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Executive summary

During their first three years, children grow and learn at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives. Increasingly, children spend at least part of this developmental period in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings. High-quality ECEC for all children can be a powerful way to promote young children’s learning, development and well-being, as well as support parental participation in the labour force. However, the ECEC sector for children under age 3 varies greatly across countries in terms of enrolment rates, structure, investment and governance. Within countries, the experiences of children under age 3 can also differ based on the type of setting they attend and the staff working in these settings.

The OECD Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS Starting Strong) asks ECEC staff and leaders in settings for children under age 3 about themselves and their ECEC settings. This report examines multiple factors that are known to determine quality of ECEC for children under age 3 in each of four participating countries (Denmark, Germany, Israel and Norway).

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A complex and growing sector

The four countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong for settings for children under age 3 have some of the highest ECEC enrolment rates for children age 2 among OECD countries, ranging from 67% in Germany to around 90% in Denmark and Norway. However, in Denmark, Germany and Norway, few children under age 1 are enrolled in ECEC, whereas in Israel the rate is roughly 30%.

The ECEC sector for children under age 3 is growing rapidly, but a majority of leaders in these four countries report that they maintain a waiting list of children who could not yet enrol. In addition, with the exception of Norway, leaders of ECEC centres report that staff shortages and staff absences are an important barrier to their effectiveness. These findings highlight the growing demand for ECEC for children under age 3 and the challenges of developing a workforce and settings to adequately meet this demand.

In three of the countries, one national ministry oversees ECEC for children from birth or age 1 until entry into primary school. In Israel, separate ministries have oversight for ECEC settings for children under age 3 than for those for children age 3 and up. In all four countries, the ECEC sector for children under age 3 is comprised of home-based and centre-based settings. In Germany, a larger share of settings are privately (vs. publicly) managed and governing boards are more involved in the management of centres compared to the other participating countries. These different governance and organisation approaches are characteristic of the sector and can contribute to variability in the quality of ECEC for children under age 3.

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Characteristics of settings and staff vary widely, but staff are overwhelmingly committed to the sector

In Denmark, Germany and Norway, most children under age 3 are enrolled in integrated ECEC centres that also serve children over age 3. Centres in Germany, with an average of 60 children, are larger than in Norway; however, centres in Germany have a smaller proportion of children under age 3 than centres in Norway. In Israel, where settings only include children under age 3, the average size of centres is similar to Germany.

Staff education and roles vary within ECEC settings. In Germany, teachers are slightly more likely than assistants to have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, but teachers and assistants spend similar amounts of time working directly with children. In Norway, nearly all teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, while only a minority of assistants do, and assistants rarely undertake tasks without children (e.g. documenting children’s development). Israel does not have assistants; the majority of staff have a post-secondary degree distinct from a bachelor track (ISCED level 4 or 5). In centre-based settings in Denmark, Israel and Norway, a substantial minority (25-30%) of staff have not been trained specifically to work with children as part of their initial education.

More than 95% of staff across the 4 countries enjoy working in their ECEC centre, but less than 60% feel valued by society and around 30% or less are satisfied with their salary. Staff in all countries report a lack of resources as an important source of stress. In Germany, extra duties due to absent staff and excessive work documenting children’s development are also frequently reported to be a source of stress, while in Norway, the number of children in the classroom/playroom is the most frequently reported source of stress. In Germany and Israel, staff in home-based settings tend to work more hours per week than staff in centre-based settings.

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Staff focus on practices to facilitate children’s oral language and socio-emotional development

Across the four participating countries, staff share a belief that developing oral language skills is important to prepare children for the future. This belief is reflected in the practices staff report in their settings to facilitate children’s oral language development. In addition, staff in all four countries report frequent use of practices to facilitate prosocial behaviour (e.g. encouraging children if they comfort each other) and emotional development (e.g. hugging children). Staff indicate that specific practices to support literacy and numeracy development are used less frequently in their settings.

In all countries, more than half of staff report that practices facilitating communication with parents about activities with children and children’s development apply very well to their centres. However, fewer staff report that their centre encourages parents to do learning activities with their children at home. Staff also report engaging in practices adapted to children’s needs and interests across domains, but adapting activities to differences in children's cultural background is less common.

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Policy priorities for early childhood education and care for children under age 3

The findings presented in this report suggest several priority areas for policies to ensure high-quality ECEC:

  • Focus on the foundations of ECEC for children under age 3: The growing demand in this sector needs to be met with an investment to increase the supply of ECEC while ensuring high quality.

  • Design policies that work with the complex organisation of the sector: ECEC staff must be prepared to adapt to rapid changes in children under age 3 whether they work in centre- or home-based settings; monitoring should support quality improvement in all settings.

  • Recognise ECEC staff as professionals: Ensuring all staff develop their competencies all along their careers through both formal and informal learning is essential for establishing a workforce that is ready to provide high-quality ECEC for children under age 3.

  • Attract and retain a high-quality workforce: Raising the status of the profession through adequate salaries, fewer sources of stress and opportunities for career progression can help achieve this goal.


This work is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries.

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

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