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HDFS faculty members visit Greece

HDFS faculty explore Greece

Photo by Laura Cutler

New Greek partnerships to enhance early education opportunities

Around the world, governments are putting increased emphasis on early childhood education (ECE), necessitating the development of a broader and stronger base of cross- cultural intellectual resources.

Faculty at the University of Delaware recognize the value of fostering international collaboration in early childhood education and teacher education in general. That is why, this spring, they took steps to establish a partnership with two Greek universities and an international school in Athens.

In May, a team from the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) visited the University of Patras and the University of Athens. The team included Bahira Trask, chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), eight faculty members and two doctoral students from HDFS, and CEHD Interim Dean Carol Vukelich.

Trask spearheaded this collaboration following a meeting with a professor from the University of Patras, Vassiliki Riga, who was a visiting scholar at Villanova University. Realizing their programs share similar goals, they decided to explore a potential partnership between the universities.

“This collaboration will bring a new global perspective to our education programs and early care research. This will help us create stronger curricula and pedagogical practices better suited to the multicultural society in which we are raising and educating children,” said Trask.

ECE is the second most popular undergraduate major at Greek universities. The ECE programs at Patras and Athens have a strong emphasis on early childhood research. They are known throughout Europe for excellence in social science research, especially in the learning sciences, and offer a wide spectrum of educational opportunities, specifically for early care settings.

The group visited classrooms and child care centers, talking with educators and administrators and meeting with dignitaries, including the vice minister of international affairs of the Hellenic Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs.

The trip was funded in part by the UD Institute for Global Studies’ Global Exchange Program (IGS-Globex), which supports high-impact projects and activities that encourage global thinking and learning for the University community and beyond.

One of the unique elements of this exploratory trip was that graduate students were invited to participate. Laura Cutler and Alison Hooper said they found great value interacting with teachers, students and education leaders in a foreign country.

“It was evident through visiting different programs and talking to teachers and faculty that they approach early childhood education from a different perspective than what's typical in the United States,” said Hooper. “We heard a lot about children's rights and respecting children, and many of their kindergarten teachers are highly educated. Being exposed to a system that's different from what I've been a part of helped expand my thinking about what's possible. “

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to an experimental school where they were teaching kindergarten students Greek mythology and relating some of the stories to the current refugee situation.

“I was particularly impressed with early childhood lessons focused on social justice issues. This is important information, not just for adults, but for children as well, and it was evident that the school personnel were experts in introducing these complex topics in an age- and developmentally-appropriate manner,” said Cutler.

As a result of the trip, CEHD is now looking to formalize a partnership that will:

  • Engage in student and faculty exchanges with the Universities of Patras and Athens.
  • Provide a supervised field experience for up to 10 education students. These students could fulfill one of their two required student teaching experiences at the American Community School (ACS) in Athens. 
  • Enable five human service majors to work with the guidance counselors or with the admissions faculty to complete their internship at ACS.
  • Give opportunities to select graduate students to intern at ACS, join an ongoing research project or gain permission to gather data independently on a topic of interest to them.

As the ECE coordinator for HDFS, Lynn Worden, assistant professor, was enthusiastic about the enhanced learning opportunities that may soon be available to undergraduate ECE majors.

“Completing a student teaching experience in Greece would give ECE teacher candidates an invaluable experience, living and teaching in another country,” she said. “The American Community School Athens, with its diverse international student population and focus on educational research, is an ideal site for this endeavor.”

“By creating long term partnerships, our Greek colleagues will be able to interact with us at multiple points of intersection,” added Trask. “This includes student and faculty exchanges, exploring potential sites for the placement of our student teachers. Facilitating research collaborations will enhance the UD HDFS department and the college as a whole.”

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