Everything that happens in society has consequences for children, that is why all the 17 goals in Agenda 2030 are related to children’s survival, wellbeing, and learning – their future lives. In early childhood education, which is the focus of OMEP’s work, we cannot deal with everything, but we can be the advocates for children in questions concerning children on all levels, from policy to practice. How vulnerable the society is without early childhood education has become visible in this time of Covid-19, why it is one of the burning questions for OMEP to work with, both on the global level (UN and UNESCO) and the national level (with our Governments), to do our best to make visible the benefits for society of an early childhood education of high quality for all children (#4). Connecting the national and global levels could be by asking the governments to convince UN to allocate a DECADE for ECE/ECD – which would firmly place the young children on the global agenda. Poor countries claim that they do not have the finances to give all children care and education from the early years, but one can ask, how can any country not afford it, since there is so much evidence for the benefits ECE brings to the society, the family and the child (see https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13158-019-00236-5).
Not everybody may be the person who works in policy, but everybody who works with children in practice can do a lot for each child in their class. They can make sure to put into practice the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, by that, come closer to sustainability. In Agenda 2030 #4.7, it is stated what the content to work with might be for education for sustainability:
ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
All OMEP’s projects on education for sustainable development during the last 10 years have shown that all these aspects are possible content for working with young children (for some of these projects, see http://www.eceresourcebank.org). This means that the content of the curriculum is important in ECE, and what the focus for communication with the children must be about. However, thinking of all the aspects of sustainability that can be focused in ECE, this only points towards half the task. The pedagogy – how practice is curried through – is the other half, and as important as the content. One can not only communicate with children about their rights or about sustainability, they must also experience this in practice. Thus, ECE may have as long way to go as bringing aspects of sustainability into all settings.
From the research I have carried out during 40 years as a researcher, children’s perspectives as well as teachers’ possibilities to take a child perspective have always been of importance (see https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-90-481-3316-1). Despite all other research I have done, I still claim that becoming able to take every child’s perspective is the basis for all teaching in ECE. And it demands an organization of practice where it can be possible to listen to children’s ideas about the content in focus of the teaching. However, during my later years of research, I have focused more on play since we within ECE claim that it is so important. Still, it is unclear what we mean with this position on play, and how we use play, as an activity that adults should not bother with, or to give children inspiration. The notion of play is used and related to play-based curriculum, -pedagogy, -teaching or -learning. This hints toward the fact that play is the basis to build on, and in our latest research project, we have worked with teachers’ ways of becoming participants in children’s play, either by the teachers’ different strategies to make themselves a participant in on-going play activities, or by suggesting to some children something they can all play together. It turned out in the results that the key to working with children on an equal basis was what we decided to call play-responsiveness. Here the child’s world becomes as important as the adult’s world (see https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-15958-0). Furthermore, the pedagogy and the curriculum content are integrated and communicated both from children’s and teacher’s perspectives, and also fantasy and reality are integrated.
Back to sustainability, and why it is important in ECE. We need to explore a pedagogy that is unique for early years education where teachers need to be responsive to children’s play mode in all teaching and learning situations. We know from many studies that the years before schooling lay the foundation for well-being, self-confidence, attitudes and knowledge which makes ECE the most important complement to the family – and each child’s future as a global citizen, who will take care of other people and our globe!
Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson is senior professor at Gothenburg University, Sweden. She also holds an UNESCO Chair in Early Childhood Education and Sustainable Development, and have acted as the World President of OMEP between 2008-2014. Her main focus in research is children’s learning and play and how preschool and preschool teachers can provide opportunities for children’s well-being, learning and development. The child’s perspective (the child’s own view and voice) and a child perspective (when adults’ do what they think is the best for children), two perspectives based in the UN Convention of the Right of the Child, have been a central theme in her research. In developing the best practice for young children in the society and in the preschool, right from the youngest ages, it all has to be inked to the Global Agenda 2030 and the various goals in that – to secure a safe, healthy and cognitive stimulating life for the next generation.