What made you become part of this research?
I am specialized in workforce issues for working with young children. The essential question that fascinated me during my whole career is: What makes that some people change their practices with young children all the time and continue to improve the quality of their work with children and parents, and what makes that others never change their practice and always replicate a mediocre quality.
You mentioned in your presentation that in Bulgaria we have very well -trained specialists. Do you mind expanding on this?
In Europe, there are huge differences in the levels of training of ECD workers. In Bulgaria everybody has a high level of initial (Bachelor) training – this is a strength of the Bulgarian system. There are many countries where this is not the case and where the people working with young children have a very low qualification. In my home country – Belgium, f.i. we have very low qualification requirements for the youngest children. And in the United Kingdom they have to many different qualifications to get to a job in ECD. The fact that you have too many pathways to come to a profession to work with young children is not a good thing. That is the strength of Bulgaria – you have one training that leads to the profession of early childhood teacher- I think this is a very good thing.
Is it correct to say that we need to focus more on practice in the initial training?
What I have seen in East European countries is that most of them have high level of training but the hours of practice are very low if you compare them to Western European countries. From the CoRe research that we have done for the European Commission, we have learnt that it is very important that you have an initial training in Early Childhood Education and Development with a strong link between theory and practice. It means that the students must have the opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt in theory. Therefore, in the initial training at the universities, we need to have innovative practitioners as lectors or teachers. Those excellent practitioners must then coach the students during their practice in ECD centres- I think this is very crucial.
You argue in favor of a Competent ECD System; can you explain this?
For a long time, ECD experts believed that the quality of ECD depends solely on the level of the initial training of the individual teacher or educator. However, as we have seen in the CoRe study that we did for the European Commission, being competent is not the sole responsibility of the teacher- we need to have a whole system that is competent. This means that an excellent individual teacher cannot persist for years in improving the quality of his work with children and parents, when she is not supported by a competent team, by inspiring leadership, if the continuous professional development is not well developed, if on governmental level, the training centers’ quality is not controlled and if the policy on competency is not well developed. There is a lot of criteria that needs to be met on different levels to come to a competent ECD system.
Could you provide us with an example where this competent ECD system has started and is currently working successfully?
I think that if you look at Early Childhood Education and Development in Denmark and Sweden, they are doing it quite well. They have a broad attractive initial training with a focus on creativity (theatre, music, arts…) and outdoor activities. They attract quite a lot of boys in their training which is not the case in Bulgaria and other countries. The teachers get child-free hours, so that they can share their ideas and they also have a well-developed coaching system of teams. Therefore, there are many quality criteria that are met in Scandinavian countries.
What do you think needs to come out as a result of this research in order to affect change?
It is important that you have an initial training on a Bachelor level based on new pedagogical insights that are implemented by the students in practice. We need also to have a continuous professional development with a focus on coaching. Through this mentoring or coaching innovative theoretical insights can be implemented it into practice. Therefore, you need to have a coach in the initial training and in the ECD institutions, who helps you to implement it into practice. You have to have a good curriculum at national level that inspires the practitioners to develop new pedagogical practices. You have to have a shared vision about what you want to change and it is also important that you adapt your vision to the context that you work in. It is different if you work with middle-class parents or if you work for disadvantaged parents. These are, in general, the most important aspects.
Is there something you would like to add?
My work in East European countries taught me that there is in these countries not enough focus on parental involvement. If you do not involve the parents in Early Childhood Development, the positive outcomes for the child are much less than if you involve the parents. It is also very important to involve the fathers. Because the role of fathers is underestimated – they are seen as second educators. However, we know from recent research that the role of fathers in the education of young children is as important as the role of the mother, and they have to be informed about what is happening with their child in ECEC and also in the medical centres for young children. ECD centres must invest more in the involvement of fathers.