Someone asked me recently about whether or not it was the best for their child to go to preschool. The child was experiencing a lot of resistance towards going to preschool and would cry when the parent left them at the school. I am sure many parents can relate to that scenario of having to leave one’s crying child in the hands of a stranger hoping that everything will go well.
I obviously cannot tell anyone whether or not it is best to send his or her child to preschool or not. Most parents also do not even have the luxury of making that choice. So what I will be discussing here is instead the concept of preschool education as a general point and how it relates to society as a whole.
Recently I also talked to a mother whose one and a half year old child had just started in preschool. It was a cold morning and as is tradition here in Sweden in many preschools we started the morning outside with the children playing in the snow. So I got to see the entire process of the mother leaving the crying child in the arms of a preschool teacher, reluctantly leaving in the hopes that her child would stop crying as soon as she left, nervously looking over her shoulder as she walked away. The child didn’t stop crying but aimlessly walked around on the cold ground, teachers trying to comfort her without effect. Furthermore, at the preschool there are a lot of temps working, people without any formal education in childcare, so children often face having to be with adults that they don’t know.
Now – my perspective having worked in preschools for over ten years is that for some children it is a great environment where they can learn a lot and socialize and interact with other children. For some children going to preschool is a saving grace, especially if they come from abusive home environments. But unfortunately for many it is quite a brutal and rough experience, not only because they are in a new environment with people they don’t know, but also because preschools aren’t really geared to taking care of so many young children, both when it comes to the physical facilities as well as the amount and education level of the preschool teachers.
In Sweden preschool teachers are formally known as ‘pedagogues’. The word pedagogue comes from Greek and in ancient Greece pedagogues were literally the slaves who were responsible for bringing boys from their home to their teacher. Preschools were thus also originally created to be ‘holding’ or ‘waiting’ facilities where children are kept until they are ready to go to school. Preschools were initially established when women joined the work force and thus could no longer stay at home with their children in the years before attending school. This definition of preschools as ‘holding facilities’ still live on today, but in a much more subtle and practical fashion because the schools now have various forms of curricular and follow certain goals and education policies set up based on academic research on child development and research on how children are best prepared to start in school around the age of 6. This is specifically the case in Sweden for example where all preschools, private as well as public must follow a national curricular specifying what children are to learn during their time in preschool.
Preschools therefore operate with two very different agendas; one is where preschools are given importance in terms of understanding the developmental processes a child goes through before the age of 6 and accordingly have goals that specify what the schools must teach and what the children are supposed to learn. The other is a much more calculated definition of preschools as mere holding facilities or waiting areas where children are ‘stored’ until they can go to school because it enables their mothers to go to work and thus partake in keeping the wheels of the country’s economy rolling. This can be seen especially through the lack of funding given to preschools which in turn has the direct consequence that the physical environments of preschools are often too small and that there are most often too few and uneducated teachers working in the school. So while we have all these academic goals based on serious academic research in child development, this is actually given very little priority when it comes to the practical reality of the daily lives in preschools. This in turn affects the children at a very real and physical level where even starting in preschool can be a traumatic experience. Luckily most children are flexible and adaptable and soon learn how to navigate the preschool environment – but the credit for this goes to them and does certainly not imply that the preschool environment is the best place for a child to learn and develop. I have met many passionate, wonderful and well-educated preschool teachers but I have also met many teachers who see the preschool as an easy job and who have no training or education on how to work with children.
And as a parent you don’t know what happens the moment you leave your child and all you can rely on is that the teachers will care for your child. Unfortunately preschool teachers often the responsibility of monitoring so many children that all they can really do is to make sure that no one gets hurt and that there’s a relative order and control. Very seldom will they have time to actually sit down and talk to your child one on one. Obviously preschools (at least here in Sweden) also do projects or read books to the children. So it is not like all they do is act as schoolyard guards that walk around to maintain control and make sure that no one gets hurt. But with so many children in the classroom it is very difficult to give each child the care that they need. And so we say to ourselves that it is good for children to learn how to wait, how to collaborate, that things don’t always comes easy in life. But is that really what we want them to learn? Is that really the most important lesson we can teach them in preschool?
