Early Childhood Education

Introduction to Volume 4


As acknowledged in the overall Introduction to this handbook, the field of early childhood education has a long history of being influenced by people and ideas across cultural and national boundaries. The provocative ideas of Freidrich Froebel and, later, of Maria Montessori helped establish features of the field that continue to be salient today—a belief in the importance of the early years, sustained interest in the nature and role of a prepared environment, and culturally and philosophically distinct points of view about the nature of the child and the concept of a developmentally appropriate early education. These and other influences with international origins were often the result of privately funded travel by American women who cared deeply about improving conditions for young children— especially those living in deep poverty. Their contributions have been described in the entries in Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of this set. Volume 4 highlights a more recent contribution to the field—that of cross-national perspectives on what is increasingly understood as early childhood education in a new global era.


As the World Turns

The second half of the twentieth century was a period of worldwide transformation in the social and economic structure and dynamics of families with young children, and in the relationships between the private sphere of family life and the public spaces in local communities. Within industrialized societies, the most visible manifestation of this shift has been the movement of mothers into the labor market to engage in paid work. In societies still in the process of industrialization, the change can be seen most strongly in the movement of whole family units from the countryside into the cities, accompanied by a shift from extended to nuclear family structure, or in migratory labor systems where one parent (once typically the father, now increasingly the mother) travels to the city or even abroad for work for extended periods, leaving the other parent or a relative back in the village with full responsibility for the home and family.

Accompanying these changes in the private sphere of the family, and heavily influenced by them, is growing public interest in systems of early education and care worldwide. Although that interest is not new per se, its manifestation and level of intensity within policy circles has reached unprecedented heights since the 1960s. Visible first in the eastern European countries following World War II (within socialist political systems at that time), public systems of early education and care spread into the Scandinavian countries during the 1960s, and into France and Italy soon thereafter. Developments in the still industrializing nations of Asia, Africa, and South America during this same time period were also notable. For instance, in China interest in early childhood education is increasing, and the majority of children aged 3-5 now attend early childhood education programs. South Africa has gone through dramatic changes in early education policy since apartheid was abolished in 1994, shifting from separate services for black, white, and colored children to an emphasis on the rights of all children, with early childhood development as a key area in the process of reconstruction and development. Beginning in the 1980s, South Africa’s early care and education policies expanded significantly and program coverage has also grown, despite economic challenges. The World Bank has recognized the importance of early child development and early education as strategies to develop human resources and reduce poverty, expending an estimated $1.5 billion in the areas during the 1990s.

This interest has been matched by a burgeoning body of scholarship on culture and child development—some of which is acknowledged in topics discussed in Volumes 1, 2, and 3—as well as international and comparative social policy analyses of early childhood education. The literature describing and analyzing early childhood education policies, programs, and concepts in multiple societies and cultures, while not copious, has been significant both in quality and in regularity. The International Study Group for Early Child Care, established in 1969, made the first major contribution, producing extensive monographs addressing child care in nine countries: Hungary, Sweden, the United States, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Israel, Poland, and India. No attempt was made by this group, however, to compare policies, or the forces shaping policies, across cultures. The work of Sheila Kamerman and Alfred Kahn has been foundational to the cross-national study of early care and education, beginning in 1979 with an introductory examination of family policy in fourteen countries and followed in 1981 with an extensive comparative analysis of child care policies and programs in six countries, all Western and highly industrialized. The next decade (1991) saw publication of yet another Kamerman and Kahn analysis, this time focused on policy innovations in Europe in response to increased demands for child care and parental leave for infants and toddlers. In 1995, the late Sally Lubeck* described cross-national comparative work as not only necessary to our understanding of what is possible under diverse economic and cultural conditions, but also as essential to gaining insights into the political positioning of children, their mothers, and the period of early childhood.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, interest in countries beyond Europe began to be more heavily reflected in the literature. In 1989, a volume edited by Olmstead and Weikart presented fourteen national profiles of child care and early education, six of which were Asian or African. Little cross-cultural comparison was attempted by these authors in that initial publication, but a second volume edited by the same scholars five years later provided comparative data on service usage, the nature of organized facilities, and children’s daily routines in eleven of the fourteen countries. In 1992, a pair of Americans (Lamb and Sternberg) and a pair of Swedes (Hwang and Broberg) edited a collection of twelve analytical case studies drawn from five of the six inhabited continents, that placed nonparental child care in social and cultural context and made “cautious and informed comparisons.” The following year one of the editors of the current work (Cochran) edited a 29-country International Handbook of Child Care Policies and Programs (also published by Greenwood Publishing Group), including six continents and 80 percent of the world’s population. This work included an extensive analysis of the major themes cross-cutting early care and education in these countries, and creation of an analytic framework that has since been further refined by the author (1997) and used as the basis for the development of U.S. policy proposals (2006).

