Teacher has an important role in Early Childhood Education
A major change happened in Finnish early childhood education system when it was moved under education ministry from social- and health ministry in 2013. A similar change happened already in other Scandinavian countries earlier. This shift started a rather rapid progress in Finnish Early Childhood Education. Early Childhood Education has been since considered part of children’s rights and the first step of a child’s learning path. It is a crucial part of our education system.
This was made concrete when the new ECE act changed the education prospective and purpose to emphasize more teaching. The Finnish National Agency for Education became a leading expert organization starting a major renewal of the ECE curriculum content. The curriculum came into force in 2016. The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre also started to evaluate ECE at the same time.
The act created a strong foundation for the principle that every child has a possibility to learn and develop in day care centers regardless of their location. Early Childhood Education has a significant meaning in comparison to other age periods. It is also important that the spirit of the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is conveyed in the curriculum. This means that a child’s best interest must be a priority in the planning and impelentation.
The ECE act emphasizes the importance of pedagogy, and especially the importance of highly educated teachers. The teachers must have a full responsibility of child groups as well as the planning and the development of pedagogy.
It is now stated in the law that an individual ECE plan is to be drawn for each child. The child’s individual plan must include the strengths and goals related to the child’s development and learning as well as the implementation actions and the assessment of the fore-mentioned elements, on the basis of which the teacher makes plans for the ECE for the group of children in question. The ECE teacher holds the responsibility for drawing the individual plan.
As a result of the new act, 50 per cent of personnel in the daycare centers are to be at least bachelor degreed and one of them must be a teacher. The rest of personnel can be under graduated nurses. Now, the new title for a kindergarten teacher in Finland is ECE teacher. Due to this change the Kindergarten teacher’s union changed its name to ECE Teacher´s Union, celebrating its 100th anniversary last year in 2019.
As the president of the ECE Teacher´s Union I am especially glad that the qualification requirement for director of daycare center is now at least master’s degree. This is an indication of the fact that leadership in ECE is demanding and requires high-level pedagogical education. According to multiple studies, effective ECE ask for highly educated teachers. Finnish education system is widely known for well-educated teachers and excellent learning results. That is a fact also in ECE. It is essential to develop ECE that has a strong research-based foundation in the future as well.
Research is not only needed for societal decision making, but also to support teachers and daycare center directors in ECE. The knowledge we gain from research will help us develop ECE practices that improve the learning and the development of children, in accordance with the children’s rights.
I would like to see Finland adapt master´s degree as the qualification requirement for teachers in ECE. This would be an indication of the importance of childhood, early childhood education and professionalism required in those fields.