Is there a common Nordic model or a characteristic Nordic approach to evaluation and assessment of quality in early childhood education and care (ECEC)? A new study conducted by FILIORUM – Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education and Care, together with Early Childhood Research Centre at Dublin City University (DCU ECRC), has examined this.
The project Nordic approaches to evaluation and assessment in early childhood education and care, is funded by ministries in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden with responsibility for early childhood education, and the report is published on the Nordic Council of Ministers' pages. The purpose of the study was to find out whether the Nordic countries have a common view on evaluation and assessment of quality in ECEC, and how this is linked to the quality and development of ECEC and its pedagogical practice, as well as children's well-being, development and learning.
The researchers investigated how evaluation and assessment in ECEC is carried out in the Nordic countries, what these focus on, and who is responsible for implementation. They have also gone deeper and looked at the values and principles that influence the evaluation and assessment of the quality in ECEC in these countries.
Clear common values
- The research shows that a Nordic model for evaluation and assessment in kindergarten clearly exists. The Nordic approach is based on common values and principles such as well-being, child-centredness, play, learning, professionalism, and equal opportunities for all, says FILIORUM’s Centre Manager, Professor Elin Reikerås. She co-led the study with Professor Mathias Urban, Director of the Early Childhood Research Center (ECRC) at Dublin City University.
The study was conducted using document analysis of, among other things, legislation, framework plans, academic literature and reports, as well as interviews with policy makers, ECEC experts and kindergarten teachers in all the Nordic countries.
Focus on pedagogical practices
- The document analysis shows that there are some minor variations in the different countries' legislation and framework plans when it comes to evaluating the individual child's development. Nevertheless, the values and principles in the documents are very similar. All the Nordic countries emphasise that ECEC employees must monitor the children's development, but not assess children based on specific learning objectives. Quality assessment and evaluation is largely linked to the children's learning environment and whether the kindergarten meets framework goals that emphasise holistic growth, all-day pedagogy, well-being, democracy, equality and participation, says Reikerås.
The interviews reveal that participants from all countries, and in all types of informant groups, agree that the staff's competence plays a crucial role in the quality of ECEC. They point out that it is in the concrete daily interaction between staff and children that quality becomes visible. Consequently, it is the pedagogical relationships and the learning environment that should be the focus when evaluating and assessing quality in ECEC. In those cases where assessment of individual children is mentioned, it is linked to an assessment of whether the learning environment takes care of children's development in a good way, especially for children with special needs.
Local contexts play a crucial role
Despite a clear common approach to evaluation and assessment in ECEC, the research indicates that the Nordic model must be interpreted in light of specific and varied local contexts.
- In the Nordic countries, it is the municipalities who to a large extent is responsible for evaluating and assessing the quality of ECEC. This results in different practices, and variations are not necessarily specified by country, but rather related to local contexts, says Reikerås.
In addition, external influences are relevant to which approach the local authorities have to evaluation and assessment. The use of tools and research from outside the Nordic region indicates that the Nordic model exists side by side with elements from other approaches. The fact that most Nordic countries place increasing emphasis on evaluation and assessment by, for example, establishing national evaluation bodies and that some municipalities use standardized tools for quality assessment, may indicate influence from other models.
- Nevertheless, our findings indicate that this influence doesn’t really affect the Nordic core values for how evaluation and assessment should be carried out in ECEC, so the Nordic kindergarten tradition stands strong also in this area. The Nordic kindergarten tradition is often regarded as the gold standard, but significant differences in quality have also been found between Norwegian kindergartens for example. How we can strengthen the quality of all Nordic ECEC in line with the common values that we found to be dominant in our study is a major and important challenge, Reikerås concludes.