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Vietnamese early childhood teacher education and new early childhood education practice: a cultural-historical analysis
thesisposted on 15.02.2017, 23:45 by Phan Thi, Thu Hien
The last decade has been marked by radical curriculum and pedagogical reforms in Vietnamese early childhood education (ECE). In essence, the reforms are paradigm shifts from teacher-centred to child-centred pedagogy, and from fragmented subject-based to a holistic integrated curriculum. Studies (Phan, 2005; Le, 2009, Nguyen, 2009) suggest that ECE teachers are struggling to enact the shifts. One of the reasons is speculated as the mismatch between what early childhood teacher education (ECTE) can offer and what new ECE practice needs. Thus, this study explores how Vietnamese ECTE perceives its professional situation - the challenges and opportunities the profession may face in response to the demands of changing ECE practice. This study employs dialectics and cultural-historical theory (Marx & Engels, 1998; Ratner, 2006, Ellis, Edwards, & Smagorinsky, 2010) as the theoretical tools to explain the current professional situation of Vietnamese ECTE, and the way participants of this study perceive it. In this case study, Vietnamese ECTE’s perspectives on its professional situation are gained from semi-structured, in-depth interviews with three Deans and nine lecturers at three ECTE faculties. Their perspectives are incorporated with the viewpoints of other ECTE stakeholders, including an ECE policy maker, two employers (kindergarten principals) and four ECE teachers (ECTE graduates). This study indicates that Vietnamese ECTE is now in a crisis, characterized by three threads of enormous challenges, relating key professional aspects. The first thread of challenges is ECTE’s difficulties in professional conceptualization - in understanding the new ECE philosophies promoted by the ECE reforms, and subsequently, re-conceptualizing its professional beliefs and practice in response to changing ECE practice. The second thread of challenges is that ECTE’s legacy (in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, and management), established within Vietnamese Confucian traditions and Soviet ethos and relatively unchanged up to now, strongly contradicts with the rapidly changing demands of ECE practice. The third thread of challenges is born out of intensive interaction between conservative ECTE and the fast changing Vietnamese contemporary socio-economic context. Vietnam’s shift to a market economy and responding higher education policies to the changing context have intensified ECTE’s persistent problems and brought in new conflicts. Together, the three threads of challenges indicate tense contradictions between the need to meet the increased demands of changing ECE practice and ECTE’s current capability; between ECTE’s responsibilities and conditions offered to the profession. Nevertheless, this study suggests that the crisis, recognized by the majority of participants, provides enormous opportunities for ECTE to move forward if the profession manages to resolve the contradictions. Resolving the contradictions is expected to be very challenging. Dealing with the new ECE practice means Vietnamese ECTE must, firstly, reconcile the sharp conflict between new ECE philosophies and the cultural-historical legacy deeply embedded in ECTE’s thinking and practice. Secondly, ECTE needs more efficient higher education policies to address its persistent professional problems and resolve competing influences from the fast changing societal context.