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Early childhood education aims to develop children’s social, emotional and cognitive skills to provide a broad and firm foundation for them to be lifelong learners. But as the world changes, so does its objectives.

“The goal of education is to equip a child with the ability to handle the requirements of adult society 20 years after their birth,” says Amelia J. Brown, Principal of Falcon British Nursery. To do this, educators have to start with the goal in mind and look where humanity is headed. “Educators are seeing a shift towards a minimalist, eco-aware, immersive, computer-generated and clickable, thinking and knowledge-based society,” she says.

How can early years education accommodate the needs of this society?

Research over the past 35 years shows that brains develop at their fastest pace during the first four years of life. Everything children experience during the time produces neural pathways, and repetition creates neural permanence, explains Brown.

Natural instincts

“Educators know that children are born scientists, explorers, negotiators, creators and project managers who intuitively use their world and senses to find answers and they do this in the physical realm. Once concrete understanding is mastered, abstract learning can commence.”

However during Covid-19, early childhood education too had to move to the virtual world to keep children safe. There was a shift from concrete face-to-face learning to abstract online education. And for social interaction, many four-to-eight-year-olds relied on sandbox games.

We don’t know yet the full impact of virtual learning on early childhood brain development, attachment, social skills, independence, behaviour, literacy, drive and desire to complete tasks and physical development – studies are still ongoing, which will eventually shape the future of early years education. But even before the advent of online education, the sector has been seeing a lot of changes with more focus on children’s individual interests and learning through play. For Brown, “the biggest changes in early childhood education are bringing 21st century skills such as the 4Cs – collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking – into the child’s physical environment where they can thrive and develop the skills needed for life in 2040”.

Brown’s Falcon British Nursery integrates the 4Cs into its syllabus and offers a specialised STEM programme.

Connecting real life

With children’s innate curiosity and aptitude for scientific discovery, having natural and repurposed resources and an environment that promotes eco understanding, utilises advanced language acquisition practices, provides concrete STEM activities, and offers opportunities for artistic expression and movement will help them retain their natural instinct for learning throughout life and allow them to continue to ask the big questions, explains Brown.

“The focus is on supporting special educational needs, finding solutions that limit passive e-learning for under 5s, and linking body and mind to the environment by reducing made-for-purpose plastic toys while creating a physically immersive and creative world using repurposed home objects and natural materials to provide a setting that connects learning to real life and stimulates curiosity and wonder.”

Brown believes education is moving towards a hub-based school setting where virtual or face-to-face learning occurs in versatile made-for-purpose areas with the teacher/mentor interacting with children to solve real-life issues so they can practise the skills needed for a world complete with AI and the metaverse, universal basic income, off-planet living, and a greater appreciation for Earth, its biodiversity and interlinked bio systems. “To be able to do this, a young child needs the support of parents and educators offering the concrete activities and experiences that lay the groundwork for healthy brain development using their senses, linking to the natural, repurposed and ecologically sound environment and providing opportunities to practise the 4Cs.”