Erikson professor Gillian Dowley McNamee shares what she learned about early childhood education during her travels through Asia

Professor and director of Erikson’s teacher education program Dr. Gillian Dowley McNamee recently visited Asia to serve as keynote speaker at the annual Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association (PECERA) conference. During the months of July and August, she visited Taipei and Tainan in Taiwan; Guangzhou, China; and Vietnam where she traveled from Hanoi to the northern coast of the country, and south, ending in Ho Chi Minh City.

PECERA conference participants represent early childhood researchers and educators from the Pacific area — South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia — and represent all religions, races, economic classes, and types of government in those countries. McNamee’s keynote address, entitled “Conversations with Children, Teachers, and Educational Researchers About Tomorrow,” explored how education can prepare children for an unknowable future. She emphasized while we cannot guess what the future holds, we can predict the future will require knowledgeable young people who are experts at collaboration and willing to pool their talents across many disciplines to solve the problems they will face.

“My goal was to demonstrate we know what it will take to educate students for such a future,” McNamee said. “We have the resources to do it, and the education needed does not require a lot of money. It can be carried on in developing nations and in rural settings, as well as in bustling cities.” Her address was accompanied by a photo presentation composed entirely of images of children and teachers in early childhood settings, all taken during her work in diverse communities across the U.S. and abroad. “I believe the combination of narrative and photos made my ideas very accessible to the audience, and since the photos represented so many different cultures and circumstances, there were many ways for the audience participants to connect,” she said.

After the conference, McNamee had the opportunity to visit preschools in Taiwan and China to observe children and teachers at work. In Taipei, she met current Erikson MSECE student Ron Cheng at Tinkerseeds Children’s Workshop, an English-language immersion school for children 3-8 that uses a play-based approach to learning that allows children to observe their world and communicate through storytelling.

During her trip, McNamee realized the educators she encountered grapple with the same questions educators in the U.S. face. Namely, how do educators ensure children are learning; what is the value of pretend play in school and the teacher’s role in relation to it; and how we can harness children’s creativity and imagination in learning? Income disparity was also a pressing issue the educators have in common. “I was keenly aware that no form of government in the East or West has solved the problem of the gap between rich and poor, and how to create a pathway through education alone to support improving the situation of the poor,” noted McNamee.

And while these concerns present sizable challenges for the early education field, she also discovered innovative approaches to learning and hope for the future. During her trip, she couldn’t help but feel “a renewed faith that early childhood educators carry deep stores of hope and vision for the future of all children and families,” she shared. The trip, the educators she encountered, and her experience presenting to the PECERA conference was one she will not soon forget: “The determination, the willingness to experiment, the interest in new ideas, eagerness to ask questions, and the commitment to our profession were apparent throughout my visits with early childhood educators in Asia.”

Photos courtesy of the PECERA conference.