Monday, 13 June 2016

Early childhood education and care: Profitable investment or democratic potential?

Peter Moss, Emeritus Professor at the University of London’s Institute of Education, is a keynote speaker today at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families & Relationships

Early childhood education and care has become a hot issue today, a policy priority around the world with provision growing nearly everywhere; it is part of a growing institutionalisation of childhood. I have been a long-term advocate of such early childhood services. But I am deeply concerned about current developments because of the way things are going, especially the dominance of a particular discourse or narrative, what I term ‘the story of quality and high returns’. This story, I believe, leads to unequal relationships between services on the one hand and children and families on the other. It is a vivid example of Foucault’s dictum that ‘everything is dangerous’.

What is this story? In a nutshell, it is a story told of how early intervention with proven human technologies (aka ‘quality’) leads to improved performance in later life, enabling individuals and societies to survive in an increasingly competitive ‘global race’ - part of an inevitable future that is more of the same, but even more so. As the title of a government report puts it, ‘Early intervention: Smart investment, massive savings’. I don’t like this story for several reasons: not only is it implausible (I just don’t believe it), but it offers a simple technical fix for what is really a complex political issue of inequality and injustice; it leads to ever greater governing of children and adults, and the reduction of complexity and diversity, through increasing standardisation and control; and it seeks to impose a ‘dictatorship of no alternative’, believing it is the only true story to be heard.

The good news is that there is a growing resistance movement to this dominant discourse, working with a rich variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. This movement offers critique but also alternative, more hopeful stories. One such is what I call the ‘story of democracy, experimentation and potentiality’, which chooses democracy, experimentation and potentiality as fundamental values and practices of education. Rather than the technical questions (such as ‘what works?’) at the heart of the story of quality and high returns, this story evolves from asking political questions, first and foremost ‘what is your image of the child?’ Such stories, enacted in places such as the municipal schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy, are cause for hope and a belief that another world is possible.


You can read a brief introduction to Peter Moss's conference presentation 'Early Childhood Education and Care: Profitable Investment or Democratic Potential?' here.

You can follow live tweets from the conference using the hashtag #CRFR2016 on Twitter.

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