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Early childhood education, seen as crucial in the Nordic Way and worldwide

At the Nordic Way Conference, exploring Nordic approaches to early childhood education and care policies and pedagogy, Education International has reaffirmed that free quality early childhood education delivered by trained and qualified teachers, is crucial for quality education and healthy, caring societies.

 

Addressing the Nordic Way Conference designed to examine the Nordic way to approach early childhood education and care (ECEC), held from 26-27 March in Oslo, Norway, Education International (EI) General Secretary David Edwards reminded participants of “our professional duty to the wellbeing of our students and our democratic societies”.

Adding that “Nordic countries have stood at the forefront of developments in ECEC for decades,” he insisted that “education, teaching and caring are braided into an integrated unit and that unit in its best applications is based on a child‐centred, holistic, play-based approach with an emphasis on participation, democracy, autonomy and freedom”.

Edwards also stressed that “highly trained and well qualified and supported teachers and pedagogues are central to bringing the strands and approach together and teach in multi-age and multi-need environments”.

He went on say that “a strong societal commitment to equity and wellbeing tether the model to the Nordic reality and values. Not to say that the reforms brought by new public management don’t try and pull on those fibres and apply the pressure of market principles to stretch and reshape the model in the name of efficiency, competition and outcomes. Yet, the pressure to produce good test takers who can reach a certain score over healthy, happy children reaching their dreams is meeting growing resistance.”

“Who would have thought we were would be defending a child’s right to play, to a childhood?” he asked, regretting that “in many parts of the world we are”.

Edwards also recalled that “EI believes that free quality ECEC delivered by trained and qualified teachers is crucial for quality education.  We fought for it to be main target of the Education 2030  agenda, because while the world has seen significant improvements in early childhood survival, health and education over the last decades, the poorest and most vulnerable children are still falling far behind.”

Edwards deplored the fact that “in many countries, early childhood care and early childhood education have traditionally developed as separate systems, with separate policies, programmes and administrative responsibility. Split, unintegrated systems lead to differences in funding, access, regulation and workforce, and the misconception that care and education are separate processes.”

he was adamant that that “young children should have time to play, to learn without stress and to develop into children who can continue along the learning continuum into school. They should be taught by qualified teachers and education support personnel who are well resourced and well supported.”

“We know that this often happens in the state sector, but not always with private providers,” Edwards underlined.  “Governments should seek to regulate this sector.” 

Further acknowledging that “workload and presence with young children is a central issue and we know from survey responses that finding the time to reflect away from the children is not always easy,” he mentioned that “it is incumbent on governments to design a system that enables staff to take time out for continuing professional and leadership development, to reflect on practice, or indeed to respond to surveys, in a way that does not increase their workload.”

Welcoming the development and endorsement of a Europe-wide policy that ECE teachers should have a masters qualification by EI’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education, he highlighted that “while this varies significantly around the world, it is clear that they should be at least as well qualified as primary and secondary teachers. There has been a great deal of learning about pedagogy. The Nordic model as well as developments in pre-literacy and pre-numeracy learning provides a plethora of options for early childhood teachers.” 

“The systems that practice student exclusions at this level of education need to take a long hard look at the adults these children will become. The focus must be on the wellbeing of the child. If we don’t have healthy children, we can’t have a healthy society,” Edwards warned.

Commending the Union of Education Norway, an EI affiliate and co-organiser of the conference, for setting up strategies against the increasing privatisation of early childhood education, he made it clear that “there is evidence that private centres do not provide the same resources and opportunities for children. ECE is a state responsibility and governments must plan and deliver early childhood education for all children. There is massive evidence that this is particularly important for working class children, for the vulnerable and the marginalised.”

Regretting that “the current status we as societies afford to ECEC teachers worldwide is too low,” he explained that EI’s global status of teachers report launched late 2018 showed that only 17% of ECE teachers think they earn “basically fair” salaries, and that “the status of teachers and the attractiveness of teaching is directly influenced by pay and conditions, including as our teacher identity work tells us, access to continuous professional learning and development”.

Looking back at the 8th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) held in March in Helsinki, Finland, with 21 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country delegations of ministers and union leaders, he asserted that for the first time ever, the ISTP took ECE as one of its three main themes. At this event, Edwards said, “the wide variance in approaches were on display and the interest to learn about the Nordic model was as well. We have learned from the ISTP that governments only move quickly to address failings in their educational policies when they move with the teacher unions. EI and our members are committed to this. Governments need to listen to their educational unions if they are to effect positive change.”

“While we believe that evidence plays a crucial role in child development, we must not lose the human perspective,” he concluded. “ECE centres are teaching and caring for children and learning should be places of joy and exploration not bureaucracy and compliance. There can be no algorithm that predicts or governs what we do with the youngest members of our societies.”

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