Day-care ladies or academic professionals?

Work in kindergartens and childcare is often thought to be simple caretaking. Why would a kindergarten teacher need an academic degree, if children just want warm hugs from reliable adults?

Kindergartens based on the educational philosophy of Friedrich Fröbel were first established in Finland in the late 1880s, and kindergarten teacher education was established in 1892 alongside the public kindergarten in Helsinki’s Sörnäinen district. This means that this year marks the 125th anniversary of Finnish kindergarten teacher education, an academic degree since 1995.

 “The pedagogical skills of kindergarten teachers are reflected on the child’s later development in literacy and mathematics, for example,” says Lasse Lipponen, professor of education.

Children absorb knowledge and skills

Studies have found that good early education reflects on later cognitive and academic capabilities.

 “All of the major developmental changes take place before the age of seven, and the learning potential in early childhood is vast. Children just absorb knowledge and skills. For this reason, all children must have the right to high-standard early education,” says Lipponen.

Studies indicate that children who have completed early education are more independent and cooperative than children who are kept at home.

An investment in the future

Childhood is valuable in itself. Early education must be constantly developed to protect the children’s interests.   

According to Lipponen, talking about kindergarten teachers as “day-care ladies” belittles their work and overlooks the fact that many kindergarten professionals are men – as if the children in kindergarten were only there to play and sing. Similarly demeaning is to call for more staff by saying kindergartens just need extra pairs of hands. Early education is not busywork. A kindergarten supports a child’s development and strives to solve problems that may occur, or that can hinder that development. Solutions made in early education have long-term effects for both the individual and society. 

 “Early education is an investment in the future,” says Lipponen.

According to studies, money invested to prevent marginalisation is most effective if it is spent on early education – not later schooling or employment. The equality of education must start in kindergarten.  

Lipponen would also like to see Finland adopt a Master’s degree in kindergarten teacher education.  

 “It’s an optional degree at the moment, but in Iceland, for example, all early education professionals have Master’s degrees.”

The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education are also hoping to elevate kindergarten teacher education to the Master’s level.