What do northern Italy and Singapore have in common? A philosophy in early childhood education, it seems.
The Reggio Emilia approach is lauded among many early childhood educators as an excellent way for children up to the age of six to learn and develop. Newsweek magazine has hailed the approach as one of the best in the world.
So it was no surprise to find a recent conference at Novotel Clarke Quay jam-packed with 400 teachers and educationists engaging with colleagues and meeting directly with representatives of Reggio Children, an Italian organisation that fosters the approach among schools internationally. Delegates came from near (Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and far (New Zealand, Australia, Dubai, the US, Sweden, Italy) for the three-day event.
The Reggio Emilia approach takes its name from a town in northern Italy. After World War II, a young teacher from the town, Loris Malaguzzi, formulated a new way of looking at the care of children. It was influenced by his teaching experience, the hardships and changes wrought by the war, and famous educational theorists such as Piaget and Dewey. His innovative methods captured the attention of the town’s educators and parents, and have since been incredibly influential worldwide.
At the conference, Reggio Children’s Amelia Gambetti stressed that it is impossible to create a bona fide Reggio school outside the Italian town of its origin, as geography and culture play enormous roles in identity.
She does, however, believe that Singapore can nurture Reggio-inspired schools for young children. Many delegates in the room were from exactly those environments – educational facilities influenced by the philosophy and practice of the Reggio Emilia municipal schools.
Locally, a growing number of childcare centres and preschools are becoming Reggio-inspired centres. These include EtonHouse, The Blue Nursery, Odyssey Creative Learning Centres, White Lodge, the Australian International School preschool, North Vista Primary School (Compassvale) and a variety of PCF (PAP Community Foundation) preschools. Often, Reggio philosophies sit comfortably side-by-side with more traditional curricula like the International Baccalaureate within a school.
As a mother and a teacher myself, I find the Reggio Emilia approach enormously inspiring. It is a play-based educational method, where children’s interests dictate the projects and learning, rather than prescribed curricula.
Dr Christine Chen, founder and president of the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore, was open in admitting that this can be a challenging philosophy to follow in an Asian school setting, but regards it as well worth the effort. The child is at the centre of everything, with teachers, parents and the school environment considered “partners in learning”. Loris Malaguzzi acknowledged that “we see the child, every child, as a gifted child” – surely music to the ears of every parent sending a precious young one off to learn and grow under the tutelage of others.
Conference delegates were elbow to elbow, dedicated to learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach, and as Amelia Gambetti observed, passionate about learning, about children and about better early childhood education.
Singapore will be all the richer for this meeting.
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