How can we improve our child care system?

Discussing the quality of Germany’s child care centers, people tend to blame the teachers for every problem. A variety of factors affect quality, and communication between researchers and practitioners plays an important, positive role in this context.

“What are you doing with our children?” This question was posed in a critical article by Kai Biermann and colleagues in a ZEIT ONLINE discussion of the educational quality of German child care centers. The authors identified deficiencies in the child care system and criticized federal and state authorities for being too passive. Now that access to child care has been expanded, discussions about the quality of different daycare settings are necessary and appropriate. The wellbeing of children is our most important concern, and we need to identify and address shortcomings in this area.

Responsibility for high-quality child care centers rests on many shoulders

Far too often, the discussion focuses exclusively on the role of early childhood educators. Responsibility for high-quality child care rests not only with a center’s staff, but – as Biermann and colleagues point out in their article – with everyone who plays a role in the child care system: providers, expert advisors, communities, regional governments, researchers and policymakers.

The task of all of these stakeholders is not only to act in times of crisis, but to play an active role even before serious problems arise. They should be involved from the beginning in improving the conditions and support structures surrounding child care centers, so that members of the educational staff can upgrade their skills and do their jobs properly.

We need a “competent” child care system

Directly or indirectly, the quality of the child care system is affected by a number of factors, including the establishment of a legal right to a child care slot starting at age 1, social upheaval, and significant changes in the family and the workplace. Daycare centers and other providers have responded to these developments by offering care options geared to the needs of children and families. Child care teams have made numerous changes, entrenched structures have been reorganized, and in many cases early childhood educators are doing an excellent job.

Studies have long shown that early childhood educators carry out their educational mandate under partially difficult conditions. But have these findings resulted in change? There is often a lack of the support structures needed to ensure high-quality child care throughout Germany. That indeed raises this question:

“What are you doing with our early childhood educators?”

Time is an important factor in ensuring and improving the quality of child care centers. Staffing formulas need to allow for absences and to set aside time for staff members to reflect on their pedagogical work and confer with their colleagues. It is also essential to offer guidance, training and mentoring for new team members, particularly because of changes in training programs and the need for cooperation within multiprofessional teams.

The role of research

At the same time, early childhood educators need to be part of the discussion of child care quality. Here the scientific community can play a significant role. Researchers might involve early childhood educators in the design of new projects and studies. Research findings must be discussed with and made available to teachers so that they can apply them in practice.

Application-focused research should include not only intradisciplinary exchanges among practitioners and researchers, but also regular communication across disciplines. This transdisciplinary approach makes it possible to take into account different perspectives and the complex nature of the child care system.

However, we first have to develop this kind of approach to sharing knowledge, and it will take time and effort to make it an integral part of the system. We need to find a common language and acknowledge the role of early childhood educators as experts in their field. If we succeed in this effort, we will be able to improve the quality of child care by engaging in open and frank dialogue, and we will be able to determine what child care is capable of achieving and identify its limits. And parents will find realistic – and hopefully more and more convincing – answers to a question they have every right to ask:

“What are child care centers doing with our children?”

Biermann, Kai; Faigle, Philip; Geisler, Astrid; Polke-Majewski, Karsten; Steffen, Tilmann; Venohr, Sascha (2016): Was macht Ihr da mit unseren Kindern?. Zeit-Online (Stand 15.08.2016)

Viernickel, S. et al. (2013): Schlüssel zu guter Bildung, Erziehung und Betreuung. Bildungsaufgaben, Zeitkontingente und strukturelle Rahmenbedingungen in Kindertageseinrichtungen. Berlin (Stand: 15.08.2016)

Schneider, A. (2016). Qualität, Transfer und Diskurs als Auftrag. Das Institut für Bildung, Erziehung und Betreuung in der Kindheit (IBEB). In: Lipowski, H. (Hrsg.). Zukunfts-Handbuch Kindertageseinrichtungen. Kindheit & Vielfalt, Walhalla Fachverlag, Regensburg.

Friederich, Tina; Schoyerer, Gabriel (2016): Professionalisierung des Systems Kindertagesbetreuung. In: Friederich, Tina; Lechner, Helmut; Schneider, Helga; Schoyerer, Gabriel; Ueffing, Claudia (Hrsg): Kindheitspädagogik im Aufbruch