Now – as a parent you might ask if you are then now supposed to quit your job and pull your child out of school. Obviously this is for most people not possible. And many parents would not even want to stay at home with their children, often because we as parents also receive absolutely no training on how to educate children and therefore often feel powerless and helpless. My perspective is that if you want to and are able to, then sure, that can be a good thing to do. In terms of choosing the right preschool for one’s child it can be very difficult, because often options are very limited, many private preschools are expensive and even if you do follow the child for a couple of days it can be difficult as a parent to know whether the environment actually is best for one’s child or not.
Psychological research have shown that the first seven years of a child’s life are the most important in terms of being the years where a child develop it’s foundation in terms of personality and cognitive abilities. It is also the years where the child is able to learn the most and the quickest. The first seven years thus become the foundation upon which we live the rest of our life. For many children those years are spent in preschools and daycare facilities and therefore it ought to be common sense that the environment a child is spending its days in is prioritized and geared to ensure the most optimal conditions for learning and development. In fact, from this perspective it is rather absurd that the years before a child starts in school are seen merely as preparatory and is therefore given very little priority.
From this perspective we’re at an impasse. As parents we cannot quit our jobs to take care of our children and at the same time we might see that the preschool environment isn’t the best for our child. As preschool teachers, we might be passionate about the children we work with and want to care for them in the best way possible, but we are restricted by lack of funding.
So what is the solution?
Unfortunately there are no short-term solutions. For the time being we have to make the best of the current situation and like I said, luckily most children are very adaptable and quickly learn to navigate the preschool environment. So what we are looking at here are instead long-term solutions. What I mean by that is that what must be changed is the total structure of the current world system – which might sound overwhelming or daunting in its prospects, but we’re really talking about some very specific and straight forward changes that would make a tremendous difference when it comes to those first few very important years of a child’s life.
The Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income system is a completely new approach to politics and economics where focus is moved from profit optimization for the few to a sustainable and democratic reform of our political and economic systems functioning based on the principle of what is best for all.
What this would mean in the context of preschool education for example is that the primary priority would no longer be on squeezing as many children as possible into tight spaces or to cut down on teachers just to keep the budget down. What this would mean is that preschool education would no longer be deprioritized as a secondary education where children are merely ‘kept’ until they can start in school and begin their ‘real’ education. Instead of preschools functioning primarily from a starting-point of keeping children occupied so their parents can go to work and make money to support the wheels of consumerism to spin, they will be structured based on research on child development to best serve the well-being of the children. Teaching children would no longer be something one does because it is easy and requires no prerequisites. Instead teachers will be those who are truly passionate about teaching children and who have optimal training to serve the best interest of the children. If you have a look at what I have mentioned above in terms of the changes hat are proposed by the Equal Life Foundation, all that is really required is a change in our starting-point, in how we see children, in how we see education – and most importantly: in how we see money. Because currently all forms of education are limited and restricted by the profit-motive that drives today’s economic policies and ironically, the consequence of this is not that more people prosper or that our economies grow, but in fact that we emaciate our societies in all possible ways. Research has shown that the more equal a society is and the more resources are invested in optimizing the education system, the more the long-term prospering is for society as a whole.
What this would mean in relation to the discussion about preschools is that in a system where education is prioritized based on the principle of what is best for all of society as a whole, is that we would actually be able to safely leave our children in the hands of preschool teachers. We would be able to trust that trained professionals would give our children the best possible care. We would even be able to make the decision to stay at home with our children while they are young without having to worry about how we would survive. Through implementing a Living Income system we have the opportunity to change the focus of our lives from fear of not surviving to actual living in the best possible way, for ourselves and for our children. That is why I am dedicated to not only supporting this system but also to whatever is required to implementing it. Because there are no one that will change the system for us if we don’t start with ourselves. We owe that to our children – and we owe it to ourselves.
You can read more about the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal in regards to Education here:
You can read more of the blogs I’ve written about preschool education here: