Symposium 2: Diversity and inclusion in Early Childhood Care and Education; a European perspective

Symposium abstract

Discussant: MichelVandenbroeck, Ghent University


Chair: M. L. Broekhuizen

The accessibility and inclusiveness of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services for disadvantaged people across the world has gained increasing interest by policymakers (e.g., OECD, 2015; UNESCO, 2015). However cross-national studies on this subject are still scarce. The current symposium will shed light on this topic by presenting results from three European studies. The first paper takes a macro-perspective by examining relations between country-level aspects of ECEC systems and the perceived access to and actual use of ECEC services.

Preliminary results reveal that when an ECEC system is split, less well funded, and has the opportunity for private provisions, people perceive ECEC as less accessible. The second paper takes a societal perspective through examining in nine European countries the attitudes of parents towards facilitating diversity and inclusion in ECEC. Results indicate quite some variation in the importance that parents adhere to facilitating diversity and inclusion, both between and within countries. Relations with demographic variables (e.g., SES, residential location) will be explored. Finally, the third presentation shifts to the perspective of disadvantaged parents (low-income and/or migrant parents) and ECEC professionals who work with disadvantaged children in seven European countries.

This qualitative study describes their experiences and perceptions regarding the accessibility and inclusiveness of ECEC. Results provide useful recommendations for policy-makers at both national- and EU-levels to improve the effectiveness of ECEC for disadvantaged people.  The findings of the studies will be discussed by Dr. Michel Vandenbroeck, an acknowledged expert in the field of diversity and inclusion in ECEC.

Paper 1: How does the Institutional Setting of ECEC Systems affect the Use and Parental Assessment of Services? A Cross-country Multilevel Study

Özgün Ünver & Ides Nicaise

As the European welfare states realised the importance of ECEC especially for disadvantaged children as an early investment in their human capital, the accessibility of ECEC services became a hot topic in Europe and the ECEC participation rate became an important welfare indicator. Certainly, the way ECEC services are regulated, provided and financed has a huge impact on their accessibility and actual use. This paper investigates the effect of the institutional setting of ECEC (regulation, provision and financing) on the perceived access to and the actual use of ECEC services in Europe.

We examine under which conditions families opt for formal centre-based, informal, and/or familial ECEC; we also examine how system characteristics determine the quality assessment of services by parents. We expect the results to help policy-makers in making better choices to improve access to ECEC especially by disadvantaged families.

We use a two-level regression model: The first level is the family-level where various demographic and socio-economic factors determine the use of ECEC services. The second level is the country-level (n = 30) where characteristics related to the institutional setting of ECEC come into play such as legal entitlement to ECEC, split or unitary ECEC, private provision, public spending, etc. Demographic, socio-economic, and ECEC type- and use-related variables are explored using two different datasets: the 2013 cross-sectional data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) and the latest cross-sectional data from the third wave of European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) conducted in 2011/12. Macro-level indicators are taken from the Eurostat Database and the Eurydice report on ECEC in Europe (2014).

We conducted preliminary analyses with three country-level independent variables: Total public expenditure on ISCED 0 as percentage of GDP, split versus integrated/unitary ECEC system, and presence of private centre-based ECEC for 3-6 year-olds. Using EQLS data, we controlled for demographics and own ECEC use of the respondent at the individual-level. Our dependent variable was the perceived accessibility of child care services in the country.

When fitted separately into a multilevel model, all three macro-level indicators showed significant effects in explaining country-level differences. However, when fitted together, whether the ECEC system is split or integrated was the most important among the three. The second most important variable was the total public expenditure on ISCED 0 as percentage of GDP, followed by whether there is private provision for 3-6 year-olds in the country. Our analysis showed that when the ECEC system is split or less well funded by the state, people find it less accessible. Similarly, if the state allows for private provision, ECEC is perceived to be less accessible as well.

Next, we will fit other models using different indicators of institutional setting of ECEC to draw a fuller picture of the macro determinants of perceived accessibility. Likewise, we will replicate our analysis for the use of ECEC services both in terms of type (formal and informal) and intensity (number of hours per week).

