Detailed Program of the Conference

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Overall view of the program
Parallel sessions - A.11.1 Learning from contemporary complexities. Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education and Care in times of (post) pandemic
Saturday, 05/June/2021:
9:00am - 11:15am

Session Chair: Susanna Margherita Mantovani
Session Chair: Giulia Pastori
Location: Room 2

Session Panels:
A.11. Learning from contemporary complexities. Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education and Care in times of (post) pandemic

External Resource:


Michel Vandenbroeck

Ghent University, Belgium

Over the last few decades, early childhood education in general and childcare in particular have steadily been commodified (Lloyd & Penn, 2014). In the slipstream of economic crises (with the 2008 banking crisis as an interesting example), governments have increasingly relied on the alleged logic of the market to steer private investments. The commodification was first established in countries with a traditionally more liberal welfare state where the care of young children was considered a private matter (e.g. the United Kingdom, Hong Kong or Australia). However, over the last years, it also affected policies in traditional social welfare states (e.g. France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands) and to some extent also the Scandinavian countries (Terävä et al;, 2018). It may take different forms such as the privatization and corporatization of previously public or community initiatives (including private equity funds), and the transition from supply-side funding to demand-side funding. One of the common aspects of commodification is that the pedagogical language is taken over by an economic language, such as return on investments, supply and demand, quality insurance, or parents as clients. The latter goes hand in hand with a language of “choice” and “client satisfaction” that is used to legitimize the commodification and presented to us as a democratic practice. (Janssen & Vandenbroeck, 2021).

In parallel with this evolution a growing counter-discourse is to be noted. Research of the last two decades has provided robust evidence that the language of choice and parents as critical clients does not pass the empirical test and that privatization and commodification tend to increase inequality and decrease democratic participation as well as quality. Grass-root movements are increasingly resisting the commodification and, in some countries, (e.g. Hong Kong) have successfully paved the way for decommodification. The COVID-19 crisis is a unique opportunity to document why ECEC needs to be a public service and to boost movements of decommodification that refuse the neoliberal language (Roberts-Holmes & Moss, 2021). It is a unique opportunity to ask the Freirean question “What is education for?” and to respond with him: “Education is for understanding the world, in order to transform it” (Vandenbroeck, 2020).

Janssen, J., Spruyt, B., & Vandenbroeck, M. (2021). Is everybody happy? Exploring the predictability of parent satisfaction with childcare in Flanders. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 55, 97-106.

Lloyd, E., & Penn, H. (2014). Childcare markets in an age of austerity. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 22(3), 386-396.

Roberts-Holmes, G., & Moss, P. (2021). Neoliberalism and early childhood education: Imagineries, markets and pedagogies. London: Routledge.

Romijn, B. (2021). Cultural inclusion in early childhood and primary education. PhD manuscript. Utrecht: Utrecht University.

Vandenbroeck, M. (2020). Measuring the young child: on facts, figures and ideologies in early childhood. Ethics and Education, 15(4), 413-425.

Van der Werf, W. M., Slot, P., Kenis, P., & Leseman, P. (2020). Hybrid organizations in the privatized and harmonized Dutch ECECsystem: Relations with quality of education and care. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 53, 136-150.


Pascale Garnier

Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, France

With the 2019’s law, entitled « For a school of confidence », instruction has become compulsory since the age of three years old in France and a new law, “For the respect of the Republic’s principle” (named previously “Against separatism and radical Islamism”), is about to be voted for rendering école maternelle (nursery school) compulsory since this age. How can we understand this focus on compulsory schooling in regards of the transformations of the French society? What kind of alternatives may be developed? This presentation would like to shed light to a situation that seems to be locked by policy makers and call for the resistance of early childhood educators.

PISA assessment (OCDE, 2019) shows France is one of the first countries where the gap between students’ results rely more heavily on the weight of social inequalities and paradoxically, the uses of sociological researches by public policies have increased it. These policies are centered on the importance of formal teaching: language, literacy and numeracy, above all. With this historical trend, also rooted in the defense of the French secular Republic separated from family education, we can actually notice the growing influence of a wide range of topics coming from international scientific discourses, such as attachment theories, resilience, brain’s plasticity, social investment, etc., used for justifying the importance of the children’s early formal learning.

