Evaluation of Pedagogical Quality in Early Childhood Education: A Cross-National Perspective
Sheridan, Sonja, Schuster, Kathe-Maria, Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Abstract. In a comparative study between Germany and Sweden, observers from different countries and cultures make parallel and independent observations of the quality in early childhood education. For evaluation of quality, the observers use the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), combined with a documentation of the perceptual process underlying the ratings of quality with the ECERS. The study focuses on how the concept of quality in ECERS is concretized in pedagogical processes in early childhood education, on how those pedagogical processes can be made visible and on the validity of evaluations of quality with the ECERS in cross-national comparative studies.
Quality has been an important aspect of the pedagogical debate throughout the 20th century. Today, maybe more than ever, modern society is characterized by constant change. Economic, social, and cultural relations are transformed through global markets, organizations, and media. This highly specialized society demands that the rising generation embrace its social and cultural inheritance through the learning of history, language, values, and knowledge, preferably after being both critically analyzed and improved. Furthermore, as societal boundaries shift, the young generation must be able to cooperate and communicate in a highly diverse environment. To live a good and meaningful life in this complex society, each child needs to develop and make full use of his/her own abilities and interests (Bartley, 1998). In most countries, the educational system is supposed to guarantee this achievement and ensure equality to all children in the society. Quality throughout the educational system is therefore an important issue for both the individual and the society.
In many countries, early childhood education has become the first step in the general education system. Research shows that the level of quality in early childhood education can have long-term effects on a child's attitudes towards further education and educational achievement (Andersson, 1992; Clarke-Stewart, 1987; Osborn & Millbank, 1987; Phillips, McCartney, & Scarr, 1987; Schweinhart & Weikart, 1980; Sylva, 1994). To meet the needs and the rights of the child, as well as the demands of society, the content of early childhood education and the pedagogical environment have to be organized in such a way that the surrounding world becomes visible, understandable, and comprehensible, thus creating optimal possibilities for the child to learn and develop (Bartley, 1998; Hultqvist, 1990; Pramling, 1994; Pramling Samuelsson, 1997, 1998; Sylva, 1994). To guarantee quality in early childhood education, methods to evaluate, describe, visualize, and improve various pedagogical processes must be made available.
However, knowledge about what constitutes quality, how it is concretized in pedagogical processes, how different levels of quality can be evaluated, and how data can be interpreted is rather limited. Therefore, the unique design of this project attempts to shed some light on these important aspects of early childhood education. The uniqueness of the project is that researchers (1) from different countries (Sweden and Germany) and cultures make parallel and independent observations of the quality in early childhood settings. To evaluate the presence of quality, the researchers use the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (2) (ECERS) combined with documentation of the perceptual process underlying the ratings of quality.
The study is embedded in a joint research project of quality in early childhood education between Germany and Sweden. Its focus is on how the concept of quality in EGERS is concretized in pedagogical processes in early childhood education, on how those pedagogical processes can be made visible, and on the validity of evaluations of quality with the ECERS in cross-national comparative studies. This study addresses these research questions: How can various pedagogical processes in early childhood education become visible? …