It’s important children see themselves in books during the early stages of life.
Books in some Perth childcare centres do not reflect the racial diversity of Australian society, the majority containing only Caucasian characters according to new research from Edith Cowan University.
The research from a small study was published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood and aimed to examine the book collections of day care centres in Western Australia and how those collections reflected racial diversity.
Researchers surveyed 2377 books in five Perth child care centres and found just 128, or about 5%, of books contained non-white characters and most of those promoted outdated views or stereotypes.
Of the 2377 books 1018 contained human characters of those:
- 778 contained characters of one race
- 750 were Caucasian
- 28 were from another race
- 240 contained characters of more than one race
- 112 were mostly Caucasian
- 128 contained characters from different races
Lead researcher Ms Helen Adam from ECU’s School of Education said very few books contained contemporary representations of non-white races.
“For example American Indian characters were often portrayed wearing a traditional head dress and Aboriginal characters were pictured playing didgeridoos and dressed in a semi-naked state,” she said.
“Furthermore, in the majority of the books that did include non-white characters these played no central role in the story and could have been replaced with a white character with no impact on the story.”
Ms Adam said in all five centres surveyed children of colour would not have been able to see themselves represented in books at their centre and this could have implications for all children if this evidence is typical of book collections in other educational settings.
“We know that in the early stages of life children are forming their attitudes related to racial identification,” she said.
“Children who do not see representations of themselves reflected within book collections may begin to doubt their self-worth in the centre and in society in general.
“Additionally, Caucasian children in the centres would be equally restricted in their engagement with books that represent races other than their own.”
Ms Adam said children need to see their own culture represented in authentic and contemporary ways to develop their sense of identity and an understanding and respect for others.
“Unfortunately it is unlikely educators would be able to engage with children in meaningful discussions about other cultures with such a restricted choice of books,” she said.
Ms Adam said the educators in the day care settings recognised the importance of addressing diversity, but needed guidance on how to provide and use appropriate children’s literature.
She hopes the outcomes of a larger study currently underway will lead to greater awareness of the importance of selecting and using diverse literature with young children.
The research was published as Book collections in long day care: Do they reflect racial diversity? in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood.
(Source: Edith Cowan University, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood)