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Thursday, 12 May 2011 - Strasbourg Final edition
Early years learning
P7_TA(2011)0231A7-0099/2011

European Parliament resolution of 12 May 2011 on Early Years Learning in the European Union (2010/2159(INI))

The European Parliament ,

–  having regard to Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular Articles 3, 18 and 29 thereof,

–  having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

–  having regard to Decision No 1720/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 November 2006 establishing an action programme in the field of lifelong learning(1) ,

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Early Childhood Education and Care: Providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow’ (COM(2011)0066),

–  having regard to the Commission communication to the Council and to Parliament entitled ‘Efficiency and equity in European education and training systems’ (COM(2006)0481),

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 20 January 2010 on early childhood care and education(2) ,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 11 May 2010 on the social dimension of education and training(3) ,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 26 November 2009 on the education of children with a migrant background(4) ,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 12 May 2009 on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (‘ET 2020’)(5) ,

–  having regard to the ‘Conclusions of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 21 November 2008 on preparing young people for the 21st century: an agenda for European cooperation on schools’(6) ,

–  having regard to the conclusions of the Barcelona European Council of 15 and 16 March 2002,

–  having regard to its resolution of 23 September 2008 on improving the quality of teacher education(7) ,

–  having regard to its resolution of 24 March 2009 on ‘Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment’(8) ,

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Culture and Education (A7-0099/2011),

A.  whereas children's early learning lays the foundation for successful lifelong learning, which is central to the achievement of the Europe 2020 targets,

B.  whereas children in their earliest years are particularly curious, receptive and willing to learn, and whereas important skills such as the ability to speak and express oneself, as well as social skills, are formed at this age; whereas it is at this age that the foundations for the child's future educational and occupational career are laid,

C.  whereas throughout the EU, early childhood education and care (ECEC) is provided in different ways, with various definitions of ‘quality’ which depend heavily on states' and regions' cultural values and their interpretation of ‘childhood’,

D.  whereas there is a clear link between a poor and disadvantaged background and low educational achievement, and whereas families from such backgrounds have been shown to benefit most from access to ECEC services; whereas these disadvantaged groups are less likely to seek access to ECEC services owing to issues of availability and affordability,

E.  whereas ECEC tends to receive less attention and lower investment than any other stage of education, despite clear evidence that investment in it brings great returns,

F.  whereas ECEC targets are often overly labour-market-driven, focusing too heavily on the need to increase the numbers of women in work and too loosely on the needs and best interests of the child,

G.  whereas many households have major difficulties in reconciling family obligations with the constraints of work linked to current changes in the labour market, such as the trend for employees to be required to work atypical and flexible hours and the rise of insecure jobs,

H.  whereas there is a direct link between the well-being of parents and children and the provision, in terms of both quantity and quality, of early years services,

I.  whereas childcare has traditionally been seen as the natural activity of women, which has led to a predominance of women working in the ECEC field,

J.  whereas staff qualifications vary markedly between Member States and between types of providers, and whereas in most Member States there is no obligation on pre-school providers to employ staff with specific qualifications,

K.  whereas there has been very little research undertaken at EU level on young children's education which can inform the development and implementation of EU-wide ECEC policies,

Child-centred approach

1.  Welcomes the following targets set in the conclusions of the Barcelona European Council: ‘to provide childcare by 2010 to at least 90% of children between 3 years old and the mandatory school age and at least 33% of children under 3 years of age’; argues, however, that the Council and the Commission must revise and update these targets, putting the needs and best interests of the child at the centre of their ECEC policies;

2.  Recognises that the Europe 2020 strategy, which seeks to create an inclusive society by raising employment, lowering school-drop out rates and reducing poverty, cannot be achieved unless all children are given an adequate start in life;

3.  Notes that the early years of childhood are critical for cognitive, sensory and motor development, affective and personal development and language acquisition, and also lay the foundations for lifelong learning; recognises that ECEC supports children's healthy mental and physical development, enabling them to become more balanced human beings; recommends, therefore, that the Member States consider introducing a compulsory year of nursery schooling before the start of schooling proper;

4.  Stresses that the early development of healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as good nutrition habits and appropriate and balanced exercise, can have a profound impact on physical and mental development and be a key determinant of health throughout life; warns against including children too early in certain intensive, results-oriented sports activities;

5.  Recalls the importance of all early learning in the acquisition of knowledge, particularly of languages, multilingualism and linguistic diversity;

6.  Encourages the introduction and retention of innovative pedagogical models for language teaching, particularly multilingual crèches and nursery schools which meet the objective set in Barcelona in 2002, which includes the learning of regional, minority and neighbouring languages;

7.  Draws attention to the importance of developing and improving educational establishments (after-school facilities) which look after children following pre-school classes;

8.  Highlights that, in addition to education and care, all children have the right to rest, leisure and play;

Universal provision of ECEC

9.  Notes that, according to the Council conclusions of 12 May 2009, educational disadvantage should be addressed by providing high quality early childhood education and targeted support, and by promoting inclusive education;

10.  Recognises that, while disadvantaged social groups may benefit from additional help, provision of ECEC should ideally be universal for all parents and children regardless of their background or financial status;

11.  Emphasises that, where appropriate, children with disabilities should participate in mainstream ECEC services, and, where necessary, be offered additional specialist help;

12.  Calls on the Member States to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promptly;

13.  Stresses that the Member States should allow pluralist approaches in the context of the pre-school curriculum and related practice;

Engagement with parents

14.  Stresses that parents, both mothers and fathers, are equal partners in ECEC; recognises that ECEC services should be fully participative, involving all staff, parents and, where possible, children themselves;

