The Hungarian Eurydice Office, operating under the Directorate for Research, Analysis and Evaluation of the HIERD, organised a conference on Hungarian and European policy trends in early childhood education and care policies on the 2nd December 2014. A new publication, „Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe” was also presented.
Participants were greeted by Dr. Anikó Fehérvári, senior research fellow of the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development, who emphasised the role of kindergartens in granting equity, and compensating for a disadvantaged background. Mr. Zoltán Loboda, senior consultant of the Educational Authority added that early childhood education is the pedagogically most innovative field in Hungary, with the highest amount of best practices.
The first lecture was given by Ms. Olga Borodankova, analyst of the Brussels centre of the Eurydice network. She spoke a few words about the network (36 European countries participate in it; its goal is to create analytical studies on European level, so that policy makers can decide knowing about data from the whole continent). Then she went on to introduce the volume: it is primarily based on information from the national offices, however it also includes results of PISA and PIRLS measurements. In the book, almost all aspects of early childhood education are covered: institutes financed by the state, but also private and voluntary forms, institutional care and family care, the difference between care and education, access (are there enough places, is it compulsory to participate in early childhood education, what are the costs and who pays for it) and quality (how does quality assurance work, how is it regulated, who works in this field, and what is the educational content?) Comparisons are made between European countries from these aspects. It also analyses the transition from kindergarten to primary education, as well as services given to children with special needs.
Further presentations included a longitudinal research by Dr. Fehérvári about the explanatory force of family background concerning the results of the national competence measurement (testing is done by all 6th, 8th and 10th grade students all over Hungary). Results showed that this force increases with every grade level. When asked about the reasons behind the failures of their disadvantaged students, most teachers think it is because of the lack of care and motivation from the parents. The percentage of those who do not believe that schools could do anything to compensate for these family disadvantages is growing.
Mr. Krisztián Széll’s research produced similar research. Given his representative sample of teachers, it becomes clear that according to teachers, parents have the most power to compensate for disadvantages. Kindergartens also have an important role: those children who did participate in early childhood education score higher in all grade levels than those of their peers who didn’t – this is especially so if they went to kindergarten for the full three years.
Mr. Balázs Török, senior research fellow of the HIERD elaborated on the quality policies of early childhood education. Quality includes regulation of minimum standards and of the curriculum, training of educators and experts, the inclusion of the family and the wider community, collection of data and monitoring. According to the EU2020 strategy, by 2020, 95% of children aged between 4 years and the starting of school age should participate in quality early childhood education.
Senior consultant of the Ministry of Human Capacities, Ms. Andrea Paszkoszné Kulcsár presented about the monitoring of the development of kindergarteners. She talked about the trinity of prevention, intervention and compensations, while also addressing the issue of equity and disadvantages. Quality care includes a balance of spontaneous play and organised developmental activities, taking into consideration age characteristics, the level of the child’s development and encouraging the child to autonomous opinion-forming and decision making. This process is of pivotal importance in the development of skills and competences necessary for later success in school.
In the afternoon, the conference continued in three parallel sections, one about the Sure Start Program and the integrated pedagogical system in kindergartens, another about the first signs of early school leaving and the possibilities to adapt the signalling system to kindergartens, and the third about the questions of quality. The event concluded by the summaries of the sections and a question and answer session.