Early childhood care and education and equality of opportunity : theoretical and empirical perspectives on current social challenges
Thèse de doctorat : Université de Fribourg, 2012.
Early childhood care and education has become a key issue in social science as well as in politics. Different actors increasingly use early childhood care and education to tackle a variety of societal challenges. This research contributes innovative theoretical and empirical dimension to the field, highlighting that early care and education can promote beneficial child development where informal... MoreAdd to personal list
- Early childhood care and education has become a key issue in social science as well as in politics. Different actors increasingly use early childhood care and education to tackle a variety of societal challenges. This research contributes innovative theoretical and empirical dimension to the field, highlighting that early care and education can promote beneficial child development where informal learning environments do not support the acquisition of important capabilities sufficiently and thereby help establish equality of educational opportunity among children from various sociocultural backgrounds and with different skill levels. In addition, the present research outlines how early care and education has developed within social, cultural and political contexts and how societal discourses and beliefs about parenting and the role of families in raising children have shaped the historical trajectories of early care and education institutions. Finally, interrelations between desire as a psychological impulse to remove deficiencies in linguistic proficiency, language development, and educational processes are illustrated. Five overarching questions are addressed in four original studies. First, how does early childhood care and education affect cognitive development of children from different social backgrounds? Second, do effects of center-based care and education on children’s cognitive skills in primary schools in Switzerland vary as a function of children’s social and cultural backgrounds? Third, is the use of early childhood services related to family background characteristics? Fourth, how have early childhood care systems evolved in France and in the United States and why do current approaches to childcare differ substantially in these two countries? Finally, how do desire, language, and educational processes – as described in Elias Canetti’s work «The tongue set free» – relate to each other in early childhood? Each of the four studies draws on a specific method, notably systematic reviewing, quantitative statistical analysis, comparative-historical analysis, and systematic theoretical analysis. While the systematic review of effects of early childhood care and education programs on cognitive development contrasts findings from various countries, the statistical analysis yields results about effects of center-based care and education as well as effects of sociocultural background on children within the societal and regulatory context of the canton Zurich in Switzerland. A cross-national perspective in historical research is used to identify pedagogical concepts that may challenge normalizing views on childcare or taken-for-granted policies which can be considered as historical products of a certain vision of human activity. Finally, a systematic theory-based analysis helps gain knowledge in domains that remain inaccessible to quantitative empirical research. Overall, the studies highlight effects of both early childhood care and education and sociocultural background on children; disparities in the use of services; diverging historical trajectories of childcare institutions and disparities in the provision of and societal attitudes toward childcare and child-rearing in different countries; as well as distinct relationships between desire (as a driving force of intellectual engagement with the self and the world), language as a means to appropriate unintelligible experiences to the self, and educational processes resulting from attempts to apprehend alien experiences through language. The empirical studies are crucial for researchers as well as for policy-makers who make resource allocation decisions in education systems with rising demand and limited funding. In policy-making relating to early childhood care and education, special emphasis ought to be placed on children from socially deprived backgrounds since well-designed programs can help to compensate for disadvantage resulting from factors such as poverty, ethnicity, or minority status. The theoretical studies promote systematic reasoning to uncover complex sequences of social and political processes relating to early childhood care and education that cannot be traced by means of statistical analyses. In sum, the raison d’être of the present research consists in providing knowledge to improve children’s lives and enhance their future welfare. The studies at hand shed light on the conditions under which optimum child development is possible. Implications for research and practice are discussed.