Guarantee and strengthen early childhood education
The Dutch Education Council advises the government to guarantee and strengthen early childhood education (ECE). The Council believes that properly functioning ECE forms an indispensable link in securing more equal educational opportunities for children aged between 2.5 and six years who are at risk of educational disadvantage. The Council calls for greater alignment between preschool facilities and primary schools by developing national aims for play and learning provision within ECE and striving for better collaboration and more professionalisation of preschool and primary school teachers.
There is currently a great deal happening regarding the facilities for young children, for example the Development Programme for Young Children (Ontwikkeling jonge kind) recently announced by the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, as well as a proposal to reform the funding system for childcare. At the request of the Dutch Parliament, the Education Council has published an advisory letter on continuity and equal educational opportunities in the provision for young children.
Differences in children’s development emerge at an early age. Children growing up in less favourable socioeconomic circumstances are at greater risk of falling behind at school. It is known from international research that ECE is a successful means of promoting equality of opportunity in education and thereby enabling all pupils to get off to a better start in primary school. The Council believes that properly functioning ECE forms an indispensable link in securing more equal opportunities in education. The Council therefore recommends that as a minimum, this programme should be retained within a new childcare system.
Not all children who would benefit from preschool education currently participate in it. Different municipalities apply different criteria, and the Council therefore recommends that a set of national criteria, which provide greater clarity on who is eligible for preschool education, be developed in partnership with parents, childcare organisations, preschool and primary school teachers.
Good quality is essential
To ensure good alignment between preschool provision and the first two years of primary school, and to ensure continuity in young children’s development, the Council recommends that a set of national targets be developed for the provision of play and learning opportunities within ECE and that these be given a legal basis in the Primary Education Act. This will avoid gaps or overlaps in the provision. The quality of ECE can be further strengthened by investing in more effective professionalisation and collaboration on an equal footing between preschool and early years primary school teachers.