“Early childhood education and care is really on the political agenda right now”


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Stig Lund from Denmark represents ETUCE in the European Commission’s Working Group on “Early Childhood Education and Care” which has a mandate between 2018-20. We spoke to Stig about the EU’s shifting perspective on this vital part of the education system and about ETUCE’s role representing education employees in early childhood education.

Stig G Lund

ETUCE: What do you think are the challenges in the early childhood education sector?

Stig Lund: In early childhood we are working with a very broad holistic approach to children’s development, learning, wellbeing.

The early childhood education and care systems are very different across European countries. The biggest challenge is that in many European countries the staff in early childhood education and care institutions are unfortunately not teachers or educators. Sometimes a minority of the positions are taken by teachers, the rest by unqualified or low-qualified assistants. This has a serious impact on the children. Research show that the early years are incredibly important, if this fundament is missing the children are lost later on.

ETUCE: What changes do ETUCE and its member organisations call for?

Stig Lund: What’s important is to raise the status, the prestige of this profession, so education employees have better salaries and working conditions. This is an essential condition to attract more talented educators and teachers to this profession.

We must also recognise that today many jobs in this sector are filled by people without any qualification. So, we have a common goal: to raise the competence of the whole workforce in the sector. Teachers must have better access to continued professional development and the assistants should be also provided a full teacher training leading to qualification.

Education trade unions worry for children’s future. We are not only fighting for our profession, we are fighting for the rights of the children. We want to see children who are citizens, who are brave, who are independent, who fight for their rights. They need educators to help them with that. We have a profession that we are proud of and we have a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) which is an essential tool for us to fight for quality early childhood education and care.

ETUCE: What do you think the approach of the European Union’s policy is on early childhood education?

Stig Lund: The EU used to see early childhood education essentially as a service for working parents, which they would pay for in order to be able to go out and work. This was worrying for us, because it made this education sector seem like a commodity where private companies are free to make profit.

Now the EU seems to have changed its approach by focusing on raising the standards in this part of the education system. The Education Council of the ministers of education in the EU countries has adopted a new Recommendation on High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Systems, to which ETUCE contributed as a member of an earlier European Commission Working Group on Early Childhood Education and Care discussing suggestions on how to improve this sector. The Council Recommendations mean the official position of the EU is that high quality early childhood education is a good investment for countries, and that this requires well-qualified teachers, better salaries and good working conditions in the sector.

ETUCE: What is the EU’s current Working Group on early childhood education?

Stig Lund: The European Commission set up the current Working Group for 2018-2020 on “Early Childhood Education and Care” as part of the Education and Training 2020 (ET2020) framework. There are two clear goals. One is to promote ideas and proposals for policy making in the member states so that all children will have access to early childhood education. The other is all about professionalisation of the workforce.

Most of the members of the working group represent the ministries of the EU countries. When the Working Group finishes in summer 2020, we plan to put forward a paper with suggestions to the European Commission and to be further discussed within the Education Council. These will be concrete policy proposals based on research, which countries should take into consideration. However, we must respect that it is up to every national government to decide how to improve their education systems, because it is part of the treaties of the EU that education is a national question.

ETUCE: What should education trade unions know around ETUCE’s work on early childhood education?

Stig Lund: First of all, we have to recognise that we are in a European context. We always focus on our local situation, on our local problems, and looking outside of our country is sometimes difficult. When trade unions meet at the European level within events ETUCE organises for us, we always find out that we have the same problems. But then we go back to our country and sometimes we forget what we were discussing and get immersed in our national debates again. So it is very important to remember that we should bring these discussions back to our own countries, use the information to reflect to our own situation, look critically at our own profession, our own practice and our own way of acting as a trade union inspired by what we heard from colleagues from other countries. We have so much to learn from each other across Europe!