The impact of structural and process elements of pre-school and primary school environments on children's cognitive development at four years of age
Document Type Article
The structural and process elements of the early years classroom have contributed to much research in the area of early childhood education. Structural elements have been referred to as regulatable features that are “assumed to indirectly affect the child” (Burchinal, Roberts, Nabors & Bryant et al 1990). Process elements are directly related to children’s experiences and are “more difficult if not impossible to regulate” (Howes, Phillips & Whitebook 1992, p. 480). The structural elements of the early educational environments explained in this study include adult-child ratio, group size and teacher training. The process elements include preacademic activity, expressive activity and social contexts (i.e. adult and children present, only adult present and only children present) of children’s activities. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of selected structural and process elements on 4-year olds cognitive development in pre-schools and primary schools. This involved the secondary analysis of specific data collected in Phase 2 of the IEA Preprimary Project (Hayes, O’Flaherty with Kernan 1997).
A sample of 361 children and their mothers (182 in primary schools and 179 in pre-schools) that participated in Phase 2 of the IEA Preprimary Project were included in this study. Forty-five pre-school teachers and 47 primary school teachers participated. From Phase 2 of the IEA Project and Child Observational schedule provided data on the adult-child ratio, group size and on all the process variables. The Family Background Interview revealed information on maternal education and the Provider Survey provided data on the level of teacher’s training. Children’s cognitive development was assessed using the IEA Cognitive development measure.
Stepwise regression analyses showed that for the pre-school sample group size and mother’s education were significant predictors of children’s cognitive development. For the sample of primary school children the regression analyses revealed child’s age and adult-child ratio as significant predictors. The process variables were not found to be significant predictors of children’s cognitive development.