Want to expand your thinking about early childhood education?
Then take a look at how it’s handled in other countries.
England, for instance, established universal preschool for 3-year-olds back in 2004.
And, as we’ve blogged, Germany took a bold step forward in 2013 when it decided that every 1-year-old had a legal right to a spot in a public day care facility.
In Norway, at age one, children “start attending a neighborhood barnehage (kindergarten) for schooling spent largely outdoors. By the time kids enter free primary school at age six, they are remarkably self-sufficient, confident, and good-natured,” according to an article on the Moyers and Company website.
“In fact, Norwegian kids, who are well acquainted in early childhood with many different adults and children, know how to get along with grown ups and look after one another.”
Taking a broader look at European early education policies, AIR (the American Institutes for Research) released a policy report last fall called, “Connecting All Children to High-Quality Early Care and Education Promising Strategies From the International Community.”
A related policy brief explains:
“Many European countries have preschool participation rates of 95% or higher. The nearly universal preschool participation in these countries reflects national policies and expectations among parents that all children enroll in such programs.”
However: “even in countries with near-universal ECE participation, it takes special efforts to increase or maintain high ECE participation among more vulnerable families.”
Nonetheless, compared to the United States, Europe’s policies are light years ahead.
For example, many countries in Europe and beyond make early care and education (ECE) a legal right:
“…a legal entitlement to ECE begins at birth in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. Germany and Norway provide such a legal entitlement beginning at 1 year of age and Belgium at 2 1/2 years of age.”
“For older children (ages 3–5), legal entitlement to ECE extends to many more countries in our sample, including France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom. (Note, however, that a legal entitlement to ECE does not equal a legal entitlement to free ECE. Parent fees can be substantial in many of the countries included in our study, especially for younger children.)”
Other countries help pay the ECE bills:
“In Sweden, most ECE services are publicly provided, but private providers can participate in the government system if they accept the government-imposed maximum fees… These fees are accompanied by a tiered payment schedule for parents based on total parent income and the number of children in the family.”
“Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom provide targeted subsidies to low-income parents who do not qualify for free services or who need ECE services outside of free ‘core’ hours (typically 9 a.m.–3 p.m.).”
And family engagement is a priority:
“In the Netherlands, parental engagement is formalized and supported through BOink (the “Belangenvereniging van ouders in de kinderopvang en peuterspeelzalen”), a national parents’ union that represents and advocates for parents at the local and national levels and ensures that the interests and concerns of different groups of parents are heard. Several stakeholders credit BOink with helping to keep child care affordable in tough economic times and with pushing providers to extend their service hours to accommodate more flexible work schedules for parents.”
What lessons can the United States learn?
The policy brief points to five strategies for increasing children’s participation in ECE programs:
∙ Provide strong fiscal support for universal ECE quality and affordability.
∙ Connect children to the ECE system early.
∙ Improve community connections between ECE systems and the families they serve.
∙ Target extra support and outreach to immigrants and other vulnerable groups.
∙ Create and protect a legal entitlement to ECE for all children
Here in the United States, cities, states, and the federal government have all made important progress on early education and care.
But look around the world and it’s clear that there’s more we could learn from our neighbors.