Eurydice: Inclusive Early Childhood Education benefits all children


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Eurydice recently launched the policy memo Strengthening the quality of early childhood education and care through inclusion, which gives insights for policymakers and other stakeholders on how to ensure inclusive and high quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) for all. ETUCE stresses that it is vital to provide sufficient public funding, including adequate initial and continuous professional development programmes for teachers, to enable educational institutions, teachers and other education personnel to create such inclusive learning environments.

The Eurydice paper provides definitions of inclusive education and other key notions in this area. Children are currently facing exclusion for various reason, for example their disability, their socio-economic background, or their ethnicity. The paper cites numerous studies which show that children from low socio-economic status are less enrolled in ECEC or attend programmes of lower quality.

The policy memo highlights research showing how inclusive ECEC programmes are beneficial to the development of all children, as they are of higher overall quality than non-inclusive programmes. Inclusive environments develop children’s sense of belonging, their social competences, and have positive academic, behavioural, and employment outcomes.

The report also gives an overview of recommendations and initiatives related to inclusive education at EU-level, as well as examples of legislation for inclusive ECEC in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden. Furthermore, it presents some findings and outcomes of the IECE project of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. One of these outcomes is a self-reflection tool for ECEC staff to reflect on inclusive practices, which is available here in numerous languages.

ETUCE welcomes the memo’s emphasis on the link between inclusive Early Childhood Education (ECE) settings and high-quality education for all and emphasises that ECE staff face numerous challenges in this regard. In many European countries, ECE staff members are not sufficiently qualified or not qualified at all and paid low wages. They moreover lack access to sufficient continuous development, for example to develop their competences for working with children with special needs or with dual language learners.

To allow schools and ECE staff to create inclusive high-quality education for all, it is vital to provide sufficient public funding, including possibilities of professional development. Improving working conditions would also help to solve recruitment and retainment issues and be an important step towards ensuring a better gender balance – over 95% of staff working in ECE are currently women. Furthermore, ETUCE reminds that curriculums should be structured around play-based learning, as overly academic ECE has a negative impact on children’s development.

The new ETUCE project ‘Education Trade Unions and Inclusive Schools: Embracing Diversity in Education’ aims to build capacity for education trade unions in order to help them ensure that teachers, academics and other education personnel are adequately prepared and supported in dealing with diverse classrooms and implementing inclusive education.