What is at stake in France is the weight of academic success on social and professional future compared to other countries, as Duru-Bellat, Dubet, Vérétout (2010) have demonstrated; they acknowledge that: “Too much school kills the school”. The question lies not only at a public and collective level, but also at a family level, when parents worry about their child’s school performances, for example using activity books at home (Garnier, 2015). But a large part of the teachers in école maternelle feel now the danger of this excess of schooling: for example several teachers’ organizations and pedagogical associations have call against the recent attempt to change the last curriculum (2015) which was more open to children’s play and agency. Many scientists have denounced the attempt to assess children at three years’ old by the ministry of education’s evaluation department.

But to what point is it possible to work against schoolification in the school itself? As Illich (1971) quoted a long time ago: “Not only education but social reality itself has become schooled”. There is hope that today troubles make us more aware of our addiction to school and as Illich said “we can recognize universal schooling as the culmination of a Promethean enterprise and speak for the alternative as a world fit to live in for Epimethean man” (and women). There is hope that local fight in écoles maternelles and political alternatives may joint their forces.


Laura Landi

Unimore, Fondazione Reggio Children, Italy

FaCE, a project (2018 – 2021) lead by Reggio Children Foundation and financed by Fondazione Con I Bambini, has “increasing access to ECEC services, especially for disadvantaged families” as core objective. Innovative to this project is not the goal, but the approach: doing it through the creation of educating communities, both on a local and national level. This article will analyse the project strategies also in the light of the Successful Educational Actions for inclusion and social cohesion. (Flecha 2014)

In a year long process, built on dialogic approach, national (AMREF, Gruppo Nazionale Nidi Infanzia, …) and local (Palermo, Napoli, Teramo, Reggio Emilia) project partners co-designed the pilot actions. Through a collective reflexive dialogue, they analysed the reasons for lack of access to quality educational services, mapped local realities, sketched actions combining both. (Malaguzzi in Cagliari et al., 2016) This community has become a safe space where new and generative ideas could take form. (Rinaldi, 2006). This structure allows the project to proceed, through the stop and go due to covid19 emergency.

Taking the lead from this ecological approach, stakeholders were involved in actions design, gaining ownership of them. Everywhere parents, with or without access to ECEC, widely expressed the desire to spend quality time with their children engaging in educational activities. This is “action 1”: children and parents learning, playing, and understanding together, within a community. This common reflexive space for families has a positive effect on parental involvement, and on connecting vulnerable families with ECEC and with a larger parental community. (Del Boca, 2020) “Action 2” varies. In Palermo it takes the form of conversations on parenthood between experts (educators, doctors….) and parents. In Teramo it has involved school, municipality, and associations in opening a new toddler centre, granting quality educational service to families in the middle of the pandemic.

Preliminary results of the project, emerging from impact evaluation and qualitative analysis, include: the creation of local and national networks providing integrated health, social and educational services to families, through different tools, including an online space; the sharing of strategies and visions among actors of different areas of the country highlighting new areas of common efforts; growing understanding among the families involved of the role of ECEC services and the opportunities they provide for children; a national conference to foster results dissemination.

Cagliari, P., Castagnetti, M., Giudici, C., Rinaldi, C., Vecchi, V., & Moss, P. (Eds.). (2016). Loris Malaguzzi and the schools of Reggio Emilia: A selection of his writings and speeches, 1945-1993. Routledge.

Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (2007). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Languages of evaluation. Routledge.

Del Boca, D., Pronzato, C., Schiavon, L. (2020). How Parents' Skills Affect Their Time-Use with Children? Evidence from an RCT Experiment in Italy, CESifo Working Paper Series 8795

Flecha, R. (2014). Successful educational actions for inclusion and social cohesion in Europe. Springer.

