People & Reserach: Satu Valkonen sheds light on the unjust structures and mechanisms around early years education
The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested in current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here we will present their research. This time, we introduce PhD, University Lecturer Satu Valkonen, University of Helsinki.

What are your research topics? 

In my work, I aim to empower children to be societal and political agents in their communities.  My orientation to educational sciences is influenced by a social science perspective. This implies understanding childhood within a societal and cultural context in which children’s lives are shaped in the sphere of the family and peers, and institutions like ECEC. I am keen on generating new insights into children as participants in contemporary societies and the ways children’s lives are affected by socio-cultural conditions and structure of society.  At the moment my ongoing research is focused especially on the latter theme.

How does your research re­late to is­sues of so­cial justice and equal­ity?

Through my research, I aim to explain existing social realities and  bring into light structures and mechanisms that maintain and reproduce inequalities. For me personally, it is important to uphold the public discussion about the rights of the child. We assume that the rights of the child are manifested well in Finland, but as my research have shown, the political decision-making around ECEC is based  often on economic grounds, not the best interest of a child. I  consistently take part in societal discussions and produce research-based material to support decision-making on ECEC. My research about marketization of early education and sustainable ECEC are strongly related to issues of social justice.

Tell something about your latest/​​​​​current research?

In connection with these research themes, my present work centres on three topic areas. First, I study the increasing significance of precision education governance (PEG) in early education. The PEG refers to the transnational nature of education governance, emergence of new partnerships with the private and public sector and the use of novel techniques to shape children’s learning. Around marketization of ECEC, my research focuses on 1.) privatization of ECEC services; research paper on service vouchers and rulebooks  with Piia Nuora, Elina Fonsén and Jaana Pesonen is in process. 2.) commercialization of ECEC pedagogies; two publication are being prepared, the first deals governing teachers' professionalism in the era of marketization with Jaana Pesonen and the other university students' views on edu-business with Jaana Pesonen and Kristiina Brunila. 3) ECEC education export; one article is being prepared with Jaana Pesonen. It focuses on the relation of values  and profit making in Finnish educational export. (https://researchportal.helsinki.fi/en/projects/varhaiskasvatuksen-markkinoituminen)

Second, my research deals sustainable ECEC. My research interest lie especially in social sustainability issues and I just finished a research paper about the challenging nature of promoting social justice with Ann-Christin Furu. I have developed an assessment tool for ECEC with her, The PROSUS Tool. The PROSUS tool is currently available in Swedish and Finnish. The tool covers three interrelated dimensions of sustainability; ecological, social/cultural, and economic. Each dimension is approached through five aspects that link current research in sustainability education within ECEC to the daily practices and pedagogies in ECEC.  We emphasize the collegial learning process and goal-directed and planned team work in sustainability work.

(https://blogs2.abo.fi/prosus-projektet/)

Third, I'm interested to study "what is going on in ECEC at the moment". I lead the research project called Osaava varhaiskasvatus (Influential early education) in which we explore the competence provided by education and the ways in which it is put into practice in early education settings. We also investigate views about daily work, implemented pedagogy and work well-being. We interview the ECEC staff and collect data also by national survey and questionnaire for ECEC leaders. This project is focused on ECEC professionalism. The research project is funded by the Ministry of Culture and education (4/2022 - 4/2023). 

(https://researchportal.helsinki.fi/en/projects/osaava-varhaiskasvatus)

In addition, my research addresses, from many angles, the questions of media education, multiliteracies, media culture and social interaction in the digital era.

What kind of discussions would you wish to initiate with your research?

At the moment, it is important for me to ensure that the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care and its objectives for the child's learning and well-being are recognized and that adequate resources are allocated for implementation of quality ECEC. The purpose of the updated law has been to raise the quality of early  education and to place greater emphasis on the best interests of the child in the planning, organization, production or decision-making of early childhood education. Now, due to limited resources and non-qualified staff, discussions of quality ECEC is topical. 

Satu Valkonen