Date: 28-03-2019

INTERVIEW - Jeroen Aarssen: ‘There’s a lot of strength in ISSA’

We spoke with Jeroen Aarssen. He is the ISSA Board Secretary, and Early Childhood Education and Care advisor at Sardes in the Netherlands. We talked about a universal services and ISSA's path forward.

Reading time: about 5 minutes


Q: Can you share your current vision on Early Childhood Development?

A: 'In the first place, for me it is mainly about early learning. Of course important matters such as health and care are part of it. But I am a linguist, so my focus is on early learning.'

'In the Netherlands, we have a split system that would benefit from being unified. Through being active in the ISSA network, I’ve come to see more ways of organizing Early Childhood services and it has set my thoughts in motion. A good deal of attention now goes to cognitive stimulation, to preventing delays in learning. This extra care is given from different services, aimed at specific target groups such as autistic or migrant children.'

Universal services
'This system has a negative side effect, because it causes segregation that lasts a lifetime. When we address the society as a whole and integrate all services, giving specific aid from the sidelines when necessary, it will promote the social change that we are looking for. We could achieve this if we make preschool services mandatory and decide on one quality standard, so all children get an equal start. I fear however, the Netherlands are not ready yet for such a change.'

Two Ministries
'We have two ministries overlapping, one involved in child wellbeing, and the other in education. Sadly, the two rarely create shared policies, which causes discrepancies. A policy from one ministry is trying to achieve integration and participation of all parents and children, while the other ministry causes exclusion by demanding a certain written command of the Dutch language for the workforce. Without offering affordable training. This way we lose experienced professionals and at the same time raise barriers for migrant parents to step into the educational system.'

Q: How can ISSA achieve a better cross pollination between East and West?

A: 'I feel that we need to approach the ISSA member base as one. Having members from both the East and the West, ISSA as a whole has knowledge of, and expertise in a rich variety of ECEC systems that function in different contexts. Therefore, ISSA can function as a bridge between these different systems and contexts. For instance, the opportunities ISSA gives to organize Peer Learning Activities might be a good way to promote cooperation between East and West and to build mutual understanding.'

‘When we address the society as a whole and integrate all services, it will promote the social change that we are looking for.’

Language diversity and challenges
'Having English as a common language in ISSA does make things easier and more affordable. It allows us to spend more on the quality of the content. But I understand it can be problematic for some, given the language diversity among members. It also takes me more energy to tune into a Russian-spoken session with a translator. I can imagine that for peers from nations where English is less common, the feeling is the same when they engage with the network.'


Q: What would you advise start-ups in early childhood development, and what would you advise organizations who are working in the field for twenty years or more?

A: 'To the ones running for a couple of years: the main thing is to keep up with new developments and research in your field. Get your information from different parts of the world. Staying innovative is key for continuous development.'

'If you start a new organization, I would advise to offer services for a specific niche. Find your strengths and unique selling point, know what the reason of your existence is. You can start small and expand your services over time.'


Q: Where is ISSA headed in the near future?

A: 'I feel that there’s a lot of strength in ISSA. Naturally we have some challenges, such as changes in funding. We need to search for new ways of keeping things rolling. But the Secretariat is very strong. ISSA has a knowledgeable team now, and it has excellent potential for growing its services and overall quality.'

Diversification of members
'At the same time, we are looking at the characteristics of our membership-base to see if the diversification of our member-base in any way affects our key goals. It’s not so much a problem, but something we need to talk about openly. Do we remain loyal to our mission and vision? What role do new organizations play? This discussion will shape itself in the near future, but I am confident we will come to a conclusion that will suit all members.'