Type of Services
There is an enormous variety of types of ECEC provision, both within and across countries. Provisions range from family care, day care, centre-based arrangements, pre-primary provision and arrangements for after-school care. There is, equally, a great many variations of these arrangements, especially in terms of hours per day, days per month or over the year and in terms of quality and the pedagogy used. Countries differ in how much they rely on different modes of delivery, including the variety of suppliers both public and private.
Some of these patterns are discussed below when the question of access is taken up. However, one point ought to be made here, regarding out-of-school provision. Most school-based ECEC systems do not cover full working day, and this represents a major deficiency, particularly for the for the 30% or so of parents who, data show, work non-standard hours. Another aspect of this relates to the period of summer vacations: only Denmark and Sweden, among the countries surveyed in Starting Strong II, provide enough places during the summer holidays.
Quality of Services
The quality of ECEC provision is absolutely critical: evidence shows that poor quality ECEC can do more damage to children than an absence of provision. But there is considerable philosophical disagreement on what is ultimately meant by quality, though there is agreement on some common measures for assessing quality of provision.
As can be seen from Figure 1, the notions of quality differ across countries according to the views they hold of the child. To understand the quality issue, it is important to inquire into the underlying view of the child held by different societies and stakeholders within them. As one example, some countries emphasise childhood as important “here and now”. Some others emphasise the child as “a future citizen”. In the first case, the image of children is as rich, strong and powerful. This view calls attention to their developmental concerns. Countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) with the tradition of integrated care and education emphasise child’s development and well being. In this view, quality is equal to holistic development of the child. An implication of this approach for ECEC pedagogy would be to co-construct programme aims and objectives for the child at the local level by engaging a range of stakeholders in the process.
The second case may be characterised as viewing children as a “tabula rasa” or as an “empty vessel” to be prepared, for example, for tomorrow’s school. This view would emphasise skills children should master before entry into primary school (Belgium, Italy, UK and the US). This approach puts more emphasis on output based measures of quality and leads to evaluation-based models (Australia, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, UK and the US), as a basis for pre-school curriculum and as a guide to teacher preparation.
Useful Approaches to Quality
The data gathered by Starting Strong II reveals a great variation in quality across and within countries, which can be said to match the growing diversity of children. Quality is generally lower for the welfare and care services, for children under age 3, and for the children from poor families. The staff in the care sector has generally lower status and qualifications and training, especially in family day care. There is high turnover of staff in the ECEC sector in general but is much higher for the care staff. The pedagogical setting is poorer for children under 3 and for children from poor families, especially for family-based care-givers. Majority of children under-3 are looked after by unregistered child minders and providers.
Much can be done to improve the current situation. Steps can be taken along some commonly agreed measures of quality that relate, for example, to staff/child ratios, group size, dimensions and features of facilities and conditions, and staff qualification and training.
A first crucial step is to discourage unlicensed provision and to improve staff qualifications and training. It is essential to raise the status of the staff. Much advantage can be gained by having a unified profession that deals with children in both care and education settings and different age groups. There are several common training gaps that need to be filled. ECEC staff needs more training in working with parents; with infants and toddlers; in bilingual and multilingual settings; for children with special education. Secondly, broad consultation is essential to develop national ideas about what constitutes quality and to translate them into national goals with national quality guidelines. These national guidelines need to be broad and flexible to allow individual setting to respond to the developmental needs and learning capacities of children. The flexibility is essential to allow ownership by staff; inspection and advisory bodies for structured self-evaluation programmes. Thirdly, research on learning processes needs to be expanded and research findings need to be widely disseminated including at the local level. Staff and parents should have expanded responsibility for pedagogy for individual centres. Fourthly, thee link between national quality goals need to be clearly articulated in terms of national pedagogical frameworks that identifies core elements. The core needs to focus on the holistic development of children across the age groups. The framework should provide largest freedom possible for the centres, teachers and children within the direction of overall common goals, values and norms.