FaCE: 2018 project, preliminary results, interviews with stakeholders

Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching, and learning. Psychology Press


Paul Leseman

Utrecht University, Netherlands, The

According to the standard model, education systems under public governance executed by public or semi-public (non-profit) organizations hold the best promise for accessible, equitable and inclusive high quality education and care for all children. While this may be true, the reality in many countries is far removed from the standard model. In particular ECEC, defined as the combination of care and education for children up to the start of formal primary education, is often provided by a hybrid mix of public, semi-public, private non-profit and private for-profit organizations, cooperatives of parents and voluntary community initiatives. Also for older children, parents increasingly ‘buy’ nonformal and informal education and care services outside the public school system on the private market. This concerns ‘shadow education’, but also extracurricular arts, cultural and leisure activities that contribute to children’s broader skill development. Due to the high private costs, however, extracurricular education is not equally accessible for all children and, therefore, potentially reproducing social inequality. Recent analyses, indeed, show that despite increased public spending to education worldwide, the skills gap by family income is widening (Autor, 2014), also in countries with an egalitarian tradition and a large public sector. While some argue for expanding public education to encompass a broader array of services in order to ensure equitable education for all children, an alternative might be to re-create the entire sector, to promote public-private collaboration and to use the innovation potential of hybrid systems. Looking at (early) education as a long-term project of sustainable social innovation, this paper will explore the idea of creating a social market, where local and national governments define the core values and set the long-term goals, invest, and collaborate with different types of public and private organizations in local networks (Mazzucato, 2016). To contribute to the evidence, empirical studies of the Dutch privatized and marketized ECEC and after-school care system will be reported, showing that, under certain governance conditions, market competition and entrepreneurship produce child- and parent-centered high, inclusive and equitable quality. Organizations that combine a moderate market logic with a strong orientation on the local community and ‘missionary’ engagement in social issues are most inclusive, reach-out to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and provide the highest quality (Van der Werf et al., 2021). In local markets, these organizations are the drivers of accessible and equitable integrated services, usually in collaboration with public education.


Autor, D. H. (2014). Skills, education, and the rise of earnings inequality among the "other 99 percent". Science 344 (6186), 843-851.

Mazzucato, M. (2016). From market fixing to market-creating: a new framework for innovation policy. Industry and Innovation, 23(2), 140-156.

Van der Werf, W. M., Slot, P. L., Kenis, P. N., & Leseman, P. P. M. (2021). Inclusive practice and quality of education and care in the hybrid Dutch early childhood education and care system. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 15(1), 1-29.


Tullia Musatti

National Research Council of Italy, Italy

The meaning, social relevance, and future of ECEC provision are the focus of many political and scientific debates pointing out the potential impact of its increase on diverse social phenomena . Actually, at least in most European countries, the growing demand of ECEC provision can be explained by a variety of co-occurring social and cultural changes. Among them: womens’ participation in the labour market, the transformation of family structure and family roles, the increasing disintegration of social networks in urban areas, the growing demand of qualified workforce, new visions on young children’s competences and potentialities. Yet, the multidimensionality of the issue is often neglected when discussing the policies aimed to increase the ECEC provision which are outlined and evaluated only with reference to their potential impact on one or the other aspect. Thus, they can have contradictory implications for other aspects. For example, the priority given in accessing ECEC services to children of employed mothers might result into the exclusion of underprivileged children, when it is not accompanied by an adequate support to mothers’ access to labour market (Istat, Ca’ Foscari, 2020). Or the focus on children’s educational needs without considering their socialization in the educational context might generate further processes of social exclusion. Similarly, initiatives of parental support developed without considering their potential generativity of social relations in the urban contexts can induce a stigmatisation of families from minority cultural backgrounds (Hoshi-Watanabe et al., 2012).

We will argue that ECEC increase can have a positive impact on a large spectrum of social and cultural questions, provided that it will be based on children’s right to develop their potentialities in a context of material and cultural well-being (Weisner, 1997) and that a strong public governance, at national and local levels, will be able to build a new local welfare around it (Ministero Istruzione, 2021). In Italy, the extension of ECEC provision for children under 3, planned in the framework of an integrated system of education and instruction from 0 to 6, represents an important opportunity for realising policies in this perspective.

Hoshi-Watanabe, M., Musatti, T., Rayna, S., & Vandenbroeck, M. (2015). Origins and rationale of centres for parents and young children together. Child & Family Social Work, 20¸62-71.

ISTAT e Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia Nidi e servizi educativi per l’infanzia. Stato dell’arte e criticità del sistema integrato 0-6, Giugno 2020.

Ministero dell’Istruzione Linee Pedagogiche per il sistema integrato zerosei, febbraio 2021.

Weisner, T.S. (1997). The ecocultural project of human development: Why ethnography and its findings matter. Ethos, 25(2), 177–190.