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Welcome to the Author Blog for Sheila Nutkins. Here you will find information and Sheila's own thoughts and opinions on topical issues relating to early childhood education and care.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Jonas Himmelstrand: Universal daycare leaves Sweden’s children less educated

In March Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent, reported in the Times on a talk from Jonas Himmelstrand at the House of Commons hosted by the campaign group Mothers at Home Matter, in which he urged caution in following the Swedish family policy.  He says that 92% of Swedish children are in daycare from 18 months to 5 years and that, whilst it is difficult to prove, he feels increasingly negative outcomes in terms of psychosomatic disorders, emotional, behavioural disorders and under-achievement in school may be attributed to this.  This is an interesting addition to this complex debate.  We have explored the Swedish model of ECEC in chapter 11 and it has been held up as good practice for many years but, if Himmelstrand is right, it proves once again that there are no easy answers. 

My own view on this would be that Sweden does provide an excellent model for ECEC with the one proviso that this should still not be promoted above children spending as much time as is possible in the care of their parents.  It is unrealistic to suggest that every mother will stay at home until their child goes to school.  For many mothers and children this would not be the best situation as there is no 'one size fits all' - so, it is vital that we provide high quality ECEC whilst also preserving the option for a parent to stay home with their child where desired and possible.   There seems to me a clear and present danger that, as so often in the past. the different concerns and circumstances of different women debating these issues in the media and with government, will effectively cancel each other out.  The one 'banner' that I would like to see writ large above all the debates around ECEC is 'the best interests of the child' (not 'children'). This recognizes the individual needs of children and families and puts children at the centre rather than they become side-lined by practical, economic, feminist or party political agenda.  The following from Jonas Himmelstrand is from      http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/04/26/jonas-himmelstrand-two-generations-of-universal-daycare-have-left-sweden%E2%80%99s-children-less-educated/

While preparing for a trip to Canada, I have learned that many Canadians consider my country, Sweden, to be a model for good family policy. After all, Sweden has a universally accessible, government-funded daycare system, and a 2006 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Sweden at the top and Canada at the bottom in childcare provision. Indeed, Swedish family policies are internationally admired, offering comprehensive and affordable daycare, gender equality and a high percentage of women in paid work. This, however, is only one half of the story.
True, parental leave in Sweden is a generous 16 months. There are no babies in daycare. But when parental leave ends, practically the reverse is true: A full 92% of all children aged 18 months to five years are in daycare. Parents pay only a symbolic amount for this; tax subsidies for daycare are $20,000 per child, annually. Swedish taxes are among the highest in the world, and the tax system was designed to make both parents seek employment in the work force.
Studies show that most Swedes also want the option of a home-care allowance for the first three to four years of their child’s life. The winning centre-right coalition in the 2006 Swedish national election made this promise. After the election, however, political compromises resulted in an allowance which was small, difficult to use and was not mandatory — local governments could decide whether or not to offer it. Only a third of Swedish municipalities chose to do so.
Then there are the questions about the social toll Sweden’s childcare system is taking. Sweden has offered a comprehensive daycare system since 1975; since the early ‘90s, negative outcomes for children and adolescents are on the rise in areas of health and behaviour. While direct causation has been difficult to prove, many Swedish health-care professionals point to the lack of parent involvement beyond the first 16 months as a primary contributing factor. Psychosomatic disorders and mild psychological problems are escalating among Swedish youth at a faster rate than in any of 11 comparable European countries. Such disorders have tripled among girls over the last 25 years. Education outcomes in Swedish schools have fallen from the top position 30 years ago, to merely average amongst OECD nations today. Behaviour problems in Swedish classrooms are among the worst in
Europe.
This isn’t surprising. After a generation of inexperience, Swedish parenting abilities are deteriorating. A study sponsored by the European Union showed many middle-class parents lack the ability to set limits and sense their children’s needs.
Recently, Swedish public service radio investigated the state of Swedish daycares. Parents, psychologists and daycare staff expressed deep concern. In spite of high funding levels, group size and the child-to-adult ratio continue to increase. An experienced pre-school teacher recalls that in 1980 the group size for small children was 10 kids with four adults. For older children, that ratio was five kids per adult. But after the Swedish financial crisis 20 years ago, this changed. Today younger children face ratios of up to 17 kids to three adults and older children face ratios of up to 10 to one. Staff on sick leave are not replaced. “We can’t give quality care today,” one teacher reported. Only one person interviewed contended that Swedish daycare is still top quality — the Swedish Deputy Minister of Education, Nyamko Sabuni.
These problems are not caused by poverty or social distress. Sweden is materially rich, wealth is evenly distributed, child poverty is low, health care is practically free for all, social security is strong, life expectancy is high, infant mortality is the lowest in the world and Sweden has enjoyed peace since 1809. Instead these troubles run parallel with family policies that don’t allow parents sufficient time, energy and opportunity to build close and healthy relationships with their
children.
Making childrearing a state responsibility has not proven to be a success. Put simply, parents are willing to sacrifice more for their children than any government where childcare is just one budgetary item among many. Canadians should carefully consider all of the available facts before looking to Sweden as a model for childcare.
National Post
  • Jonas Himmelstrand is an author and founder of The Mireja Institute (Mireja.org). He is speaking in Ottawa on May 5.

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