This article discusses the different perceptions of quality in early childhood education. It argues that quality should be perceived as a process which is specific to the context of each service, and is, therefore, best defined by the values and beliefs of the stakeholders. This article suggests that forming a vision by the participants involved in early childhood centres can be the starting point of a quality process, and can forge a commitment to working towards excellence, as well as be a tool for evaluation. Methods for developing a vision are outlined, and the benefits to management, staff, and families in supporting this process are discussed.
In recent years, the question of quality in early childhood education has been the focus of much research and debate. This paper discusses how a centre might instigate a process which aims at quality. It supports the view that quality in early childhood centres is a constructed concept, subjective in nature, and based on values, beliefs, and interests, rather than an objective reality (Moss & Pence, 1994). Moreover, it is suggested that quality in early childhood education is a socially-constructed concept, which is subjective, dynamic, and culturally-based (Farquar, 1993).
Morgan (1996) has stated that there are four levels of quality:
* harmful, unacceptable quality
* good-enough quality
* good quality
* excellent quality
Morgan maintains that, although licensing and government regulations can create standards which eliminate harmful, unacceptable quality, such regulations can never guarantee more than good-enough quality. Similarly, an over-simplistic interpretation of regulations and quality indicators may actually inhibit quality processes being initiated.
Good quality comes from motivation from within each centre to raise standards above the minimum, while excellent quality is achieved only by establishing a process of continual striving for excellence. Such a process can only be instigated by the centre. This article suggests that forming a vision for quality in an early childhood centre, based on the values and beliefs of the stakeholders involved in that centre, can be the starting point of a quality process.
What is a vision?
A vision is a realistic, credible, attractive future for an organisation (Nanus, 1992). A vision always outlines the future, but because it is realistic, credible, and attractive it has the power to energise all involved to commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence. A vision for an early childhood centre should be formed using a combination of information and knowledge, and a concern for the wellbeing of the stakeholders of the centre, who, in turn, benefit from the implementation of the vision. The vision can inspire people to focus on goals and energise them to work proactively to achieve those goals. It can provide a dynamic concept of the future that motivates an organisation to make changes, incorporate new ideas, and take new directions in pursuit of the vision. It is through the process of working proactively to achieve a vision that a centre achieves excellent quality. The vision needs first to be articulated, then owned by those who formed it, and, finally, a strategic plan to achieve the vision needs to be outlined.
In early childhood education, the evolving perception of quality has led to a consideration of who is involved in defining and evaluating quality in any service. In order to articulate a truly realistic, credible, attractive future for a centre, a vision must reflect the perspectives of all the stakeholders participating in the service. Management, staff, parents, and children should all be involved in articulating, and therefore owning, the vision (Brophy & Statham, 1994). Once the vision has been formed, the stakeholders need to nurture a culture of continuous self-assessment while they travel the route towards that vision (Sallis, 1996; Rennie, 1996). …