Integrative Report on a culture-sensitive quality & curriculum framework
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AbstractThis report draws together research findings that support a comprehensive culture-sensitive European curriculum and quality assessment framework that can inform practice, teacher education and policy. The aim of this integrative report is to inform the development of a comprehensive, culture-sensitive European framework for evaluating and monitoring ECEC quality and child wellbeing. WP 2 specifically focuses on micro- and meso-level characteristics of ECEC that constitute quality in practice and that directly affect children’s wellbeing, learning and development. The present integrative report describes effective approaches to curriculum and pedagogy, based on survey in eleven countries, on secondary data analysis from existing datasets from five countries and on video observations of good practice in seven countries. What clearly emerged from the CARE surveys and interviews is an emerging consensus on the importance of combining aims for socio-emotional development with intellectual ones. There was also consensus on the gradual shift as the child matures, with more challenging aims for intellectual development, including ‘emerging’ academic skills, as the child nears school entry. Yet, there was a lack of clarity (and possibly more differences in views) on the way learning is conceptualized. While there is agreement across countries in Europe that play and learning have to be integrated in ECEC, we found ‘tensions’ in valuing play, creativity, child-initiated activities, un-structured materials as chances for learning. Thus, despite the broad agreement on the child as a competent learner and the importance of learning in ECEC, and despite the fact that observations were carried out in classrooms with overall high classroom quality, CARE observed challenges when staff tried to facilitate learning across differing types of activity and with differing structural constraints. We argue that a balanced curriculum creates tensions that relate to the aims to combine socio- emotional and intellectual aims, and to nurture the individual child for the ‘here and now’ while also preparing all children for the future. Finding the right balance in the curriculum means going beyond those tensions to achieve a dynamic and shifting pedagogy where the balance changes in line with children's needs, interests and the aspirations of the community. There is no perfect ‘balance’; skilled educators must make informed decisions as needs and priorities shift across the group and across the day. This is the reason that the workforce is the most essential ingredient in ensuring quality. The observational assessment of classroom quality applied to the video observations revealed good level of agreement across countries on what constitutes high quality support for children’s emotional and intellectual development (see Video Library). However, educator/teacher discussions of the rich video observations led to suggestions for modifying and extending the current (international) quality assessments to reflect a European focus on the social group in addition to the individual child. Such a focus would include explicit attention to facilitation of group processes, peer collaboration, inter- personal skills and group-belongingness. A strong focus on the ’social child’ is in keeping with European curriculum documents and also surveys of parents from many countries in the project on their goals for their children’s development. Finally, using secondary data analysis on large datasets from five countries, essential structural, organizational context, and system level features were identified that support classroom process quality across Europe. Taken together, this report identifies key features of high quality practice in ECEC along with the institutional supports that underpin it.