INTERVIEW - Board Member Henriette Heimgaertner
We spoke with Henriette Heimgaertner. She is ISSA Board Treasurer, Co-founder & Managing Director of the Berlin Early Childhood Institute for Quality Development. We talked about the impact of ECD organizations, bringing East and West together and on ISSA’s new strategy.
Reading time: about 5 minutes
Q: ‘Henriette, can you please share your current vision on Early Childhood Development?’
A: ‘My vision on Early Childhood Development is strongly related to the country I work in. It may make less sense for another country. Having said that, for all countries, I wish that societies get a greater awareness on the importance of early childhood development. Societies should think hard on what their children need and take responsibility to help them develop conscientiously. We’re raising the citizens of tomorrow. What type of society do we want, answers the question of how we need to raise our children.’
Challenges in the classroom
‘A practical issue I came across was in a nursery where some twenty, very young children were in a group led by two professionals. Many of the little ones were so overwhelmed that they cried continuously. The professionals just couldn’t provide decent care and attention. Smaller groups, no more than eight to twelve (depending on their age), is key to good quality services. Cities and societies need to make well informed choices in order to secure meaningful services or social interventions.’
Q: ‘Do you believe that (organizations such as) ISSA can play a stronger role in making the case for competent Early Childhood Development systems?’
A: ‘There is only so much an organization can do. Sustainable changes arise from good will, belief and true efforts of policy makers. The political climate needs to be favorable. If not, we just end up “flogging a dead horse”. For example, I was visiting a country some years back, where one of ISSA’s members works, and they shared that the demand for their program had almost died out. But this year they shared with me that the political climate had improved. It was because too many people sought to leave the country for better employment opportunities. The government took action on that in an effort to improve the quality of education, and it gave our colleagues a window of opportunity to step in. So, our efforts must be interlocked with governmental goodwill.’
‘In what type of citizens do we want our young children to develop? This is the absolute baseline for starting a service.'
Q: ‘How do we as a network achieve cross pollination between East and West, and what pathways need to be examined still?’
A: ‘This is a classical ISSA issue. You can’t compare Estonia with Kazakhstan. Different approaches are needed. What was exceptional in ISSA’s early period, is that all countries made great steps in launching early childhood services and good practices, implementing the Step by Step Program. ISSA had a great convening role and governments weren’t as self-serving as today.’
‘Finding funds now for bringing together a country in the Far East, say Mongolia, with a middle European country such as Croatia, is a complicated matter. In EU programs we have opportunities to bring in ‘third party’ countries from outside Europe for shared learning.
So an option for the still-needed East-West sharing would be for Early Childhood Development programs to start a consortium with Belgium, Sweden, Slovenia and Armenia – for example. Awareness on opportunities to fund such options helps to include countries that are farther away. But it is not easy.’
Q: What would you advise new organizations entering in the early childhood development field and what would you advise organizations who are working in the field for twenty years or more?
A: ‘What is eminently important for newcomers is to have skilled people. Secondly, they need a clear answer to the question: “In what type of citizens do we want our young children to develop?” This is the absolute baseline for starting a service.’
Revisit basic questions
‘For organizations that are in the field for twenty years or so: they need to constantly revisit the same question and the questions following from it. For example: “Do I see this child as a being who needs my constant assistance, or do I see it as a being who has an agency and needs ample guidance to find his or her way?” Everything starts with that.’
‘For ISSA it would also be useful to facilitate a broad discussion on this question, because I think that the Germans or Belgians will come up with a different answer than the Azerbaijani or Italians. It would be a meaningful exercise to talk and learn about how we want to raise our children.’
Q: Where is ISSA headed in the near future?
A: ‘Following the new strategy - although the structure awaits more detailed filling - it is becoming clear that ISSA is setting on continuous improvement of its services. This is very good. Some attention points I think. One is the ISSA governance: it would benefit from renewed commitment. We must not take it lightly.’
‘The other is the diversification of the membership base. I feel we need to make choices on what organizations we take on as new members. Different types of organizations require different services. It may compromise the impact of our key areas. This is a thorny issue of course, but we will benefit from addressing it concisely.’