15.  Highlights that the provision of periods of maternity and paternity leave of sufficient length, the implementation of efficient and flexible labour market policies are essential components in effective ECEC policy;

16.  Encourages the Member States to invest in parental education programmes and, where appropriate, to provide other forms of assistance, such as home visiting services, for parents who need additional help; maintains, furthermore, that parents should be provided with free, low-threshold, on-site access to advisory services in crèches;

17.  Stresses that cultural activities are a source of enrichment for children, promote dialogue between different cultures and develop a spirit of openness and tolerance; recalls, in this connection, that it is important for teams of professionals working with and for children to carry out intercultural activities with children and their parents;

18.  Notes that children of parents without legal residence status are still not given access to early years learning in all the Member States;

19.  Calls on the Member States to grant the children of asylum seekers, refugees and persons with subsidiary protection status, or leave to remain on humanitarian grounds, access to early childhood education, so as not to restrict their life chances at the outset;

Better integration of services

20.  Encourages the Member States to integrate ECEC services, providing support for their development and for related activities and ensuring better cooperation and coordination between the different institutions and ministries working on early childhood policies and programmes;

21.  Encourages the Member States to allow ECEC services sufficient autonomy to retain their uniqueness and creativity in seeking solutions for the well-being of children;

22.  Highlights the importance of innovative ECEC services which are local in character and bring together community members from the health, social, education, cultural and other sectors;

23.  Calls on the Member States, in synergy with local authorities and non-profit organisations, to promote and finance measures and projects to provide ECEC services to children from disadvantaged social groups, and to monitor and assess them;

24.  Recognises that account needs to be taken of the variety of families' differing life situations and the concomitant diversity of their needs, and looks to see a diverse, flexible and innovative range of early childhood education and care provision;

25.  Calls for the development of a European framework for ECEC services that respects the Member States' cultural diversity and highlights shared goals and values;

Economic benefits

26.  Stresses that in an unstable economic climate we must not neglect to invest substantially in ECEC services; emphasises that the Member States should devote appropriate resources to ECEC services;

27.  Reaffirms that investment in ECEC has been proven to have subsequent economic and social benefits, such as increased tax contributions through a strengthened workforce, along with reduced future health costs, lower crime rates and fewer instances of antisocial behaviour; stresses that prevention is a more effective tool, and more cost-efficient, than intervention at a later stage;

28.  Recognises that quality early years education can help reduce early school leaving, combat the educational disadvantages faced by children from disadvantaged social and cultural groups and reduce the resulting social inequalities, all of which affect society as a whole; notes that young people from vulnerable social groups are particularly at risk;

29.  Emphasises that high-quality ECEC services are a complement to, rather than a substitute for, a strong welfare system incorporating a broad range of anti-poverty tools; calls on the Member States to address societal poverty;

Staff and quality services

30.  Stresses that the pre-school period is the most important time in a child's emotional and social development, and that staff working with pre-school children must therefore have appropriate qualifications; emphasises that the well-being and safety of the child is of the utmost importance when recruiting staff;

31.  Notes that the positive effects of early intervention programmes can be sustained in the long term only if they are followed up with high-quality primary and secondary education;

32.  Recognises that the most notable impact on the quality of ECEC services comes from having qualified and well-trained staff working with young children, and as such calls on the Member States to raise professional standards by introducing recognised qualifications for those working in the ECEC field; notes that other factors, including staff-to-child ratios, group sizes and curriculum content, can also affect quality;

33.  Recognises the need for more connections and transfers of approach between ECEC educators and primary school teachers, focusing on the continuity of learning methods;

34.  Calls on the Member States to develop mechanisms for evaluating ECEC provision and ensuring that quality standards are met, in order to improve ECEC services;

35.  Calls, in the context of the implementation of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), for account to be taken of the quality of education and thus of learning outcomes; calls on the Member States to provide continuous training for those working in the ECEC field in order to increase and update their specific skills;

36.  Encourages the Member States to ensure that all qualified ECEC staff are ideally paid a salary in line with that of primary school teachers;

37.  Calls on the Member States to address the problem of the gendering of care work by implementing policies designed to increase the numbers of men on ECEC courses;

Research and exchange of best practices

38.  Points out that, despite the existence of empirical data on young children from some Member States (compiled by, inter alia, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, UNICEF, the International Early Years Education Journal and the OECD), there is still a need for a better understanding of childhood development in early years education; calls for further investigation and research across the EU, and for an EU-wide exchange of results, taking into account the cultural diversity of the Member States;

39.  Regrets that EU structural funding and schemes such as Comenius, which allow educators to participate in EU-wide exchanges, are not used enough; calls on the Member States to increase awareness of such schemes and funds among ECEC educators;

40.  Welcomes the Commission's intention to promote the identification and exchange of good policies and practices through the open method of coordination, as mentioned in its communication on ECEC, and recommends that the Member States cooperate and exchange best practices in order to improve existing ECEC programmes;

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41.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, and to the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ L 327, 24.11.2006, p. 45.
(2) OJ C 339, 14.12.2010, p. 1.
(3) OJ C 135, 26.5.2010, p. 2.
(4) OJ C 301, 11.12.2009, p. 5.
(5) OJ C 119, 28.5.2009, p. 2.
(6) OJ C 319, 13.12.2008, p. 20.
(7) OJ C 8 E, 14.1.2010, p. 12.
(8) OJ C 117 E, 6.5.2010, p. 59.

Last updated: 8 November 2012Legal notice