During the Dutch Presidency of the EU: First half of 2016

Childhood Education and City Politics Conference Kick-off of the European Cities Network Young Child

 

The reason for the conference

The Netherlands hold the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2016.  Child care, development and education of young children are subjects which are a  focus of attention within the European Union. Stimulating the development of talent and  citizenship of young European citizens in the 21st century is a major challenge. It is notable that there is an increasing consensus among researchers that the development of the youngest children is of the utmost importance. A high quality pre-school period  has a greater influence on the  long-run development of children than the primary school period. This is shown by long-term studies such as the EPPE/ EPPSE study of Melhuish et al. in the United Kingdom, or the No Child Left Behind study by Tarjei Havnes from Norway. During the Childhood Education and City Politics Conference this knowledge will be shared and its impact -certainly also for the Netherlands- will be explained. There are differences in the ways the European member states are working on the pedagogic infrastructures.  There are obviously differences in interpretation on a local/national level but they should be based on universal principles.

This is the starting point of this conference. We are looking for general principles but also for customized solutions based on the differences between countries. Special attention will be paid to what we may learn from different solutions which might also be adopted in other countries with partly different cultures.

The implementation of general policies is always local. That certainly goes for policies involving young children.  There is a growing realization that the cities are the  bearers of innovation. That is why the city as a habitat will be the focal point during this congress.

The scope of the conference

Facilities for young children are a combination of parental leave arrangements aimed at labour force participation and facilities for playing, development, child care and primary education.

It is a major ambition to enable children with diverse backgrounds to play, learn and develop themselves together.

Working consistently from the principles of inclusion and integration – increasing the participation of everyone involved - may keep segregation at bay.

High quality facilities for children are important but not sufficient. It is especially the links of the facilities with the parents and the “wider community” that enable an effective policy.  In which way are parents, the neighbourhood and the environment involved in issues concerning young children growing up? In Europe, and particularly in Northwestern Europe, the facilities are central. Sometimes there is no link with the people and specific groeps in the neighbourhood and the environment: the wider community.

The physical environment also influences the way young children grow up. Is there room for young children to grow up safely but with sufficient challenges? What is the value of the public space for the development of young children?

The above leads to a number of central points of interest during the Congress:

  1. What are the latest insights from research and policy  on the young child growing up?
  2. To what extent is the risk of segregation among the population of the participating cities a determining factor in the shaping of their pre-school and early childhood facilities?
  3. How do the different cities interpret growing up in an unsegregated city?
  4. How is a link made between facilities and the wider community?
  5. Can the city be laid out in such a way that young children can play and live in a safe but yet challenging environment?

The speakers will be primarily selected on the basis of their expertise. The examples will be selected from five cities which plan to start the cities network after the congress: Ghent, Copenhagen, Berlin, Ljubljana and Amsterdam/Rotterdam (G-4).

The city as focus
The aim of the conference is to enhance knowledge of already familiar results of scientific research concerning pedagogical facilities for young children but also to emphasize the importance of local policy.

One of the lessons learned from the numerous international contacts in recent years has been the major importance of local policies. In a period of increasing decentralisation and a shift of responsibilities in the social domain, “local” is getting more and more important :”think global and act local” .

This means that the development of young children has become a theme of urban and metropolitan innovation. This is the more true because different policy files such as care/prevention, education and pedagogical facilities and integration are getting more connected. In this process parents but also the local community are taking centre stage. Solutions are only possible if policy makers and executors cooperate with parents and other stakeholders in neighbourhoods and cities. This means that the neighbourhood and the city will have to be equipped for this, not only in the social sense but also environmentally. The urban space should partly be reclaimed for the benefit of young children.

Examples from various cities

This conference will give various European cities a chance to share their solutions and to explain with which challenges they are faced in guaranteeing that young children can grow up well and safely.

The cities that are presented as examples at the conference are:

  • Ghent with its emphasis on accessibility for all  population groups in a childcare system for children from birth and kindergarten for children from 2.5 years of age and the important role of the community.
  • Copenhagen as an example of a system for universal care for children from 1 to 6 years of age  and the integrated out-of-school care based on big local responsibility. One of the guiding principles is inclusion, not as a system but as an ethical principle.
  • Berlin as a city where two systems from the past contribute in their own  way to a system that has grown enormously under the responsibility of the local government. Bilingualism was a distinguishing mark of Berlin during the Cold War. This is still the case, even after the fall of the wall.
  • Ljubljana as a city where a lot of work is being done on a universal system with great emphasis on quality improvement as the basis of a good system.
  • Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where the labour market function of care for young childeren is being shifted to working in a development oriented way for all children in line with their education.

At the end of the conference the European Cities Network will be presented.  A description of the European Cities Network for the Young Child.

A European Cities Network Young Child

The conference is also the starting point of a European Cities Network. At a European level there is already a flourishing network of scholars and representatives of governments around the themes of care and education for young children. But it is remarkable that there are no permanent networks of local parties (municipalities, executive institutions, involved parents and social organisations). Therefore, many European discussions remain far removed from practice, where in the end proposals have to be executed.

One network, one learning network, in which local persons responsible for policy, knowledge institutions, executive partners and parents and  social institutions are represented, can fill this gap.

Before the conference the design and working method of the network will be explored further. We are thinking of a carousel model: every 6 months one of the participating cities will chair the network. After two or three years this procedure will be evaluated and it will be decided which further steps are to be taken. The aim is that the participating cities will themselves finance the network. 

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