Reflections: Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care

I am currently reading a book titled Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care by Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss, and Alan Pence (2013). For me, it is a very stimulating book, filled with new ideas. The focus of the book, as I have gathered in my few pages of reading, is that it is primarily a discussion about the overuse or misuse of the word quality in reference to early childhood education. I really poured over the Author’s introductions and the Preface written by Carlina Rinaldi. As I was thinking about the meaning of quality, my mind also jumped to the word development. This concept is currently being debated as to whether or not it is an outdated concept of psychology. Reflecting on both words – quality and development in the context of early childhood education, turns my thoughts to Vygotsky’s work on thought and language.

Take the word quality. If one were to apply the word quality to a product like coke, quality would describe the taste, the cost, the appearance of the bottling, etc. Children though are not commodities or products. They are much more complex and come into the world with some of their own qualities. (hmm…another use of the word quality as a non- product) So for me, the problem is not the essential meaning of the word quality but rather how it is being used and misused.

With this said, I agree with the premise of the book that the word quality is being misused. I only need to reflect back on the state from which I recently moved from.

In my old hometown, early childhood education was linked to the concept of quality that in turn was connected to a star system. When a school did X,Y, and Z they received money from the state. Sounds good – the problem is that the X,Y, and Z, though well intended, were often dummied down so that poor functioning schools could obtain money for improvement. This is yet another positive concept that automatically backfired. In the end, most of the schools utilizing this construction of “quality” have reached a low level of performance which is now accepted as quality or viewed as well performing schools. What we have now are schools for young children that are okay but not great; not stimulating places that can nurture the next generation of creative Americans.

Synonyms for the word quality are excellent, superlative, value, worth. I would not use these words to describe most early childhood programs that exist today within the United States. Just a reminder – EC educators and directors are working very hard to do what they are being told. The problem is the quality that is guiding EC practice today is no guarantee that high quality education can be achieved. Also, I am not the enemy nor were the individual researchers, writers, educators, and government agents who conceived of the notion of quality for early childhood education. What has happened is the phrase, the concept, the idea of quality has been transformed in application. Rather than using the word QUALITY to reflect qualities of excellence,[1] it is now being used as in early childhood education to describe children as if they were each end products to be sold at Walmart.

Now let me talk a bit about development. The word development has become a controversial word. Because of this many colleagues have actually suggested that I remove it in my reference to spirituality. (My work in on spiritual development beginning at birth) If I were to remove the word development then the work could not be applied to children as a new way of looking at spirituality. Furthermore, references to development are found everywhere in early childhood education. Of course there is developmentally appropriate practices (DAP). But way before that there were theories on which our beliefs and understandings of how children grow were and are based. Some of the best known of these theorists are Freud, Piaget, and Erikson.

Freud’s work has already been challenged and viewed as outdated, and many are now challenging the theories of Piaget and Erikson. I have several thoughts about all of this. First, theories that have been used for generations must be viewed as having historical importance. In other words, it is not possible to simply debate them because they are actually a part of who we are. The reason for this is that not only have we raised our children based upon these theories of development, we too have been shaped by them. This makes these developmental theories part of who we are. This does not mean we should not think about the implications of thinking about childhood developmentally. It means that we should analyze the situation carefully and thoughtfully, realizing how we have been impacted by them. Thus, thinking about development encompasses what we have learned about development and how we have been affected by what we have learned. We cannot be totally objective when it comes to understanding development. Secondly, all of our next steps are built upon the theories that came before. I am an early childhood educator who has studied both Montessori philosophy and Reggio Emilia philosophy. I have deep appreciation for both. I can describe many similarities and differences. I am not so sure that Reggio Emilia philosophy would be what it is today without having the backdrop of Montessori’s work to jump off of or to use as a mirror for change. Thirdly, children develop. The synonym for the word development is to build up, enlarge, extend. Some dictionary defintions for development proves my point more poignantly by defining development as “change and growth”.[2] This is exactly what children do, they change, they grow, they learn, they get taller, and more capable. In other words – they develop. To assert that development does not truly occur seems to hamper our perceptions of the realities around us. It is important to clarify that development does not need to imply that all children will follow the exact sequence or order of development. Theories of development offer a vision of possibilities that seem to occur universally in all humans. Parents and educators must always keep in mind that each child is unique, capable, competent and a link to the future.

Now let me try to bring my thoughts together as I reflect on both words – quality and development. First, I believe that all parents desire what is best for their children. Most parents believe that if the experts say that an educational program is excellent than it is, even if it is not. If this is the case then it is not the word quality that needs to change but rather educators or government use of the word. Quality as applied to education should imply the best education possible. And development, it is what children do. Maybe another problem is in how we look at theories. Rather than looking at theories as all correct or all wrong, we need to start studying them carefully. Again, using an historical perspective, it might be time for educators to view developmental theories in view of societal changes. Nothing is stagnant. Everything changes all of the time. Therefore, perspectives and needs for developmental theories change too. It is not beneficial to throw out the concept of development, thus forgetting how we have been raised. The thing to do now is to move forward thinking about the possibilities and the restrictions that are inherent in both these words – quality and development. We can’t educate without them, but they can and do sometimes get in our way. The best we can do is reflect, dialogue, share, and think about what we are doing. This book helps us to do that!



[2] Encarta Dictionary, (2015).