Starting Strong: The people helping to raise young children

by Kelly Makowiecki
Assistant to the Early Childhood Education and Care Project, Directorate for Education

For my generation, the concept of a stay-at-home parent seems like something of the past. And even if you want to stay home for the first few years of your child’s life, who can afford not to work these days? So what are kids up to during those precious, formative early years after their parents go back to work and before compulsory school begins around age 5 or 6? At some point, a lot of them enter into a formal education or care setting and are the responsibility of someone other than their family.

Who are the people we turn to for help in the immensely important role of raising our young children? And can we value them as much as we depend on them?

That’s difficult to judge when, for starters, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce consists of a wide variety of actors with an equally wide range of qualifications.  Those working as preschool/kindergarten teachers tend to have higher qualification requirements than those working in child care centres or family day care: the former usually need a university degree, while the latter sometimes only need to complete compulsory education. But in countries like Japan and Portugal, the same university-level qualification is required for both job types.

Maybe they’ve completed a 4-year teacher training programme or have a vocational degree in child care. Maybe they have prior learning or work experience that was converted into credits towards an ECEC certification, which is popular in countries like the Netherlands and New Zealand. No matter the pathway taken into the profession, professionals need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that enable them to foster a high-quality pedagogic environment conducive to favourable cognitive and social outcomes for children.

So perhaps more important than the qualification level itself is the content of the training required to obtain the qualification. When entrusting a child with a childcare professional, we expect them to know about how children develop and learn. We want them to be trained in nurturing children’s perspectives and responding to their needs. Such skills ensure that kids are provided with the strong start they deserve.

Thanks to a growing body of research, the importance of high-quality ECEC is increasingly apparent. Academic institutions all over the world have or are developing programmes of study in this field. Governments are investing in recruiting better trained staff and undertaking campaigns to raise the profile of the profession. Employers are encouraging their staff to pursue ongoing training to fill in knowledge gaps and maintain their professional quality.

Are these endeavours cheap? No. Are they worth it? Yes. The ECEC workforce is on the front line of helping to ensure that young children develop the skills they need to be successful in compulsory school and beyond. School failure and its social costs later in life can be far more expensive.

The OECD has been reviewing ECEC for well over a decade; and it is no wonder that improving workforce qualifications, training and working conditions has emerged as a policy priority across countries. To learn more, check out Starting Strong III: A quality toolbox for early childhood education and care, a new OECD publication to be launched at a Roundtable in Oslo, Norway on 23-24 January 2012.

For more information about OECD’s work on early childhood education and care (ECEC):
Online quality toolbox for early childhood education and care:
Investing in high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) (PDF 1.79 MB)
OECD-Norway High-level Roundtable: Starting Strong: Implementing Policies for High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)

Related blog posts:
Starting Strong: what should children learn?
Early childhood education: an international development issue

Photo credit: Microsoft

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