Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö


New direction for early childhood education – here are the pros and cons of the proposals

The Roadmap for Early Childhood Education and Care, released in June 2017, takes a long look to the future – until 2030. Ritva Semi, OAJ Special Advisor, singles out seven pros and two cons with the roadmap
In February 2017, Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen appointed reviewers to look into, among other things, what it would take to raise the participation rate in early childhood education and to maintain the required skills. The outcome is the Roadmap for Early Childhood Education and Care, which was published in June 2017.
Ritva Semi, OAJ Special Advisor, praises the creation of a proposal for developing early childhood education. OAJ, however, has somewhat differing opinions on a few points. Here are the pros and cons of the roadmap.
1. More kindergarten teachers
The roadmap recommends raising the number of students admitted to kindergarten teacher training in universities – permanently and with separate funding. This would take place in connection with the upcoming performance target negotiations between universities and the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Semi commends this proposal, as there is currently a shortage of kindergarten and special-needs kindergarten teachers with university-level education.
“All groups of children should have trained teachers. Otherwise, the pedagogical development of early childhood education cannot work. This requirement is also included in the new curriculum for early childhood education,” she points out.
2. Qualifications raised to the master’s degree level
The roadmap proposes that the qualification level for kindergarten or special-needs kindergarten teachers should be a master’s degree. Semi is in favor of the proposal and states that the change should be made promptly, with the first step being to require a master’s degree of day-care center directors.
“The change would also enable the renewal and development of the interface of compulsory education, preschool and early childhood education,” she adds.
3. Permanent continuing education system
“As an academic field, early childhood education is constantly developing, which means there is a real need for continuous training,” states Semi.
4. Updated Children’s Day-Care Act
The roadmap would also like to see the Children’s Day-Care Act updated. At the same time, personnel structures and job titles would be renewed.
Semi also hopes to see job titles determined according to educational background in the future.
“Clarifying job titles would not create additional costs, but it would enhance the quality of early childhood education. Parents, for example, would know the educational background of their child’s day-care center personnel. Job descriptions and areas of responsibility would also be clearer.”
Semi furthermore hopes that the updated act will clarify the definition of early childhood education. This would better highlight the differences between a day-care center’s pedagogical early childhood education and other forms of early childhood education. In addition, the rights of children requiring special support and the tasks of directors should be defined by law.
5. At least one early childhood education teacher for every group of children
The roadmap proposes that 40 percent of a day-care center’s care and education personnel consist of teachers with a university degree in early childhood education, and 60 percent of its personnel should have staff with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and childcare workers. Semi believes that this is a step in the right direction.
“Increasing the number of teachers goes hand in hand with teaching quality and development,” she stresses.
6. Restructured fee system
OAJ has proposed free-of-charge early childhood education for children aged 3 to 5. With the roadmap, however, only 5-year-olds would be eligible for free education.
“This plan lacks ambition, especially considering that the roadmap extends to the year 2030. In OAJ’s opinion, there should be a gradual transition to free-of-charge part-time pedagogical early childhood education in day-care centers in the near future,” states Semi.
The roadmap also proposes reducing the period of child home care allowance so that it ends when the child turns two. Semi believes this would increase both children’s participation in pedagogical early childhood education and employment among the parents of young children.
“The change would especially support participation in early childhood education among children who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds – and thereby integration, language learning and educational equality,” she says.
7. More information for parents
The roadmap also takes note of how important it is to convey the role of early childhood education to parents.
“It must be clear to mothers and fathers that early childhood education and day care are two different things. This information can be distributed, for example, in child health clinics,” says Semi.
Despite the pros, roadmap is lacking in many respects
The reviewers held strictly to their assigned task. As a result, Ritva Semi does not believe that the roadmap is quite perfect. Firstly, she would have liked to see mention of how the management of early childhood education and day-care centers would be developed and resourced.
“There is also a need for proposals aimed at integrating children who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds, as well as language instruction and developing the learning preparedness of such children. I also would have liked to see how the pedagogical early childhood education of children whose parents work evenings, nights and weekends could be realized. The current Children’s Day-Care Act does not lay down qualitative requirements for care during evenings, nights and weekends.”
In that respect, it would have also been good to consider the significance of private early childhood education in developing the education and care system.
For more on the topic, please see the Ministry of Education and Culture’s press release:
Text: Johanna Äijälä
Photo: 123RF