THE TWO SIDES OF CHANGE – GROWTH & COMPETITION
There are a number of important early childhood education trends emerging worldwide. It’s a challenging and exciting time to own a child care service or preschool. Rising parent expectations around learning outcomes are creating opportunities for those who are ready.
But there is also risk as new public funding is attracting new entrants and the cost of delivering educational outcomes is high. Old school owners with a daycare mindset are selling out or shutting down. Meanwhile business folks with a service and education mindset are coming in.
The first step to being on the right side of the trends changing early childhood education is to understand them. So here you, the three big themes currently underway that are changing the competitive picture for your child care or preschool dramatically.
ECE TRENDS – THEME #1:
Rising Attendance (and Competition)
Even as most parents now value early childhood education, preschool attendance rates in North America, most of Asia and Australia still lag the OECD average of 77% and the 98%+ in most European countries and New Zealand.
However, these lagging countries are catching up fast, creating opportunities for local providers.
Australia adopted an early childhood curriculum, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), in 2012, and attendance is growing from around 40% a few years to 60% of all 3-year olds in 2013. East Asia is also gearing up for universal pre-K.
There is less consensus on the value of early childhood education in the United States. Thought leaders like Zero To Three and Build Initiative are still having to contend with public skepticism about early education, not helped by the controversial Vanderbilt study in 2015 that suggested gains from preschool evaporate by age 8.
In general though, there is a lot of public resources coming into early childhood education around the world, leading to growing participation rates and growth in programs.
It’s an exciting time for early learning programs. Demand for high quality programs stems from:
- parent focus on learning outcomes
- public funding flowing into early education
However, this growth is also attracting new entrants, who are raising the competitive bar. It’s a time of heightened competition and risk, but also of heightened opportunity for high quality programs.
ECE TRENDS – THEME #2
Parents Are More Informed on Quality
For the longest time, parents everywhere chose their child care program based on location. Who was closest or most convenient?
That is one of the early childhood education trends that is changing, and changing fast.
Parents are demanding to know more about a program before making a choice. Facebook groups, review sites and other forums are commonplace touch points for parents when researching a new center. However, there has also been a regulatory response — in Australia and Canada, for instance — and an industry response elsewhere, most notably the US.
The ultimate quality rating is holding early childhood programs to school-level accountability, as happens in most of Europe and New Zealand.
Australia launched the NQF, the National Quality Framework, in 2012 and is making great strides in improving the consistency of its early childhood providers.
Canadian early childhood education and childcare (ECEC) is playing catchup, but now includes licensing in most provinces for providers with more than a handful of children.
Quality Improvement in the USA
The United States is only now addressing the need for consistency and a minimum level of quality in early childhood education. This is in part because for many early childhood care is still more “daycare” than “preschool.”
However, an educational component is now coming to the fore. Therefore, it is becoming a larger part of the focus of many child care centers.
The US response to a call for quality in early childhood education is QRIS, quality rating improvement systems. It’s a state by state effort to replace a patchwork of uneven accreditation programs with uniform standards. QRIS is voluntary, and is now active in 40 states, such as the Early Achievers program in WA.
What is Quality?
It is interesting that despite different philosophies, early childhood education around the world share common cornerstones of quality. Here are the common threads:
- The learning environment
- Parent engagement
- Teacher experience and training
- Center management
Improving program quality is a focus now for early childhood educators throughout the OECD. This is leading to major gains in parent engagement and a renewed focus on staff training, undoubtedly lifting learning outcomes.
ECE TRENDS – THEME #3
Curriculum is Becoming a Competitive Difference
Even 15 years ago, most parents were not aware of the learning philosophy of their child’s early learning program.
That is all changing. Programs are featuring their curriculum and philosophies as a point of difference.
This growing interest in learning outcomes by parents is forcing early learning programs to respond, with a better articulated and more complete curriculum tied to outcomes, such as school readiness.
Curriculum — Structure or No Structure?
For most of Europe and New Zealand, school readiness is around behavioral, emotional and motor skills, not academic standards.
Consequently, curriculum in these places use unstructured, play-based or experience-based, influenced by the writings to Dr. Bruner, Loris Malaguzzi (founder of Reggio Emilia), Margaret Carr and many others.
In these countries, child care always has an educational component. And therefore, accountability, while variable, is integral to the early childhood educators process.
The United States is in a very different place. Educational goals are not as well understood or assumed by parents. As a result, child care centers with any kind of curriculum have to prove their educational value.
There are also exciting new early childhood education trends around the development of curriculum. In line with the test-centric K-12 school system and Common Core State Standards, many preschools have a structured or mixed curriculum where academic goals are important. And tests like KEA, Kindergarten Entry Assessment, and varying concepts of “school readiness” are gaining prominence.
On the other hand. Montessori, Reggio inspired and other specialized preschools are gaining traction, as is the whole play based movement.
States are one by one issuing their own early childhood education guidelines, many which include reading and math standards.