Early Childhood Education (ECE) gives an “opportunity to help children discover the world, to develop and to be valued as capable human beings, to be confident and motivated learners and participants in society.”
The Maltese Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, the Hon. Dolores Cristina M.P., stressed the importance of ECE in her speech during her intervention at the EI Pan-European Seminar on Early Childhood Education. This event took place on 4-5 November in Malta. Over 60 participants representing EI affiliates in Europe met to discuss various ECE issues, including the findings of the latest study commissioned by EI on ECE in Europe.
The minister also noted the link between economic growth leading to employment of women and the development of ECE systems, and recognized that “high quality provision depends on adequate resources and trained staff.”
In his opening speech, Ronnie Smith, President of the EI Pan-European Structure, highlighted the importance of ECE and called upon the participants to come up with concrete strategies for ensuring that every child in Europe has access to quality ECE services.
Haldis Holst, Executive Board member of EI and Chairperson of the EI Task Force on Early Childhood Education, delivered the key note address. In her address, she highlighted EI’s policy on ECE and argued that ECE is a basic human right secured by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This right is not based on the need of a society for economic growth or for better results in international comparative studies and it is not based on what will give the best return on financial investment,” Holst argued. “It should be based on what is best for the child.”
Tapio Säävälä, from the Directorate General for Education in the European Commission, highlighted the role of ECE in the Commission’s Lifelong Learning Strategies. He assured the seminar that ECE is high on the European Union and Commission’s agenda.
Dr Matthias Urban, from the Martin Luther University in Germany, presented the findings of the EI study on Early Childhood Education in Europe. “There is little coordination between children’s rights and the equality agenda,” he noted. He stressed the need to redefine what we understand by “education,” and said that “the aim of the study is to shed a light on the diversity and complexity of Early Childhood Education and Care across Europe.”
Urban presented case studies from Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. “These cases demonstrate how change can be created and better practices achieved at various layers of the Early Childhood Education system,” he said.
John Bennet gave highlights from OECD’s report entitled ‘Starting Strong’. He emphasised the need for countries to learn from each other and for EI and member unions to continue to call for public funding for ECE and recognition of the rights of ECE workers.
Peter Moss, editor of ‘Children in Europe’ and ECE expert, shared information about the activities, publications and policy documents of his organisation.
Haldis Holst briefed the seminar about the work of EI’s ECE Task Force, the terms of reference and action plan. Members of the task force also attended the seminar and took part in the debates. Set up by the EI Executive Board following the 5th World Congress in Berlin last year, the task force held its first meeting in Malta on 3 November. Two members of the task force, Joao Cabral de Monlevade and Marci Young, from Brazil and the USA respectively, informed the participants about the ECE systems in their countries.
Dennis Sinyolo, EI Coordinator for Education and Employment, summarised the main issues, conclusions and recommendations of the seminar:
1. That EI and its member organisations in Europe should continue to advocate for the provision of quality early childhood education for all children funded by public authorities;
2. That ECE provision should be regulated, particularly in the private sector, in order to ensure universal access and quality;
3. That EI and its member organisations in Europe should continue to advocate for the provision of pre- and in-service training for all ECE staff, as well as continuous professional development and support;
4. That ECE staff should have the same conditions of service as primary school teachers with similar or comparable qualifications;
5. That there should be a broader/comprehensive/holistic approach to early education services, focusing on education, with care as its integral part;
6. That unions in the EU should lobby their Ministers of Education and MEPs in order to influence ECE and other education policies within the EU. The EI Pan-European Structure and the unions should influence the forthcoming ‘2020 Process’; and
7. That the ECE study should be revised and updated, taking into account the issues raised by the seminar participants, published and disseminated to all the EI member organisations in Europe (and beyond) and other stakeholders.