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What's Theory Got To Do With It? - EYLF principle 3 - high expectations and equity

dewey, montessori, bruner

The Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009, p. 12) sets out five principles of early education and the second is “High Expectations and Equity”. These principles are founded on early childhood research and theory, as are the practices and outcomes. This blog is designed to help educators understand the links between early childhood theory and this third and very important principle of the EYLF, in addition to how this theory has now been reinforced with current research in to child development.

One of the best links between the principle of ‘high expectations and equity’ and theory is the wonderful Jerome Bruner. Bruner believed that a learner, even of a very young age, could learn anything if they were given appropriate instruction. That is to say a child can do anything you are able to teach them. He believed learning should not just include concepts and skills already invented by others, but it should give children the ability to invent things for themselves and create autonomous learners. From birth Bruner viewed the infant as an intelligent and active problem solver, demonstrating high expectations for all children(McLeod, 2008).

Jean Piaget is one of the most commonly discussed theorists in early childhood, primarily because his ideas were not only comprehensive, but focused on childhood. Piaget viewed the child as an autonomous learner, believing, ‘every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself’ (Piers, M & Piaget, J. 1972, p. 27). Piaget placed great expectations on the child to discover concepts and skills for themselves. It was his theories which led to the practice of discovery learning, and it is clear how this reinforces ‘high expectations and equity’ with children.

Another theorist whose ideas promote ‘high expectations and equity’ is John Dewey. Dewey believed that students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning. He also believed education should not revolve around a predetermined set of skills, but around reaching one’s full potential. Thus learning should be tailored to the individual strengths of each learner. Dewey placed great emphasis on the role of teachers in education, however he believed a balance between the input from the teacher and the learner was paramount.

Maria Montessori also placed great value on ‘high expectations and equity’. Montessori emphasised the value of a child’s play as their work. She believed in the power of observation and facilitation, but ultimately believed children would learn through their own interactions with the environment and carefully selected materials. The high expectations for children in a Montessori classroom can be seen through their approach to curriculum such as ‘practical life’ skills which allow the child to ‘do’ rather than ‘imagine’.

Finally Loris Malaguzzi, not a theorist, but the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, placed great emphasis on the image of the child. He believed children should be viewed as capable and competent co-constructors of their own learning. He saw the teacher as a co-learner, displaying great value for the contributions of the child. It is the high expectations and view of all children as equal leaners which is paramount to a strong image of the child.

The question remains, how does this link to current research in to child development? So let us enter the world of neuroscience. Children under two are making approximately one million neural connections a second. When children make these connections they are creating neural pathways which will get stronger through repetition and reinforcement. Their brains are in what is now viewed as ‘sensitive’ periods for development. Everything we know about the brain tells us that development of complex concepts such as language, develop best in children. It is also the time to create patterns of behaviour, such as the time to develop a love of learning. With all this information on the complexities of children’s brains and their ability to learn, how can we not have high expectations?

The theory and research clearly reinforce the importance of ‘high expectations and equity’ with children. There is great emphasis in the revised National Quality Standard (2018) on educators understanding the theory which underpins the approved learning framework (most often EYLF) and this is because understanding this theory helps us to develop as educators. It helps us to fathom the importance of the decisions we make in regard to children, curriculum and self development. Theory, while sometimes viewed as outdated and unexciting, is actually the very opposite. More often than not these theories are backed up by current scientific and developmental research, and understanding the ideas behind them can be exciting and is most definitely relevant to creating quality early childhood environments.


DEEWR, (2009). Early Years Learning Framework: Belonging, Being and Becoming. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra

Piers, M & Piaget, J (1972) Play and Development: A symposium with Jean Piaget [and others]. Norton: New York.

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Bruner. Retrieved 12 June 2018 from www.simplypsychology.org/bruner.html

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