New certificate program boosts early childhood education skills

Teachers and professionals in related fields who work with young children have a new way to upgrade their early childhood education knowledge and skills—without interrupting their careers—thanks to an online certificate program just launched at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education.

“There is a huge need in the field because many school districts are opening early learning classrooms, and these classrooms have children that are younger than three years old,” said Anna Kirova, a professor of early childhood education who worked closely with Alberta Education to develop the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Certificate program. Kirova was also instrumental in getting the program approved by Advanced Education.

Meeting the needs of young children

Children under the age of five are Alberta’s fastest growing demographic segment, but Kirova said the impetus for improving skills related to early childhood education among school-based practitioners doesn’t just stem from changes in the population.

“Children in the province of Alberta are below the national average in several developmental areas, and so, in recognition of that fact, Alberta Education understands the importance of improving the overall qualifications of people working with very young children,” Kirova said.

Anna Kirova
Professor Anna Kirova worked closely with the Alberta government to develop the Faculty of Education’s new early childhood education program.

The ECE Certificate program is open to people with a bachelor of education degree or an undergraduate degree in a related discipline such as psychology, human ecology or speech pathology. To ensure access for working educators, the program will be delivered entirely online, comprising five courses that include theory and practice in early childhood education, literacy and language development, and play as a learning strategy.

Participants can opt to round out their course requirements with electives that focus on special education in the early years or Indigenous early childhood education.

Current bachelor of education students can also take some of the ECE courses while completing their degree, then complete the remaining requirements to earn the certificate afterwards.

Creating an online community of learners

Enrolment for the program is currently restricted to 25 students per cohort, said Kirova. “Because it is online, we want to create a sense of belonging and community within the cohort, which we know is very important. The cohorts will be small, but we have more than 100 people on the waiting list, so we may offer multiple sections if needed.”

The program, which begins in July 2017, was officially announced in February in a new dedicated space on campus that includes a virtual lecture hall and workspace for graduate and post-doctoral research.

Interim Dean of Education Randolph Wimmer saluted the efforts of education faculty and their provincial government counterparts from the School Accreditation and Standards Branch in working to meet the educational needs of Alberta’s children. He added that delivering the Early Childhood Education Certificate program online aligns with the faculty’s vision of providing educators with professional development opportunities throughout their careers.

“We often talk about how a bachelor of education is really the beginning of teacher education. This certificate really reinforces that,” Wimmer said.

“Accessibility to teachers, a big investment in early-years learning—those are crucial aspects of this program,” he added. “I think this is the future of teacher education.”

Feature image: The first six years of a child’s life are critical for their development. Studies show that early childhood education plays a key role in preparing children to succeed in and out of the classroom.