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European Education Area

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Early childhood education and care in Europe: Available, accessible and affordable for all

27 April 2021

A commitment to accessible, high-quality and affordable ECEC

On 27 April 2021, the European Commission hosted an online event on early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Europe. 

This latest edition of the event series ‘Early childhood education and care in Europe’, initiated by Commissioner Gabriel at the launch event on 3 March 2021, discussed the European Union’s (EU) commitment to supporting access to high-quality, affordable ECEC for all, as well as concrete ideas to implement effective access to ECEC in Europe.

Further online events will be organised throughout spring and autumn 2021.

Summary of the discussions

Michael Teutsch, Head of Unit for Schools and Multilingualism at the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC), began the webinar by reminding the audience of the importance of access to quality ECEC for all children.

He underlined the EU's political commitment to high-quality ECEC based on the 2019 Council Recommendation on high-quality ECEC systems and the European Pillar of Social Rights' principle on childcare and support to children. 

He concluded his interventions by encouraging the audience to contact their Erasmus+ National Agency if they wish to apply for support for an ECEC project.

Karen Haegemans, Policy Officer in the unit for Evidence-Based Policy and Evaluation at DG EAC, emphasised that participation in high-quality ECEC is beneficial to all children, but can be difficult to achieve when demand exceeds supply.

While participation in ECEC is still impacted by socio-economic factors, EU Member States have committed to achieve 96% participation in ECEC among children between 3 years old and the starting age for compulsory primary education by 2030. 

Stefan Iszkowski, Policy Officer at the Directorate-General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL), highlighted the importance of funding that exists at the EU level, such as the European Social Fund (now the ESF+), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). He also presented the Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation on a Child Guarantee, to support access to free ECEC for children in need.

While political support and funding are available at the EU level to improve the quality of ECEC, Mr Teutsch reminded the audience that there is also a need for this to be complemented by national and local initiatives and funding.

Géraldine Libreau, Policy Officer in the unit for Schools and Multilingualism at DG EAC and coordinator of the ET 2020 Working Group on ECEC, underlined that it is important to increase the availability of ECEC, but that this must be accompanied by the recruitment of qualified staff to ensure a reasonable child/staff ratio and high-quality ECEC.

Daniela Marrocchi, Inspector at the Ministry of Education in Italy, presented the Italian approach to ensuring the availability of ECEC. She showed how Italy is undergoing a reform from a split system where ECEC is split between two ministries into an integrated system for children aged 0 to 6 years old. In particular, the reform focused on increasing the availability of places and tries to overcome regional gaps. It also supports ECEC staff, their working conditions and qualifications.

Once ECEC services are available, they need to be accessible. Families can still face a number of obstacles to access them, especially when they experience specific difficulties, for instance living in poverty, low literacy levels or a poor knowledge of the national language.

Akvile Motiejunaite, Senior Analyst at Eurydice, presented the possibility to extend the right to ECEC and gave examples of countries which are currently doing so.

Géraldine Libreau presented a number of possible measures to support vulnerable families. These include giving priority to families in need, extending the opening hours of ECEC providers, facilitating access by removing physical obstacles (for example, by creating crèches and kindergartens in remote areas and by making sure that ECEC infrastructures are accessible to those with disabilities) and recognising the administrative barriers some families face. 

Cost makes access to ECEC services difficult for 39% of users, despite children having a right to affordable ECEC of good quality.

Toby Wolf, Principal Officer at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in Ireland, presented Ireland’s example of combining free access to ECEC and offering support to families.

Julia Kuusiholma-Linnamäki, Senior Evaluation Advisor at the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, Finland, gave an overview of the Finnish experiment with free access to ECEC. 

Background

At the ECEC in Europe launch event on 3 March 2021, Commissioner Gabriel presented the Toolkit for inclusive early childhood education and care

This output of the ET2020 Working Group on Early Childhood Education and Care explores how decision-makers and ECEC providers can foster inclusive ECEC systems through a range of policy measures and practices which benefit all children, regardless of their individual or family circumstances. 

Commissioner Gabriel emphasised that access to ECEC: 

“contributes to [all children’s] healthy development and educational success, helps in reducing social inequalities and narrows the competence gap between children with different socio-economic backgrounds.”

She also recalled that the European Pillar of Social Rights enshrined the importance of ECEC in its principle 11: 'Children have the right to affordable early childhood education and care of good quality'. 

Programme

Welcome

  • Michael Teutsch, Head of Unit, Schools and Multilingualism, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC), European Commission

Participation in quality ECEC is beneficial, but difficult

  • Karen Haegemans, Policy Officer, Evidence-Based Policy and Evaluation, DG EAC, European Commission

EU support: Political commitment and funding

  • Michael Teutsch, Head of Unit, Schools and Multilingualism, DG EAC, European Commission 
  • Stefan Iszkowski, Policy Officer, Directorate-General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL), European Commission

Question and answers

How can we make it happen?

Availability of ECEC

Ideas from the Toolkit for inclusive ECEC

  • Géraldine Libreau, Policy Officer, Schools and Multilingualism, DG EAC, European Commission 

The Italian approach

  • Daniela Marrocchi, Inspector, Ministry of Education, Italy

Accessibility of ECEC

Expanding the right to ECEC

  • Akvile Motiejunaite, Senior analyst, Eurydice

Measures to support vulnerable families

  • Géraldine Libreau, Policy Officer, Schools and Multilingualism, DG EAC, European Commission

Affordability of ECEC

The Irish approach

  • Toby Wolf, Principal Officer, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Ireland

The Finnish experiment

  • Julia Kuusiholma-Linnamäki, Senior Evaluation Advisor, Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, Finland

Other financial approaches

  • Géraldine Libreau, Policy Officer, Schools and multilingualism, DG EAC, European Commission

Question and answers

Conclusion


* Questions can be asked in advance by writing to EAC-ET2020-WG-ECEC@ec.europa.eu or during the event via Erasmus+ on Facebook and Twitter.
 

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Watch the event recording!

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Towards a European Education Area

Early childhood education and care policy has a key role to play in the European Commission’s vision to achieve a European Education Area by 2025, as outlined in the 2020 Communication.

In 2020, the goal of 95% participation in ECEC among children from the age of 4 within the EU was almost achieved, with 94.8% participation. As an important determinant of later basic skills acquisition, this accomplishment demonstrates strong progress towards realising the Commission’s vision for the European Education Area.

The Commission has also delivered the Toolkit for inclusive early childhood education and care (ECEC), which supports the implementation of the EU Quality Framework for ECEC annexed to the 2019 Council Recommendation on High-Quality ECEC Systems. The Framework recognises access to ECEC as the first pillar for quality.   

On 24 March 2021, the Commission also proposed a Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee. This will help to ensure that children at risk of poverty and social exclusion have effective access to key services, such as healthcare and education. The proposed Recommendation asks EU Member States to guarantee free and effective access to children in need to ECEC.

The Commission and EU Member States will now strive to achieve the goal of 96% participation in ECEC among children between 3 years old and the starting age for compulsory primary education within the EU by 2030, as outlined in the Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030).

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