A quantum leap in our understanding of the interface between early childhood education and care and community development was provided in 1992 by Robert Myers’ remarkable book The Twelve Who Survive, which drew a rich set of examples from African, Asian, and South American countries to identify three general early childhood education-focused development strategies—imposed development, self-actualized development, and partnership—and argued persuasively in favor of the partnership approach. This relationship between early childhood education and community development also caught the attention of global entities dedicated to economic investments. World Bank interest in early childhood education came to the fore in the 1990s, highlighted by a Bank-sponsored conference in 1996 titled Early Child Development: Investing in the Future. The proceedings from that conference, published in 1997, emphasized policies and programs in “developing” countries and included papers on the fit between cultures and policies, elements of program quality, parent education and child development, home-based programs for early childhood education, and the financing of early childhood education systems.

Most recently the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted an extensive review of early childhood education policies and programs in many of its member countries in response to recognition that improving the quality of, and access to, early childhood education and care has become a major policy priority in those countries One of the editors (New) participated in this review. An integrative report, published in 2001 and titled Starting Strong, Early Childhood Education and Care, documents the various strategies that these countries have applied to policy development in this field, noting that these policies and subsequent program development strategies are deeply embedded in particular country contexts, values, and beliefs. The report also documents common challenges and issues shared across diverse national contexts and proposes eight key policy elements for decision makers wishing to “promote equitable access to quality early childhood education and care.” Within

the context of what some have referred to as a global era of early childhood education, the U.S. National Research Council commissioned a special Board of Comparative and International Studies to review and write a report on the varying degrees to which cross-national or international studies on education have influenced educational practices in the United States. The title of this report— Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves—might well be the subtitle for this fourth volume.

In the preface to the set, we describe the primary purpose of this four-volume work as providing a comprehensive resource on early childhood education for teachers and caregivers, parents, teacher educators, policy planners, and researchers. Given the increasingly global nature of the field of early childhood education and the growing body of knowledge about the cultural variability of interpretations of and provisions for young children’s learning and development, this fourth volume is devoted to profiles of early childhood education systems in a diverse set of countries in Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania as well as eastern and western Europe. Unlike the International Handbook published by Greenwood Press in the early 1990s, this volume contains no integrative crossnational analysis of thematic similarities and contrasts. That rich opportunity is left to the reader, and a wealth of information is available to anyone with such interests. For example:

• All twenty-one of the major early childhood education topics included in this volume are addressed by experts from at least two of the ten participating countries, and ten of the topics have five or more national contributors. These subjects are also addressed by American authors in Volumes 1, 2, and 3. This feature allows the American reader not only to learn what an American expert has to offer about curriculum through an American lens and in U.S. settings, but also to compare and contrast this American viewpoint with those of specialists from ten other countries (those countries being Australia, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). Many of the great thinkers from abroad whose ideas and approaches to early education have influenced practices in the United States—not only Montessori and Froebel, but also others, such as Piaget and Malaguzzi—receive attention from American authors in the first three volumes and then are discussed from different perspectives in Volume 4 by writers seeing them from within other cultural frames, in some cases the home cultures of those thinkers themselves. Contributors to Volume 4 also acknowledge the influence of other, lesser-known Western European philosophers and postmodern scholars such as Bakhtin, Foucault, and Bourdieu, whose ideas are entering the U.S. discourse thanks to scholars committed to reconceptualizing the field of early childhood education (see the Reconceptionalists entry). And, of course, there are still others who have influenced early childhood education in other nations who remain unknown to American early childhood educators. Thus the writings in Volume 4 permit the American reader to peer beyond the natural ethnocentrism of American authors on subjects like pedagogy, play, curriculum, quality, family involvement, inclusion, and teacher preparation by examining these topics through the eyes of experts in cultures as diverse as Sweden, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil.

• Because the four volumes, taken together, include in-depth information about early childhood education in eleven different countries, the contents should be as relevant to audiences abroad as they are to Americans. Both similarities and differences across cultures provide insights not only to audiences in the countries included in this set, but also to those in other nations as well. For instance, Volume 4 contains five contributions on the topic of play, from Sweden, China, Italy, Brazil, and Japan. In those entries, it is fascinating to find both a common emphasis on play as a way of learning, especially about social norms, rules, and ways of being, and reflections of characteristics specific to each individual culture (e.g., the idea of solidarity in Sweden, the Chinese emphasis on modesty, the Brazilian concept of public spaces). Careful study of articulations of the same topic from different cultural perspectives will enrich the reader’s understanding both of concepts in early care and education that transcend individual cultures and the ways that particular cultural beliefs and traditions shape early development through early childhood education. In like fashion, the different disciplinary interpretations of children and early childhood begin to become apparent when contrasting the discussion of play as written by a developmental psychologist in the United States. and as written by scholars of diverse disciplines in other nations. Although these disciplinary distinctions could easily be found in the United States—and in fact, they are apparent in the various entries on “Play”—it is also the case that the field of child development and the discipline of developmental psychology is much more salient in American discussions of early childhood education than in any other country in the world. This set provides the reader with new insights into the various ways in which the social sciences—psychology, philosophy, and sociology—have contributed to contemporary understandings in the field of early childhood education.

