Presentation on theme: "All About Lars The Austrian kindergarten at the cross roads. Vienna, 2009-10-09."— Presentation transcript:
All About Lars The Austrian kindergarten at the cross roads. Vienna, 2009-10-09
All About Lars This is Lars. He is 3 ½ years old. Lars is my grandson. He is living with us, his grandparents, until his mother finishes her education. Lars visits our village kindergarten. He loves to be there, and he is a smart kid. But we – worried as parents and grandparents are nowadays – often feel that they do not do enough to support Lars’ and the other children’s development. What will their future look like?
All About Lars In some aspects, Lars’ kindergarten is slightly above average compared to other Austrian kindergartens: Lars’ kindergarten has four groups with 16 – 20 children, each taken care of by two or three kindergarten teachers. On average, Austrian kindergartens have two groups with about 20 children in each, and about four full-time equivalents of kindergarten teachers. In Lars’ case, the principal and two group leaders have an academic education. Except for two, all the others have a specialised secondary school education (BAKIP) like most other Austrian kindergarten teachers. But quite a few do not even have that.
All About Lars In other aspects, Lars’ kindergarten is rather below average compared to other Austrian kindergartens: There are only four children in Lars’ kindergarten group who do not speak German at home, and not one with substantial special needs. In an average Austrian kindergarten, you may find anything between that and more than 90 percent of children with social, cultural, linguistic, cognitive or other special needs. Most kindergartens do not have enough specialists to deal with such needs.
All About Lars Lars’ kindergarten, like any other Austrian kindergarten, is part of a changing environment. The four most important issues are: Attendance: The opening for children younger than three, and the introduction of a free, but compulsory pre-school year for all children. Accountability: The influx of screening and testing, not the least of linguistic abilities. Curriculum: The introduction of a national kindergarten curriculum (BILDUNGSRAHMENPLAN ELEMENTARE BILDUNGSEINRICHTUNGEN IN ÖSTERREICH FÜR KINDER VON 0–6 JAHREN) Teacher Recruitment & Education: The discussion about the future of the BAKIP’s and teacher education as a whole.
All About Lars All of the recent changes have a basic goal in common: They are supposed to diminish, if not eradicate the hugh equity problems which persist in the Austrian system of schooling, and which start having a visible impact at the transition from kindergarten to school. In all cases the basic policy is to create comprehensive solutions for all children alike, and not to target primarily specific groups with specific needs. The key question is: Will that work out according to the very ambitious intentions?
All About Lars Attendance Whereas attendance rates of Austrian kindergartens have been at or above the European average for 5 to 6-year olds (90+ %), they have been significantly below this average for the younger ones. Starting earlier and making the last year of kindergarten compulsory is guided by overwhelming scientific evidence that children with kindergarten experience do better in primary school than those without. Both steps come at significant cost: Dealing with younger kids is quite expensive because of the necessarily smaller groups, and making the last year comprehensive included the public sector taking over the compulsory part of almost all kindergarten expenses (replacing fees paid by the more affluent parents).
All About Lars Attendance This expansion comes at a time in which most kindergartens lack resources to hire enough staff, and in which most Austrian states lack a sufficient number of qualified candidates to fill existing vacancies (let alone new ones). Moreover, most kindergarten institutions lack staff and resources to deal with special target groups such as children and families with cultural, social, linguistic or other special needs. If both shortcomings are not resolved, the expansion will lead to even fewer capacities to deal with special needs groups. Or in other words: Quite opposite to the official reasoning, these steps can lead to a widening of the equity gap.
All About Lars Accountability Currently, much of the equity problem is especially attributed to the situation of children with migrant background, i.e. those coming from a different cultural and linguistic background (i.e. not the ”Piefkes” like Lars). Based on this, national initiatives have been taken to introduce screening and other diagnostic tools to identify children with additonal needs and to ensure special needs programs. However, this approach is misleading on two counts: a)Even though many children with migration back- ground do have special needs, they are still out- numbered by far by children with special needs of Austrian descent. b)Most of the kindergarten institutions do not have enough staff with the necessary knowledge to deal with the identified shortcomings.
All About Lars Accountability As we have learned in medicine, as well as in educational psychology (Weinert et al., Skaalvik et al.): Worse than a disease not being diagnosed, is a diagnosed disease without appropriate treatment. As shown by some failing initiatives (such as the extra language teaching program), insufficient help just makes things worse. Without a substantial addition of financial and staff resources the screening etc. will not lead to a substantial change in the learning conditions of those most in need. Or in other words: Quite opposite to the official reasoning, these steps can lead to a widening of the equity gap.
All About Lars Curriculum For the first time in history, the nine states of Austria have agreed on a common curriculum for the kindergarten, the Bildungsrahmen- plan, for all institutions dealing with children between the ages of 0 and 6. In a well-balanced and very sophisticated approach, the common curriculum introduces all the currently popular elements of pre- school curriculum development such as the competency language, learning areas, transition issues, and a little bit of neuro-science. But like most outcomes of political compromise, the curriculum doesn’t tell much about how to achieve its ambitious goals.e.g.: a)It names, but it doesn’t elaborate very much how to deal with special needs. b)It lacks a specific discussion of home-grown problems such as the growing social and cultural diversity.
All About Lars Curriculum All in all, the Bildungsrahmenplan identifies many important areas of concern, but it doesn’t specify what it takes to deal with them, not least in terms of financial and staff resources. Thus, it raises the bar significantly without telling exactly how to get there and how to know how far off one is. It will encourage parents with substantial social and educational resources to go for these goals, without providing the others with the means necessary for catching up. As we know from other systems introducing ambitious goals and high stakes without sufficient means to achieve them: Quite opposite to the official reasoning, these steps can lead to a widening of the equity gap.
All About Lars Teacher Recruitment & Education Until now, most Austrian kindergarten teachers are educated at special secondary schools (the BAKIPs), leading towards a high school exam and kindergarten teacher certification. There are no regular kindergarten teacher programs at the college or university level. As part of a larger teacher education reform, the current govenment aims at providing the sector with at least the option of continuing kindergarten teacher education at higher levels, giving them the same career opportunities as other teachers. This shall improve recruitment, and provide the kindergarten with much needed competencies in dealing with all the above- mentioned growing problems of diversity and special needs.
All About Lars Teacher Recruitment & Education However, if these steps are not followed up by a substantial increase in financial resources, the upgrading of kindergarten teacher education will have the same impact as it has had in other professions or countries: A growing number of better qualified and better paid kindergarten teachers will have to work with an even faster growing number of less qualified and thus cheaper assistants. In the end, leadership and supervision will improve substantially, whereas the educational capacities at the ”shop floor”, within the single kindergarten group, will tend to decrease as the kindergarten owners will not even be able to sustain the current staff composition. Or in other words: Quite opposite to the official reasoning, these steps can lead to a widening of the equity gap.
All About Lars Conclusion I do not doubt the good intentions of those who developed the afore- mentioned policies. However, I have serious doubts as to whether they will be able to deliver on the promises made. A qualified guess would be that all these policies will need close to a doubling of the currently available resources, if fully implemented. However, choosing comprehensive solutions in a time of financial crisis, where one is hardly able to pay for more targeted interventions, will lead to a diminished educational capacity of the kinder- garten for those who are most in need. Children like Lars, coming from a family with resources, will find ways to compensate for the at best unchanged, more probably diminished quality. But how about those who do not come from similar privileged backgrounds?