5 Steps to Quality – A word with ISSA's Program Director Mihaela Ionescu
In the past years, ISSA supported two member driven Peer Learning Activities based on the European Quality Framework. Now ISSA offers a first time training on the subject. What triggered the decision?
‘There are several reasons: we believe that there is so much learning happening in ISSA that should be expanded beyond the borders of our network to the broader early childhood community, and engage with various professionals in discussions, reflections and learning. This is what enriches us as a professional community. Encouraging innovative approaches or pioneering pathways in the early childhood field are things that we strongly believe in, as well as supporting them to ‘travel’ from one country to another, planting relevant seeds of change for more equitable and quality services. We may think of ISSA’s peer learning activities as a laboratory of inspiring approaches, new knowledge, resources and practices co-created by professionals from different member organizations, from different countries.’
How relevant is the European Quality Framework for the current Early Childhood Development field?
‘It is highly relevant. It provides a vision of quality that recognizes the child’s agency, uniqueness and holistic development, the importance of integrating education with care in service provision across the entire age span from birth until entering primary school, as well having families as the most important partners and decision makers regarding their children. The Framework is backed up with solid evidence, and provides also a systemic view on the quality of a system. The five policy areas that are mentioned in the Framework cover the most important aspects of structural and process quality. It provides a good guidance for decision and policy makers at all levels in the system. None of those areas is more important than the other, so all of them contribute equally to quality provision, with the caveat that they all consistently promote the same values and the same vision, as they are stated in the beginning of the document.’
With ISSA as pan-European center of expertise for Early Childhood Development, can you pinpoint some differences on how the European Quality Framework is being used?
'There is already a report that documented the use of the Framework in various countries since it became public. It can be found on the School Education Gateway portal.
One important thing that we noticed in our experience of developing and working with quality frameworks is that they become more meaningful when they have been developed through a participatory way and they have been translated (thus possible to be shared with a diverse audience). Secondly, if they are accompanied by enabling tools locally or internationally created (such as this training package). In many cases, such resources are translated and used when they are relevant and timely for the country context. Each country uses them in different ways and for different purposes: from advancing a reform that is in process, to creating changes for improving the existing system and encouraging better approaches that serve best the child, the family and people working in that system, in line with what practice and research suggests. Somebody has to take the lead in the process. Such documents are helpful not only on the macro level, but also on the micro-level – a municipality or service level.'
We somehow often presume that western European countries are further ahead with the implementation of quality tools. Can you share some instances where the East outruns the West?
'This stereotypical way of thinking has led to having many Eastern European countries continuously look for change and improvement — curious to learn from others (while having valuable people and being critical thinkers), as they believe that they are lagging behind. While in Western European countries there might be a sense of self-sufficiency that does not encourage enough change and innovation. There is no black and white here, but maybe a question of attitude towards wanting to become better and seek real and meaningful change, while challenging the existing status quo to respond to challenging country contexts.'
How do you envision the prospects and outcome of a consistent use of the European Quality Framework, let’s say in 5 to 10 years?
'Five or ten years is not a lot when talking about changing systems. What I hope is that the Framework will nurture a more aligned vision about the importance of early years and about the quality services, where care is not separated from education, even if split systems are in place. Policies that are better aligned with both practice and research, and more dialogue about quality at the country level which leads to a systemic change.'
'If the importance of this period of life is understood, I expect more investment in the professionalization and the professionalism of those who work in early year’s services, meaning better pre and in-service training, better working conditions to really support quality provision.'
Are you interested in joining a training on the European Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care? Learn how you can take 5 Steps to Quality with ISSA this June.