Equity In Early Childhood Care and Education
Dina Castro studies the experiences of bilingual children from immigrant and indigenous communities
Dina Castro is the director of the BU Wheelock Institute for Early Childhood Well-Being and faculty in the Teaching & Learning Department. Her research focuses on equity and quality in the early care and education of bilingual children from immigrant, indigenous and other minoritized and marginalized communities in the United States and Latin America. It is conceptualized at the intersection of language, culture, race, ethnicity, disability, and class, and uses interdisciplinary approaches across the fields of early childhood development and education, bilingualism and bilingual education and special education.
What research project that you have worked on stands out in your mind?
Dina Castro: I have no doubts about that answer! It has been the Nuestros Niños Research Program. This program was developed by my colleagues and I while at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The main issue that we proposed to address was how to support young children from Spanish-speaking immigrant families in gaining access to a high quality early education: one that makes them feel good about who they are as bilingual/bicultural individuals, where they can use their two languages in interactions with their teachers and peers, and where they see themselves and their experiences reflected in the curriculum in a meaningful and positive way. Such an environment will nurture positive development and learning in these children.
The Nuestros Niños research program began with a national survey of early childhood administrators to examine practices and policies to serve young Spanish-English bilingual children in various types of early childhood programs. This study also involved classroom observations and interviews with teachers, specialists, and directors. A major finding of the study was the limited preparation of early childhood teachers to effectively educate young bilingual children.
Based on this finding, we created the Nuestros Niños Language and Literacy Professional Development Program, which was expanded a few years later, to add socioemotional development and mathematics learning with a focus on young bilingual children. We were able to work on this research program with federal funding for over 15 years. We are still writing about what we learned and are planning the next iteration of the program.
What are some challenges that you have encountered in your research?
In the early years of my career, I had to work a lot to convince people that this area of work, the early education of children growing up bilingually, was important and urgent to address. Bilingual children from immigrant families were not getting the support they needed in early childhood classrooms. I remember a colleague asking me, “What else do these children need in addition to good developmentally appropriate practices?” The assumption was that early childhood practices that worked for White, middle class, monolingual English-speaking children would work as well for bilingual children from minoritized immigrant populations.
Now we live in a different world. We are talking openly about structural racism and how it manifests in early childhood settings. The conceptualization of developmentally appropriate practices evolved to include culturally and linguistically responsive practices, and more recently to be explicit about advancing equity. These ideas were not widespread when I began my work. There were not many early childhood researchers who were engaged in these conversations. I was able to connect with a some of them who were also interested in equitable education for young bilingual children, and we have worked together for many years. We joined efforts to make change happen in our field.
Where do you see the fight for inclusive and equitable education in the future?
I am hopeful for the future. All of us in the academia conducting research that can inform policy and practice should capture this moment and contribute to generate profound changes. I believe that there is an opportunity right now to do more to develop a deeper understanding of the conditions that have maintained inequities in the care and education of young children and propose transformative and bold action.
Thinking about equitable early education for bilingual children, years of research in neuroscience, developmental and education sciences tell us that bilingualism is not a problem but an asset. Bilingual children flourish when they are educated in a bilingual program versus an English only program, and strength-based practices support positive development.
Over the years, I have dedicated my efforts to contribute to this science by generating research evidence for effective practices to improve the early education of bilingual children. Now, I am turning into policy research, specifically, language and early education policies. I am examining the extent to which current language and early education policies support the implementation of equitable practices in early education programs serving bilingual children. I am also interested in examining the impact that language policies supporting monolingualism, by replacing children’s home language with English, have on bilingual children’s social and emotional development and life experiences as they grow up.
Language has been and continues to be used as a tool for oppression and assimilation. When you take away someone’s home language you are silencing part of who that person is, which can negatively impact their self-esteem, self-concept, and identity.
I am interested in policies because to see equitable practices in the classroom, there should be policies in place that promote their implementation. A final thought, if early education, and education in general, is not equitable, it will never be of high quality. Therefore, how equitable practices are defined is going to be critical moving forward. We know that for bilingual children whose home language has been minoritized, it begins with respecting and supporting their right to be bilingual.