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At the PECERA Conference in Hangzhou, China

I attended the 11th conference of the Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association (PECERA) that was held for three days from July 25 in Hangzhou, China. The theme of the conference was "Early Childhood Education in a Changing World."

Hangzhou is located about 200km from Shanghai, only two hours away on a recently opened expressway, and also near the scenic Seiko (Lake West). Flying to Shanghai now only takes 2.5 hours from Haneda Airport (Tokyo), so this means China has become much closer, too. The resort hotel venue had an American atmosphere, but was situated in a quiet, striking bamboo forest of the Liangzhu Cultural Village. The temperature was only a bit lower than in Tokyo or Shanghai. Of course, the hotel was comfortably air-conditioned.

The Liangzhu Cultural Village is the site of ancient Liangzhu culture which flourished in the Yangtze River Delta of China in the late Neolithic period from 4000 to 5000 years ago. The ancient city walls of Liangzhu extend 1500 to 1700 meters from east to west and from 1800 to 1900 meters from north to south, with a circumference of around 2.9 million meters. At this time, the plough was used in agriculture for rice cultivation. In addition to stone tools, pottery, jade and bronze artifacts have also been discovered, indicating a division of labor and highly stratified society. It could be said that Liangzhu is the origin of Chinese civilization and culture. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to visit the Liangzhu Culture Museum where these relics are housed.

The conference program was organized around four themes and keynotes addresses: "The Role of Culture in Early Education" by Prof. Joseph Tobin, Arizona State University, USA; "Continuity and Change in Preschool- Cultural Beliefs and Practices at Komatsudani and Other Japanese Preschools" by Prof. Mayumi Karasawa, Tokyo Woman's Christian University, Japan; "Respecting Children in Chinese Early Childhood Education" by Dr. Yeh Hsueh, University of Memphis, USA; and "Emotion Socialization by Early Childhood Educators: Conceptual Models from Psychology" by Dr. Katherine M. Kitzmann, University of Memphis, USA.

Two panel discussions were held: "Preschool in Three cultures Revisited: Method, Findings and Implications (Japan, China, and the U.S.)" and "ECE system and Related Policy in Different Countries." In the second panel discussion, Prof. Shunya Sogon, Kyoto Koka Women's University, gave a presentation on the preschool education system in Japan and its issues.

The conference program also included about 60 oral presentations and 120 poster presentations. Participating countries from Asia included China, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines as well as America, Australia, and New Zealand along with nearly 20 participants from Japan.

I attended mainly the keynote addresses and panel discussion and learned so much from them in many respects. In particular, the first keynote address by Prof. Joseph Tobin, Arizona State University was especially rich in insight. It compared the role of early education in the U.S., China and Japan, and had much to teach us about how we should approach culture in early childhood education. In my understanding, the presentation noted the characteristics of each country's ECE system and related them to the particular culture. In China, the Story Telling King is an exercise which encourages preschool children to speak to an audience; in Japan, mixed age play promotes play among children of different age groups and consideration for others in the process of interaction; and in the U.S., children in nursery schools and kindergartens are asked what they want to do that day and to make a choice for themselves.

As an example of how early childhood education works in Japan, Professor Tobin showed a video recording of an interaction and dialogue between two boys in the lavatory. Given that most early childhood education teachers are women, there probably are not many opportunities to enter the boys' lavatory. In the video, an older boy shows a younger boy how to flush the toilet after he has urinated. This was presented as a touching case of an older child teaching a younger one. I think it also points out an unanticipated result of mixed age education in early childhood education.

As a cultural anthropologist, Professor Tobin records various interactions on videotape, analyzes the behavior with ethnographic methodology, and then presents a discussion of the analysis and results. He noted that while early childhood education in Chinese has undergone dramatic change, there seems to be little change in the U.S. and Japan. His presentation showed clear examples of the cultural influence at work in teachers' approaches that are believed to be validated by their professional experience in the classroom.

In the second keynote address on "Respecting Children in Chinese Early Childhood Education," Yeh Hsueh, who is from China and teaching at the University of Memphis, USA, talked about the recent emphasis given to the idea of respecting children as human beings, creative thinkers, and new citizens. He noted that this idea did not even appear in the history of the modern early education in China in the 20th century. He stressed, however, that not only is it important for teachers to respect children, but also for children to respect teachers, and amid changes in society and the world we live in, we need to study the overall aims of education. It is rather one-sided to focus only on teachers respecting children; children and teachers learn to mutually respect and value each other in their interactions, and it is within culture that children, in particular, develop their own thinking, learn to respect and value others, and become social beings. I had thought, however, that idea of respecting children was developed in early childhood education in Europe and under European cultural influences.

At the suggestion of the executive committee, I gave a presentation entitled "The essence of Child-Caring Design is to provide children with joie de vivre" which explained my idea that it is necessary to design products and activities in the living environment of children from the viewpoint of neuroscience. About eighty people attended, and I was happy to have questions from several people in the audience.

I did not know about PECERA at first, nor was I aware that it began as the brainchild of an educator at the University of Michigan, and that its first conference had been held in Kobe. PECERA has since held annual conferences in various countries and will return to Kobe next year for the twelfth conference. As a conference on early childhood education, it also addresses a wide range of topics in child raising and child care, and considering these three areas, we can expect that PECERA conference to grow in significance. And for CRN, it will also be important to follow up on PECERA in the future.

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