There is a growing body of evidence that children starting strong in their learning and well-being will have better outcomes when they grow older. Such evidence has driven policy makers to design an early intervention and re-think their education spending patterns to gain "value for money".
A growing body of research recognises that early childhood education and care (ECEC) brings a wide range of benefits, for example, better child well-being and learning outcomes as a foundation for lifelong learning; more equitable child outcomes and reduction of poverty; increased intergenerational social mobility; more female labour market participation; increased fertility rates; and better social and economic development for the society at large.
How to use the quality toolbox
The Quality Toolbox is intended to present "practical solutions" for anyone with a role to play in encouraging quality in ECEC. The toolbox will present five policy levers that are likely to enhance quality. Each lever is accompanied by supporting materials that serve as resources to help implement policy initiatives. The materials include research briefs, international comparisons, lists of strategy options compiled based on countries’ implementation experiences, lessoned learned and self-reflection sheets.
Setting out quality goals and regulations
Quality-focused goal setting is one of the key policy levers to encourage quality in ECEC. Research has shown that, when explicitly set, they can help: i) consolidate political will and strategically align resources with prioritised areas; ii) anchor discussions between ministries and improve government leadership in ECEC; iii) promote more consistent, co-ordinated and child-centred services with shared social and pedagogical objectives; and iv) provide guidance for providers, direction for practitioners and clarity for parents. Setting out clear regulations is another key policy lever. Research has shown that minimum standards can guarantee the health and safety of children in highquality environments by: i) levelling the playing field to ensure the quality of all providers; ii) ensuring conditions of learning and care through structural indicators that can enhance child development; and iii) communicating with parents about the quality of services and helping them make informed choices.
Designing and implementing curriculum and standards
Curriculum and standards can reinforce positive impact on children’s learning and development. They can: i) ensure even quality across different settings; ii) give guidance to staff on how to enhance children’s learning and well-being; and iii) inform parents of their children’s learning and development. Countries take different approaches in designing curriculum. There is a need to think beyond curriculum dichotomies (e.g., academic-oriented vs. comprehensive approaches, staff-initiated instruction vs. child-initiated activities, etc.) and consolidate the "added value" of individual approaches. Almost all OECD countries have a framework in place – either curriculum or learning standards – from age three to compulsory schooling. A growing number of countries and regions have started to address continuous child development from early childhood throughout older ages, such as eight, ten or eighteen.
Improving qualifications, training and working conditions
Staff qualifications, initial education and professional development contribute to enhancing pedagogical quality, which is – ultimately – highly associated with better child outcomes. It is not the qualification per se that has an impact on child outcomes but the ability of better qualified staff members to create a highquality pedagogic environment. Key elements of high staff quality are the ways in which staff involve children, stimulate interaction with and between children, and use diverse scaffolding strategies. Research has shown that working conditions can also improve the quality of ECEC services: better conditions will improve staff job satisfaction and retention. This will influence staff behaviour, encouraging more stable, sensitive and stimulating interactions with children, and thus, lead to better child development. Research has pointed to certain conditions that can impact the quality of ECEC services: i) high staff-child ratio and low group size; ii) competitive wages and other benefits; iii) reasonable schedule/workload; iv) low staff turnover; v) a good physical environment; and vi) a competent and supportive centre manager.
Engaging families and communities
Parental engagement is increasingly seen as an important policy lever to enhance healthy child development and learning. There is recognition that it is a fundamental right and obligation for parents to be involved in their children’s education. And parental partnership is critical in enhancing ECEC staff knowledge about their children. Furthermore, research has shown that parental engagement – especially in ensuring high-quality children’s learning at home and communicating with ECEC staff – is strongly associated with children’s later academic success, high school completion, socio-emotional development and adaptation in society. Community engagement is also increasingly highlighted as an important policy lever. It can act as a "connector" between families and ECEC services as well as other services for children; a "social network" to support parents in reducing stress and making smart choices, especially for disadvantaged families; an "environment" to promote social cohesion and public order; and a "source of resources".
Advancing data collection, research and monitoring
Data and monitoring can be a powerful lever to encourage quality in ECEC by establishing facts, trends and evidence about whether children have equitable access to high-quality ECEC. They can be used to ensure accountability and/or support programme improvement. They can help analyse and determine appropriate policy responses with appropriate indicators. They can also help parents make informed decisions about their choice of services. Countries use various monitoring tools, such as interviews, observations, standardised testing, portfolios, quality rating and surveys, fit for the purpose. Research can also be an influential tool to inform policy and practice. In ECEC, research has played a key role in explaining the success or failure of ECEC programmes; prioritising important areas for ECEC investment; and informing ECEC practices through evidence. Countries report challenges in advancing research, such as: i) a need for more evidence on the effects of ECEC and cost-benefit analysis; ii) under-researched areas or areas with newly growing interest; and iii) dissemination.
List of network member contributors
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