Recap of Universal Preschool In Sweden Event
Monday night's Universal Preschool In Sweden event at Brooklyn College was a standing room only affair, with lots of wallflowers along the back wall of the room for lack of a place to sit. The focus of the evening's discussion was EDUCARE, Sweden's version of universal preschool. Educare combines the two words which are the underpinnings of the program - education and care - in order to emphasize the importance of providing a caring and nurturing environment for preschoolers to promote learning (contrast with an accountability - and results-driven approach). Educare serves students aged 1-7 years old, which was remarkable because in New York we are still trying to figure out how to scale pre-K just for 4 years olds. Sweden starts from infancy.
Attendance is not compulsory but almost everyone attends. The cost to families is reasonable: while the program is not entirely funded at public expense, parents pay, on average, approximately $2,000-3,000 per child per year...but that can vary depending on income. The student-teacher ratio is approximately 5 kids per teacher, with approximately 17 children in a group. Most Educare schools are publicly funded, but there are some that are privately funded as well. Because Educare deemphasizes a rigid adherence to goals and outcomes, there are no formal goals that must be met at the end of the year. There are only informal guidelines that can be utilized to inform the curriculum. There does seem to be a national curriculum, however, and the extent to which individual schools feel compelled to follow that curriculum was not entirely clear to me. When the Swedish presenters emphasized "evaluating the quality of the preschool program," I wondered to what extent that might be at odds with the notion of "no accountability." Another point I found interesting was that Educare came about as a result of the work force expansion in Sweden in the 1970's. When more women started working, someone had to look after their children. For a while the program was run under the auspices of the social welfare system. In 1998, Educare officially became part of the educational system. Educare takes a child-centered approach, letting the child's interests and curiosities guide the teacher's instruction. Those who are familiar with the DIR Model of instructing children with autism may be familiar with this approach. Those who know of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy may be familiar with it as well. The Swedish panelists cited Reggio Emilia as one of the inspirations behind Educare. This was the first time I had heard of Reggio Emilia. But I quickly learned that it is well-known within the education field for being a child-centered, creative approach with an emphasis on natural materials and documentation. Other thought-provoking points that were mentioned: Trusting the children and viewing them as competent individuals Structuring tasks in a way that relies on the children to figure out what's necessary to complete a task (rather than simply depositing pre-determined information into the children's minds). Some issues that were not adequately addressed: Diversity - no discussion about how to transport the Swedish model to a more diverse demographic such as in the U.S. There was a brief discussion about "segregated areas" in Sweden where immigrant children can be educated in their native tongue. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether to educate them in a segregated manner, or in an integrated manner with Swedish children to promote mastery of the Swedish language. Poverty - no discussion at all. Special needs children - not mentioned at all. Federal government's role - not clear what is the federal government's role and how Sweden establishes consistency among its various Educare schools and programs. Assessing the quality of the preschool program and student progress - there was some discussion about the "pedagogical documentation" that is maintained and analyzed to assess the quality of a preschool program, but it was vague. Overall an interesting event that got the wheels in my mind turning!