By Victoria Liberatore
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
And Andrea Konstantinidi
Assistant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
– The interactions children have with the people, places and objects in their early learning environment have an important impact on their development, learning and well-being
– The OECD’s new Starting Strong report analyses these interactions and the policies which make them more meaningful
– A highly qualified workforce is key to improving children’s interactions in early childhood education and care
If we ask children what they like about day care or preschool, they will most often mention the people, the spaces and the objects that surround them. They will name the sandbox, their best friend, their favourite teacher. They may reveal that they love when their grandparents pick them up or excitedly discuss their recent field trip to the local farm. These day-to-day interactions that take place within and beyond early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings become cherished moments, profoundly shaping children’s ECEC experience.
Thus, it’s unsurprising that research backs the idea that the quality of interactions in ECEC is what matters most for children’s development, learning and well-being – including positive chained reactions on their cognitive and social-emotional development. These interactions, referred to as “process quality’’ by experts, include children’s relationships with peers, ECEC staff, parents and family, the community and the environment at large. They also include ECEC staff’s relationships with parents, families and communities.
Well-thought-out policies have the power to set the necessary conditions for children to experience these meaningful interactions in ECEC settings. While countries historically concentrated on improving access to the service, a transition to quality has taken place over the last decade, spurred by a growing evidence base coupled with increased political awareness of its importance. The quality of interactions has thus been placed at the core of ECEC policies in many countries.
Boosting process quality through curriculum frameworks and pedagogy
Curriculum frameworks and pedagogy act as tools to shape interactions in ECEC. Curricula set goals for ECEC provision and provide guidance for staff to foster children’s development, learning and well-being. They offer a series of resources, content and activities in different areas to guide ECEC staff practices. Curricula often provide ECEC staff with practical examples on how high‑quality interactions should look. For example, the importance of bending down to a child’s eye-level when having a conversation or the best practices to set favourable conditions for free play.
Most participating countries and jurisdictions have curriculum frameworks and pedagogical approaches that are child-centred, play-based and built on a holistic vision of the child
The OECD’s new Starting Strong VI report shows that most participating countries and jurisdictions have curriculum frameworks and pedagogical approaches that are child-centred, play-based and built on a holistic vision of the child. They tend to encourage staff’s flexibly to adapt the curriculum and pedagogy to the needs of every child and to the local context. Most countries have integrated curricula across age groups, which facilitates the implementation of a coherent approach to ECEC and supports continuity in educational experiences year to year. At the same time, countries where curricula cover broad age ranges must make efforts to ensure that the curriculum is adapted to children’s developmental needs at each stage. Some 14% of participating countries and jurisdictions do not have a curriculum framework for children aged zero to two.
High quality training for ECEC staff is key for process quality
Across sectors, gaps exist between theory and practice. The same is true between written and implemented curricula; but a highly qualified workforce can help narrow the gap. ECEC staff preparedness is crucial to ensuring the quality of interactions experienced by children in ECEC settings. Countries implement different measures to train and empower staff, including improving initial education programmes, facilitating access to professional development, developing the role of ECEC leaders and bettering working conditions. Work-based learning, and the possibility to observe ECEC interactions in real-life situations, can foster rich interactions between staff and children in practice.
ECEC staff preparedness is crucial to ensuring the quality of interactions experienced by children in ECEC settings
The Starting Strong VI report shows that in most participating countries and jurisdictions, curriculum framework implementation in initial education programmes is largely required for teachers across ECEC settings for all age groups. Work-based learning during initial education is requiredfor teachers in most settings covering children aged three to five and zero to five, but is less frequent in settings for children aged zero to two. It is also far less common to include a practicum in initial education for assistants. Several countries have requirements for participation in professional development (for example, a mandatory number of hours or certification conditional to training) but most do not regulate the monitoring of quality of such services. The assessment of staff professional development needs, and barriers to participation is not a common practice in several participating countries and jurisdictions.
Behind every meaningful interaction, there are meaningful policies. Every child’s experience of ECEC is unique, as unique are their characters, needs, interests, and social and cultural backgrounds. Policies shape the type and quality of daily interactions in ECEC: with curricula setting the stage and well-trained staff steering the ship to enact pedagogy and ensure that all children have the opportunity to benefit from rich, meaningful, and joyful interactions during this often first experience outside their home environment.
- Starting Strong VI: Supporting Meaningful Interactions in Early Childhood Education and Care
- Policy explorer: Mapping quality in early childhood education and care
- Blog: Is curiosity a key to better early learning?
- Blog: Gender norms are clearly evident at five years of age
- OECD work on early childhood education and care
Photo: Shutterstock/Oksana Kuzmina