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Oslo: Nordic conference puts children at the centre of early childhood education

An international conference entitled, “The Nordic Way –Early Childhood Education & Care”, was organised on 26-27 March, 2019 in Oslo. It was convened by Union of Education Norway (UEN), in partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The conference was attended by 300 participants from nearly 50 countries, including Education Ministers other policy makers, education union representatives, ECE educators, researchers and academics.  

The Conference contributed extensive information and  an in-depth discussion concerning the Nordic approach to Early Childhood Education (ECE), highlighting its particulalr focus on the rights of children, respect, trust and play. 

Conference participants were welcomed by the Norwegian Minister of Education, Jan Tore Sanner. He stressed that children should be participants and not observers in their lives. They need to be given both ”roots and wings”.

The leader of the Norwegian Education Union (UEN), Steffen Handal, also focused on the children, their needs, and the ways that they learn.  He spoke of the “intrinsic value of childhood” and faulted much of the current discourse on ECE as describing something “to prepare children for school”. Handal argued that ECE is important in its own right and should prepare children for life.

In addition to respecting the value of childhood, Handal identified “care and friendship as purposes in themselves”, recognised “play in its own right” and the importance of “democracy and children’s right to participation”.

One of the threads running throughout the Conference was the importance of play as being the principal means for small children to learn and develop. The Nordic pedagogical tradition is built around observing and understanding what children are expressing, including with the “language” of play.

Education International General Secretary, David Edwards, contrasted the Nordic approach to listening to children with the practice of putting pressure on them to fit into moulds and patterns determined by others and, in defending a logic based on the reality of  early childhood, he said, “Who would have thought we would be defending a child’s right to play, to a childhood?”

Edwards added, “Young children should have time to play, to learn without stress and to develop into children who can continue along the learning continuum into school.  They should be taught by highly-trained and qualified teachers and learn in well-resourced centres and schools”.  

Edwards also stressed the critical role of Education Support Personnel in contributing to the full development of the child. He went on to  highlight the numerous challenges related to privatisation in ECE, arguing that inclusive quality ECE for all can only be achieved through strong public education systems.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE director, underlined that the increasing privatisation of the ECE sector in Europe is a major challenge and called for better qualifications, including ensuring that ECE teachers have a masters’ level qualification. She also spoke of poor working conditions, gender imbalances and  related challenges, and the need for professional autonomy to allow teachers to meet the needs of children. She emphasised that there should be “sustainable public funding for ECE because it is a public good and a basic human right”.

More information about the Nordic conference is available here.