A research program conducted by the Lien Foundation recently ranked the preschool environments in 45 countries. The study has given Finland the best overall score in terms of availability, affordability, quality and social context.
Starting Well, an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) research program written by James Watson, discovered that in Finland, preschool is a year of free half-day classes for six-year-olds, and day care for the other half of the day, making full-day child care from birth till the age of six affordable to parents.
The early learning system was initially established in the 1960s to give job support to women. Now, it benefits children and give them legal access to child care, healthcare and local preschools.
It was learned that all teachers in Finland have a three-four-year bachelor’s degree in education, and that many of them have completed a master’s degree as it is required to teach primary level onwards. Their studies are usually completed at high-end universities, with detailed courses on curriculum planning, design and leadership.
Teachers are treated with the same regard as doctors, and their average wage is good, although not the highest among all countries in the study. Class sizes vary, but for each teacher, there is an average of 11 students.
Some of Finland’s quality indicators for ranking the highest among other countries include a legal right to a comprehensive early childhood development; universal enrolment of 5-6 year-old children in a minimum of one year of preschool, as well as universal enrolment between three-to-five year-olds; subsidies for underprivileged families; specific qualification requirements for preschool teachers; affordable private schooling; a well-defined curriculum with clear health and safety standards; parental participation and an environment that ensures children are well-prepared for preschool.
In comparison to Finland, Australia ranked 28, which is below New Zealand (9), UK (4) and USA (24). Most Australian preschools are still not readily available or affordable to parents, and the lower ranking has also been attributed to the delegation of preschool provisions to various territorial governments.
The National Quality Framework (NQF) is set to improve Australia’s early care standards by providing universal access to preschool and adhering to just one set of regulations instead of 9 different sets of rules. It is expected that by end of 2013, all four-year-old children will have free 15 hours per week worth of preschool programs.
The research program Starting Well entailed interviews from early childcare experts, academics, NGOs, preschool workers, and policy specialist.
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