Photo: © Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke
Children learn and develop every day at preschool through constant contact with other children. Small children are not loners; they need social interaction. They learn through firm rules, imitation and experimenting, by trial and error. German lawmakers now acknowledge that preschool is the foundation for our education system. They adopted the Federal Child Protection Act in 2012. But questions still remain: Can the government regulate a good upbringing? Or are these reforms bungling a job that belongs to parents and educators?
The daily Routine. Twenty-five Children, two Teachers
Andrea G. is surrounded by deafening noise. This journalist and mother is sitting in on her son’s preschool for a day – and it turns out to be one of the longest days of her life. The kids have barely changed from street shoes to slippers and already they are sprinting to the building-block corner or dress-up areas, storming the doll kitchen, searching for playmates, cutting, gluing and painting or spreading out board games on the tables and floors. The teachers chuckle. This is their daily routine. Twenty-five children, two teachers, and parents whose demands can be summarized as "only the best for our child". There is a wishlist here that is meant to ensure optimal conditions. Apparently the expectations placed on our children are growing, from parents, society and also the government. One example can be seen in a 2008 survey by the Allensbach Institute which indicates that nearly one-third of parents, 26 percent, would like their children to learn a foreign language in preschool. But what is the essence of preschool quality? Is it teacher training, keeping youngsters entertained or perhaps just ensuring that every child is assured of getting a place?
Lawmakers seeking the best conditions
In September 2012, Paragraph 79a was adopted in the eighth book of the German Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch, SGB VIII). It reads:
"To fulfill the tasks of child and youth welfare stipulated in Par. 2, providers of public youth services must develop, apply and regularly review guidelines and benchmarks for quality assessment and appropriate measures to enforce them."
To be clear, the government takes responsibility for children's development and protection. This is a nice idea, but how does it look in practice? The key expert in the field, Dr. Joachim Merchel of the University of Münster, published an "Orientation Aid for the Implementation of the Regulations in Par. 79 & 79a SGB VIII." He identifies eight decisive areas: pedagogical model, individual support, staff, language acquisition, grievance possibilities, cooperation with other institutions, the protection mandate and quality development. Merchel is mainly concerned with how to implement the law in actual, concrete practice, but he notes: "Every suggested approach must necessarily be generalized, a certain distance and perspective is needed with regard to specific conditions in a given youth agency or a certain location." This expert is familiar with the argument advanced by most preschools: "Things are different here, and this approach cannot be implemented in our situation." And yet, the law is there and so is the need to apply it. Many concrete questions around quality, for example, are therefore still struggling to find a definitive answer. The one thing everyone agrees on: only the best for our children.
No royal road – plenty to discuss
In the world of education, finding the royal road remains an elusive task, and nobody can claim to have found it. But one thing has become amply clear to Andrea G., the mother profiled above: Raising children cannot be left entirely up to the state. It is of great importance that parents and educators communicate and team up with one another.
At the didacta education fair in Hannover, there will be ample opportunity for such fruitful encounters and dialogue from 24 to 28 February 2015.