Culturally sensitive care in multicultural kindergartens

Equity is a fundamental principle in all kindergartens. However, equity is often confused with equal treatment of the children. Such a confusion might give the children very different preconditions for participating in the community, according to a researcher.

Text: SIW ELLEN JAKOBSEN / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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“Care has a central standing in the kindergarten. The term has been highlighted since the first Framework Plan came in 1995,” tells researcher Berit Zachrisen.

She has tried to elaborate an understanding of the term which might be relevant in a time when Norwegian kindergartens are becoming increasingly diverse linguistically and culturally, and it is within this context she puts forward a new version of the term, culturally sensitive care.

“Not long ago, Norway was a homogeneous society. We resembled each other and we mostly agreed on what a good care for a child means. In a heterogeneous society the range of meanings will be much bigger,” she claims.

EQUAL TREATMENT – OR EQUITY?

During a three months long field work, she observed the interaction between the pedagogues and the children in two different kindergartens, one public and one private.

She wanted to study how the adults communicated sensitivity confronted with the children’s divers linguistic and cultural backgrounds. She was in particular interested in studying situations where the adult had a leading position.

“Research from Scandinavian kindergartens show that the staff is very concerned with equal treatment. If one is to achieve an equal treatment, one has to take into consideration the children’s diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds in the many different situations that occur in the everyday life of a kindergarten,” says Zachrisen.

“When the children in the kindergarten have a big range of linguistic and cultural competences, they also have very different preconditions for participating in many of the communities in the kindergarten.”

MIGHT BE CHALLENGING

Because Norway just some decades ago was homogenous, the work to elaborate a multicultural pedagogic in the kindergartens has not come very far yet. The issue has so far not had a large place in education.

A lot has happened over the last decades. In several child groups you can find children with a number of different primary languages and different cultural backgrounds. In the kindergarten she studied, the children had the following backgrounds: American, Congolese, Indonesian, Norwegian, Pakistani, Filipino, Polish and Somali.

She believes that it might be challenging for the staff to try to meet every child based upon its competence and background when the diversity is so great.

“The aim of a culturally sensitive care is to give the same good care to every child independent of that child’s linguistic and cultural background. If you want to achieve that, you have to talk about it as a common focus area in the staff group.

The question they ought to ask is: What does each child carry to the kindergarten? And how can each child experience himself or herself as a resource and an important contributor to the different communities in the kindergarten?”

CULTURALLY SENSITIVE CARE MEANS TO

  • give an equally good care to all the children independent of their linguistic and cultural background
  • support the children’s experience of kindergarten community and belonging
  • give the children the power to act by supporting their initiatives and play

KNOW YOURSELF

It’s about getting close to each child, to know the child well and also the family. But it is also about knowing yourself and how your sociocultural background influences your view on the care provision in the kindergarten, underlines the researcher.

The parents are important collaborative partners for the staff. They have important information about the child’s competence and the child’s experience of care in the family. It is very important and useful for the staff to get an insight of what the parents think is good care for their child in the kindergarten.

“All children need to feel that they are seen as competent persons and have a role to play,” Zachrisen says.

“Children can easily become invisible. Children who are recognized for their knowledge and competence, will appear as well-informed and exciting persons. Those who rarely are recognized will in the same way appear as uninformed and unexciting persons. In a child community they might be looked upon as quite invisible and boring.”

SPEAK NORWEGIAN!

Zachrisen describes an example where a child wasn’t recognized. It illustrates how a child with Norwegian as second language can have difficulties showing his linguistic competence in a kindergarten context where the communication only is in Norwegian.

Jarek, 4,5 years old, enters a playground and heads for two girls (Jasia 3,5 years, and Natia 4 years); all of them share the same primary language. He leans over some sand cakes Jasia has made and put on a small, low table. He holds his face right over one of the cakes while he smiles cunningly. Jasia stops playing and looks at him without a word. The employee looks at him and says he has to ask the girls if he might taste the cakes. He straightens up, he is serious. He looks in silence at the employee, who repeats that if he wants to taste the cakes, he has to ask the girls. He keeps still. Looks at the girls with an uncertain expression in his face. The employee and the girls come close to him. While the girls stand still with serious faces, the employee bend down towards him, repeating several times intensively that he has to speak Norwegian. Mouth closed, Jarek looks another way. He turns and leaves the playground. With a strong voice the employee repeats one more time just as he is leaving the playground: “If you don’t use the language no one can understand you!”

When the employee insisted that Jarek must use the language the underlying message is that he had to speak Norwegian. In this situation the fact that the three other children had the same first language as Jarek, was not mentioned. That could have been a resource in the situation between them. The employee didn’t speak the children’s first language. She said that they should speak Norwegian together.

“An important dimension of culturally sensitive care is to support the children so they might experience community and belonging, both to their own family background and to the group of children. In Jarek’s case, the employee’s communication didn’t contribute to establish an interaction and playing between the children,” Zachrisen says.

Another aspect of culturally sensitive care is to give every child the power to act. Jarek demonstrated this ability when he entered the playground and addressed the two girls. He took an initiative. Their reactions, however, made him withdraw.