design of early childhood education services. In addition, the findings make an empirical and theoretical contribution to the sociology of education that help explain why families living in lower SES communities may be less likely to engage with early childhood education programs than families from more affluent areas and how parents and children appear to benefit from participating in LiL.
Rights statementCopyright 2021 the author