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“Early Childhood Education – the start of lifelong learning – but build upon play and well-being”, by Lasse Bjerg Jørgensen.

At last Early Childhood Education (ECE) is on the agenda of an International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP). At this year’s Summit, ISTP 2019, the importance of ECE for lifelong learning and well-being is now, for the first time, one of the Summit’s three plenary themes.

It makes me very happy as an early childhood educator – a pedagogue we call the profession in Denmark. Children are not born as six years of age, which was, in effect, a typical view in education just some years ago: early childhood was not special and just a waiting time before entering primary school and real life. But so wrong! The Heckmann-curve supports that an early intervention in childcare centers pays off later in life.  As demonstrated by PISA, the academic outcome of 15 years old pupils is better if the young person attended early childhood education as a child. And even better if it was of high quality and offered a safe environment with professional staff. I expect that the forth-coming TALIS Starting Strong Study will address the issues of early childhood educators qualifications, pay and working conditions more in depth and support this evidence.

 

In Denmark, ECE is called Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). In a just published research document (Effective education in ECEC, by Charlotte Ringsmose and Lone Svinth, University of Aarhus, 2019) it is said that the child’s well-being, confidence and attachment is the turning point for the educational work in ECEC centers of high quality. The research focused on ECEC centers with many children at risk. The researchers argue that a high quality professional platform is made up by a caring and pedagogical approach pointing at child’s socio-emotional well-being and development. The conclusion is that the relationship between children and educators as well as having sensitive and attentive educators are crucial to quality.

 

The growing interest of the OECD of bringing ECE into the centre of education policies concerns me,  I must admit.  Is the interest directed by a one-sided attempt to make children ready for school? Are we leaving a former erroneous ideology of poor caretaking in favour of simple training of academic skills and thus forgetting well-being and the intrinsic value of childhood and the importance of play?    

 

ECEC is an entitlement to Danish children from an early age – though not for free as primary school. Nevertheless, ECEC is the first link in lifelong learning, development and formation and so the basis of lifelong education. Thus, ECEC is an integral part of the educational system and naturally must be included in global debates on education policies as is the case with the UN SDG 4 goals.

 

But this does not imply that pedagogies and methods from primary schools or other parts of the educational system are simply copied into ECEC.

 

ECEC has its own inherent values and methodologies. As early childhood educators we emphasize the relationship with and among children and appreciate the ideas and the activities of the children. We don’t split the pedagogy into different subjects to be taught by adult educators but rather explore together with children in their environment, outdoor and in common experiences of everyday life. Our professional approach to ECEC is to shape mutual caring environments for children and adults that promote child’s learning, well-being and development.

 

In Denmark,  BUPL followed these principles when a new strengthened pedagogical curriculum was proposed by the government two years ago. The original intention by the government was to promote more academic skills in ECEC. But by using the knowledge of the ECEC profession in dialogue with social partners, the political parties and the public, we succeeded to bringing forward a global understanding of the importance of child’s play as the basis for learning in ECEC. So, the current curriculum from 2018 is built upon the role of play, children’s curiosity and the community of children. The task of educators is to develop a broad, inclusive, caring and learning environment – a pedagogical curriculum.

 

This is the above comprehensive and holistic view upon childhood that I would like OECD to retain when debating ECE. Also, I expect that the interest in ECE will add political willingness by governments to improve the working conditions and the status of early childhood educators including better child-staff ratio, class sizes, salaries, professional development and more time for planning and reflection.

 

I do look forward to being present at ISTP 2019. But I’m also looking forward to participating in a  conference in Norway on ECEC - The Nordic Way (26-27 March). The conference aims at exploring and understanding the Nordic approaches to early childhood education and care and pedagogy with a strong emphasis on the qualities of the Nordic countries ECEC systems on child well-being, play and learning. We believe this forms the best start for the future of children in school, education and to be active citizens.


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Lasse Bjerg Jørgensen

Lasse Bjerg Jørgensen is the Head of International Relations and the National Treasurer of the Danish union BUPL. He is also a member of the ETUCE Committee and EI working group on Early Childhood Education.

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