• The country profiles and accompanying topical entries in Volume 4 provide a “snapshot” of ten national early education and care systems at a single point in time, the year 2005. But as the brief literature review presented earlier documents, earlier snapshots are available as well. For example, the International Handbook of Child Care Policies and Programs, also published by Greenwood Publishing Group, contains in-depth case studies covering nine of the ten nations included here, developed in 1991. Using this reference, and others listed in the Bibliography, together with entries in this set, it is possible to examine patterns of change over time, both in individual societies and across societies. This kind of temporal analysis will reveal early childhood education as a dynamic process, adapting to broader societal changes while at the same time sustaining cultural continuities and exploring creative ways of engaging and supporting children and their families.

References: Berfenstam R., and I. William-Olsson (1973). Early child care in Sweden. Early Child Development and Care 2(2), 97-249; Committee on a Framework and Long-Term Research Agenda for International Comparataive Education Studies (2003). Understanding others, educating ourselves, C. Chabbott and E. J. Elliott, eds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; Cochran, M., ed. (1993). The international handbook of child care policies and programs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Cochran, M. (1997). Fitting early child care services to societal needs and characteristics. In Mary E. Young, ed., Early child development: Investing in our children’s future. Amsterdam: Elsevier; David, M. and I. Lezine (1974). Early child care in France. Early Child Development and Care 4(1), 1-148; Hermann, A., and S. Komlos (1972). Early child care in Hungary. Early Child Development and Care 1(4), 337-459; Kagan, SharonLynn, and V. Steward(2005). Anewworld view: Education in a global era. Phi Delta Kappan 87(3), 184-187; Kamerman, S. (2000). Early childhood education and care: An overview of developments in the OECD countries. International Journal of Education Research 33, 7-29; Kamerman, S., and A. Kahn, eds. (1978). Family policy: Government and families in 14 countries. New York: Columbia University Press; Kamerman, S., and A. Kahneds. (1991). Child care, parentalleave, and the under 3s: Policy innovation in Europe. New York: Auburn House; Kamerman, S., and A. Kahn (1981). Child care, family benefits, and working parents: A study in comparative policy. New York: Columbia University Press; Kellmer-Pringle, M., and S. Naidoo (1974). Early child care in Britain. Early Child Development and Care 3(4), 299-473; Khalakdina, Margaret (1979). Early child care in India. Early Child Development and Care 5(3/4), 149-360; Lamb, M., K. Sternberg, K.-P. Hwang, and A. Broberg, eds. (1992). Child care in context: cross-cultural perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; Lubeck, Sally (2001). Early childhood education and care in cross-national perspective. Phi Delta Kappan 83(3), 213-215; LeVine, A. Robert, and Merry I. White (1986). Human conditions: The cultural basis for educational developments. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul; Luscher K., V. Ritter, and P. Gross (1973). Early child care in Switzerland. Early Child Development and Care 3(2), 89-210; Myers, R. (1992). The twelve who survive: Strengthening programmes of early childhood development in the third world. London: Routledge; New, R. (2003). Culture, child development, and early childhood education: Rethinking the relationship. In R. Lerner, F. Jacobs, and D. Wertlieb, eds., Promoting positive child, adolescent, and family development: A handbook of program and policy innovations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; New, R. (2005). Learning about early childhood education from and with Western European nations. Phi Delta Kappan 87(3), 201-204; OECD (2001). Starting strong, early childhood education and care. Paris: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; OECD (2006). Starting strong II. Paris: The organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Olmstead, P., and D. Weikart, eds. (1989). How nations serve young children: Profiles of child care and education in 14 countries. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press; Rapaport, et al., (1976). Early child care in Israel. Early Child Development and Care 4(2/3), 149-345; Robinson, H., N. Robinson, M. Wolins, U. Bronfenbrenner, and J. Richmond (1973). Early child care in the United States of America. Early Child Development and Care 2(4), 359-582; Young, M., ed. (1997). Early child development: Investing in our children’s future. Amsterdam: Elsevier; Ziemska, Maria (1978) Early child care in Poland. Early Child Development and Care 5(1/2), 1-148.

Moncrieff Cochran and Rebecca S. New


* Sally Lubeck was keenly interested in this handbook, particularly its emphasis on cross-national contributions, and had agreed to serve as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. Her premature death of pancreatic cancer was a major loss to those who knew her as a friend and a colleague as well as to the field of early care and education.