Paper 2: Parental attitudes towards diversity and inclusion in ECEC settings; a comparison between nine European countries

 Martine Broekhuizen, Thomas Moser, Paul Leseman

One of the key challenges Western societies are facing today is their growing cultural heterogeneity (Putnam, 2007). For this reason, a recent report by the OECD states that societies need to design inclusive (early) educational systems as an important way to help minority children integrate into society (OECD, 2015). More in general, large organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank advocate that we should address “all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes… by focusing our efforts on the most disadvantaged, especially those with disabilities, to ensure that no one is left behind” (UNESCO, 2015, p. 8). Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) has been acknowledged as the segment of the educational systems which faces most challenges regarding inclusiveness (OEDC, 2015; UNESCO, 2015).

From the above it can be concluded that policymakers agree about the importance of inclusive early educational systems. However, to our knowledge, no studies have investigated how important parents – as society’s representatives – think it is to facilitate diversity and inclusion. This study aims to address this gap by investigating parental attitudes towards diversity and inclusion in ECEC in nine European countries.

This study is part of the larger European CARE project. Participants in the study (N = 2958, Mage = 35 years, 90% female) were parents from nine European countries (England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Portugal). Data were collected in the spring and summer of 2015. To adjust for selection bias, we weighted the data for parents’ educational level in line with Eurostat statistics.

Questions were composed and discussed by researchers from the nine countries. The five items included in this analysis are: “The ECEC setting facilitates that …Children are from several ethnic-cultural communities; …Children are from low as well as higher income families; …The group includes children with handicaps or impairments… Staff are from several ethnic-cultural communities; … Staff includes man as well as women”.

These questions were answered on a five-point scale, ranging from 1 - unimportant to 5 - highly important. Exploratory and subsequently multi-group confirmatory factor analyses showed that these questions loaded well onto one latent factor that could be validly compared across countries (i.e., measurement equivalence). Finding measurement equivalence illustrates that there is a common understanding about diversity and inclusion in ECEC across Europe.

There is quite some variation across Europe in how important parents think it is to facilitate diversity and inclusion in ECEC. The latent means ranged from 2.47 (of little importance/moderately important) to 3.43 (moderately important/highly important), with England, Finland and the Netherlands having relatively lower means, and Greece, Germany, Norway and Portugal having relatively higher means. There still is quite some within country variation, as standard deviations ranged from 0.45 to 0.90.

Therefore we will also explore relations between parents’ attitudes and several demographic variables, such as parental educational level, residential location (urban vs. rural), and type of used ECEC. Finally, we will examine whether these relations are comparable in the different countries.

Paper 3: Inclusiveness of ECEC Services in Europe: Perspectives of Disadvantaged Parents and Professionals from Seven Countries

Ides Nicaise & Özgün Ünver

In the recent past, research regarding the accessibility and inclusiveness of early childhood education and care services for disadvantaged people has gained increasing interest. However, the perspectives of disadvantaged families and the ECEC professionals who work with them are rarely incorporated into this research. Cross-national studies on the subject are even more scarce.

This study aims to reduce this gap in the literature. In this paper we discuss the experiences and perceptions of disadvantaged parents, as well as ECEC professionals who work with disadvantaged children in seven European countries. We focus on two major disadvantaged groups: families with low-income and/or a migration background.

We use two conceptual frameworks to tackle the issue. The first one is the scheme put forward by Nicaise et al. (2000) that discusses three strategic pillars – equal opportunities, treatment and outcomes – to achieve inclusive education. Applying this to ECEC, we investigate the barriers to equitable access, direct and indirect discrimination within the ECEC system and extra resources invested in services to disadvantaged families.

This scheme is relevant to families with both low income and a migration background. For the migrant families, though, we complement our theoretical framework using the Interactive Acculturation Model (Bourhis et al. 1997; Piontkowski, Rohmann, and Florack 2002). The IAM discusses the relationship between ethno-cultural minority groups with an immigrant background and the dominant society they live in. In this case, we specifically look into how ECEC services contribute to migrants’ acculturation patterns.

The research team used a focus group method to collect data from the parents because it fosters interaction among participants and encourages them to talk about common issues they deal with. With ECEC professionals (caregivers, teachers, managers/directors, social workers) we had individual interviews to give them the opportunity to speak their mind. This study was carried out in seven European countries (Belgium, Germany, England, Finland, Italy, Poland and Portugal), where data were collected by the partners of the CARE project.

he analysis showed interesting commonalities as well as differences in the ECEC systems of these countries. We also identified inspiring good practices across different countries that improve the inclusion of disadvantaged families. Finally, we identified some actionable recommendations for policy-makers at both national- and EU-levels in order to improve the effectiveness of ECEC for disadvantaged people.