Date: 27-11-2018

INTERVIEW - Lieve De Bosscher: ‘In Belgium, We need to address the Split System’

Blessed with the opportunity to speak face to face with so many people from our member organizations at the Annual Council meeting, we took the opportunity to sit down and ask how things are truly going. In the professional atmosphere and on a bigger scale. City level in this instance, as we speak with Lieve De Bosscher, Director of Child Care Services in the City of Ghent, Belgium.


Q: ‘Can you tell us and our members how Ghent is faring with regards to Early Childhood Development. What issues need to be addressed?’

A: ‘There are multiple issues that should be addressed, by politics as well as supporting organizations. The first one concerns the funding. The second one concerns the workforce, and they are intertwined. The case in Flanders (region) and Belgium (country), is that the workforce of the childcare workers consist of people who have a basic, vocational education. This applies to 0-3 Early Childhood Education and Care. From the age of 3, children are in the formal education system, which does have bachelors as standard workforce. A result of the split system that applies to the region of Flanders, but also the whole of Belgium. This means that we hardly have any bachelors amongst our workforce 0-3 in Flanders. And the gap between the two types of professionals is significant.’ 

‘As mentioned, this issue is mainly caused by the separate ways in which services for 0-3 and from 3 up are funded by the regional government, as well as the difference in standard for pre-service training. We have addressed this issue in the City of Ghent for over two decades by setting up a competent system in which a team of pedagogues, that are locally funded, are at the heart of this system. The team does not only provide in an initial in-service training, but also in permanent coaching, training and support of over 600 childcare workers in 74 locations.’

‘Consequently, another challenge is attracting and retaining the needed workforce. The lower internal and external appreciation in comparison with kindergarten teachers (age 3-6, whom are bachelors), and the working and wage conditions that greatly differ with Kindergarten teachers and an inconsistent variety of low-quality pre-service trainings. These are 3 factors that need to be tackled on a policy-level.

'The first we tackle locally by setting up a trajectory between 0-3 Childcare and 3-6 Kindergartens with the workforce on all levels, to enhance the mutual cooperation and appreciation. The second is ‘solved’ halfway on a municipal level, as the city of Ghent choose already to provide in better wages and working conditions for the municipal childcare workers. However, wages are still not on an equal level with salaries of the Kindergarten teachers.’

‘The third one we have recently taken on as a new challenge, by starting up preparatory work in uniting schools that provide vocational training for the childcare workers. We evaluate the quality of the learning trajectory and we aim for solid improvements as to end up with a municipal unified curriculum that is consistent, and provides in a better quality pre-service. In due course, this will lift up the quality of the workforce as a whole.’

‘I believe this is a big issue for us on a national and regional level, but I see it also on international level. It is found especially in those countries that have a split system. The preschool and primary school services are divided, and only for primary school a bachelor degree is required. It is an issue that we can address locally, by providing in-service training. But we should also change it politically by changing the way that people are educated, the way people are paid, and of course and in the manner in which the degree is regulated.’

Q: ‘What would be a typical problem that this current system causes now?’

A: ‘Because pre-school education is not on bachelor level, people don’t understand the full picture. For example – people with a vocational training know little to nothing about the European Quality Framework. And there seems to be a different appreciation by parents for vocational and college trained staff, which doesn’t feel right at all. We feel that all (future) staff should be enabled to be trained, qualified and appreciated as one.’

‘Another issue is that it doesn’t improve a smooth transition from pre-school to primary school services. This will, in the end, cause a gap or create missed opportunities for children. We can tackle the issue of transition by promoting and providing staff in-service training. For example by our team of pedagogues who support the local teams running the childcare services. This is how we approach it now. But if we don’t upscale the system on a higher level, we will never overcome the quality gap and the gap between the early and adjacent services.’

: ‘Can you share with us an inspiring story from the field?’

A: One of the most beautiful stories is a rather small one. A small scale project in which we motivate parents to get involved in the childcare system for children from 0 - 2,5 years or afterschool care. We started a project in which parents, both mothers and fathers, with a child in childcare, can follow a training and become a childcare worker themselves.’

‘For this, we closely work with existing, vocational schools. So the initiative in itself doesn’t lead up to a higher degree in childcare services. But we do it because we feel it is important that parents partake in childcare services. At the same time, as we work on uniting the vocational teaching institutions for the overall improvement of the quality of the training discourse, we contribute to adding capable practitioners to the workforce. And not in the least important: we make the workforce and childcare accessible for people who do not hold an acknowledged degree in Belgium, but who do have passion and an adequate skillset for learning. It is a good start to uplift, diversify and enrich the whole system. A triple win!’

‘We just started a project with a group of six trainees, and we will continue with a new group of six shortly. It is a beautiful project. Mixed students, very committed people, father, mother, who already partake in the childcare service of the city.’

Q: ‘What is (one of) your biggest achievement(s)?’

A: ‘One of the biggest achievements was organizing the ISSA Conference together with ISSA and VBJK. It was a conference with truly a warm hart towards early childhood development. Certainly because of all of the field visits. But at the same time, we exceeded in exchange of knowledge. So many people participated. We were able to inspire so many others, just by showing what we were doing.’

‘But the whole conference had this fret to it, that if you want to organize good quality early childhood services, you have to connect practice, with research and policy. The conference was truly oozing out this principle. I felt able to apply the knowledge learned immediately afterwards. To me personally, it was an excellent opportunity to start my new role as the Director of Child Care Services in the City of Ghent.’

‘You mentioned the European Quality Framework earlier. Can you share your view on the topic?’

A: ‘It is a beautiful piece of work. It integrates knowledge and vision on a European level. And it was also an acknowledgement of the local policy and the competent system that the City of Ghent has been working on in the past 20 years. I recognize all the work we did on the workforce, I recognize the validity and importance of a curriculum for young children and the evaluation system that is needed from the perspective of a young child.’

‘So the main five pillars are in there, but also the recommendations on how to go about these pillars are very recognizable in our work. So we felt acknowledged, but also fed and inspired. It helped us to talk with politicians on a higher level. The City of Ghent has always put money, effort and belief in how we organize things in the city. But having this European document allows us to talk on a much higher level about things. And it helps us to upscale the methods and experience we’ve built up to this day.’

Q: ‘What do you see as the benefit(s) of being a member of ISSA’s international learning community?’

A: ‘Plenty and plenty, I already knew ISSA during the time I was still working in integrated family services. The network gives you such an opportunity to learn and exchange, and to overcome challenges by learning from and with others.’




On the photograph, Lieve the Bosscher at Hotel International, autumn 2018
Photo credits: Jolanda Clement | exclusively for ISSA