When the University's new Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) starts next year, it will be front up, hands on and sing out.
"This is not the sort of course that can be taught through the lecture theatre and the iPod," said assistant Professor Robert Faulkner, who divides his time between the school of music and the graduate school of education.
The new course will take between 25 and 30 graduate students. "I would think the ‘boutique' nature of the course will make it very popular," he said.
A/Professor Faulkner and Associate Professor Grace Oakley are designing the course, along with A/Professor Oakley's co-ordinator of primary programs, Associate Professor Val Faulkner (no relation to Robert).
A/Professor Oakley is an expert in children's literacy and has published three children's books. Robert Faulkner was a professional musician, who trained as a singer at the royal academy of music in London. He is also a trained teacher and plays piano and clarinet.
A/Professor Faulkner went to Iceland to work in community music education and ended up staying there for 20 years. "I became involved in early childhood education when my son was at playschool in Iceland, which is the term they use for early childhood programs, rather than pre-primary or pre-school.
"They focus unashamedly on play but their programs are still well structured for learning."
Unsurprisingly, he sees music as an integral part of early childhood education.
"Music is an essential part of the human condition - it's not optional," he said. "It's part of how we learn. It is related to language: music comes before words when mothers and babies communicate. It is fundamental to physical development: rhythm is all-important to learning to walk and, later dancing or marching. And it's crucial to emotional and social development."
While there is still a central place for literacy and numeracy in early childhood programs, A/Professor Oakley and A/Professor Faulkner agree that as the school age has come down, it is inappropriate to simply push the same system of learning down to children as young as four. Children can learn through play and music, especially singing.
"I was very disillusioned to hear a kindergarten teacher say that she was far too busy to sing in the classroom," A/Professor Oakley said.
"Children can learn about events, places and concepts through song," A/Professor Faulkner said. "Sometimes in Iceland, we would have half a day when we weren't allowed to speak. Conversations, instructions, everything had to be sung - it was a wonderful way of learning."
A/Professor Oakley said the new early childhood program would not so much teach music and the arts as use them as a pedagogical tool.
"We will be teaching children through the use of arts, music, dance and language," she said.
The new program is one of a suite of Masters degrees in Teaching, which will provide smooth transitions for children between pre-primary and primary school and on to secondary school.
Helen House, project manager at the Graduate School of Education, said society accepted that early childhood education was important but the perception of people who worked in the industry was not high.
"We will be raising the bar in this course," she said. "We want high quality people. That's why we are developing a masters course for people who already have a degree."
Published in UWA News, 9 August 2010