Educators’ role is crucial, irrespective of the presence of diversity in the setting, to facilitate positive attitudes to diversity. Children should be made aware, provide opportunities, and be prepared to accept, acknowledge, value, and celebrate diversity from the perspective of a wide range of groups related to ethnicity, cultures, socio-economic groups, gender, and linguistic and religious groups. They must ensure they trust others and feel empowered. Does it sound idealistic?
Educators need to present themselves as positive role models by treating everyone (colleagues, parents, and families of all the children) with respect. Inclusion is related to all children and young people, their families, and staff members in schools. Further, inclusion must focus not only on enabling all children to be present, be accepted, and given opportunities for participation in all the activities but also on their ability to achieve to the best of their potential.
Gender diversity relates to recognizing gender identity beyond masculine and feminine. It is an umbrella term used to describe gender identities that demonstrate diverse expressions beyond the binary framework. Gender diversity emphasizes acknowledging and respecting diverse identities beyond binary references to being male and female. This is relevant to children, their family members, and the staff of the settings in different cultural, social, and political contexts. However, several parts of the world are predominantly patriarchal, and gender diversity may not only be non-recognized but considered illegal. The stigma attached and discrimination are acceptable and perhaps regarded as normal and entrenched in society. The topic is mostly considered taboo, controversial, and not expected to be discussed with young children. These negative perspectives may be expressed blatantly by large sections of society, including parents, educators, professionals, policymakers, and politicians. However, global policies such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and increasing media awareness and lobbying for positive action will — hopefully — result in heightened awareness and increased acceptance globally. Some countries like the UK have legalized by ensuring gender diversity as one of the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act in 2010. The Equality Act provided a modern, single legal framework to tackle disadvantage and discrimination, including gender diversity.
Following the implementation of global and national policies, the travel of policy to the grass-root level has been inconsistent across several countries around the world. This inconsistency might be a result of patchy interpretation and inappropriate translation of policy into practice. This may be influenced by — personal attitudes, the ethos of the settings, cultural differences between different levels, conflicts in expectations between the setting and parents, and different priorities of teacher educators to prepare future teachers and early childhood practitioners.
Furthermore, poor practices and stereotypes may be reinforced due to:
- inadequate and inconsistent references to diversity and inclusion topics in the curriculum on the teacher training courses
- lack of awareness and understanding of issues related to diversity and inclusion
- hierarchies of power influenced by negative attitudes towards diversity
- lack of opportunities to access training, and updating their knowledge and understanding
- limited opportunities to share good practices
The use of a wide range of resources reflecting a diversity of backgrounds that children can relate to has been recommended. The early childhood settings ensure that they have a wide range of resources. However, the ability of practitioners to highlight and explain the relevance of the resources from the role play area, or content and or characters portrayed in the storybooks might be doubted. Children from diverse backgrounds (immigrant families) may wonder why none of the characters in the storybooks have anyone to whom they can relate to. On the other hand, some of the characters representing the minority groups may be shown to have a negative character.
Lack of resources such as books portraying a positive character relating to gender diversity, discussions during circle time, games dictated by gender roles, and some parents struggling to accept their children to be playing games, wearing clothes, not appropriate to their gender in the wider society. There may also be a lack of role models. The issues of equality and equity may be a myth in certain settings in spite of legislation due to tokenistic practice. The references to diversity in the routine of an early childhood setting may be tokenistic to tick boxes but may be restricted by the entrenched negative attitudes towards diversity and difference.
Educational settings and staff engaged in providing a range of different services inside and outside of the classroom may be encouraged to reflect and challenge their own attitudes and practice related to diversity in these three ways :
- Start – questioning and challenging, own stereotypes, perspectives related to diversity, acknowledging and celebrating differences in children, their parents, their contexts., using a wide range of resources, providing good role models.
- Stop making assumptions, homogenizing diversity, being tokenistic, or reinforcing negative stereotypes.
- Continue sharing good practices, raise awareness, be positive, help others, and celebrate diversity.
Educational settings might be tokenistic in embedding issues around diversity. This may be due to the ethos of the setting, attitudes (practitioners/ staff of educational settings such as schools and parents of children) towards gender diversity. The relevance of gender diversity in early childhood is contested and is as it is considered too complex for a young innocent child to understand. Nevertheless, awareness of diversity will enable children to be open and be able to embrace diversity as it is believed that it should be acknowledged, respected, and celebrated.