Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Finnish Early Childhood Educators and Sustainable Development

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Finnish Early Childhood Educators and Sustainable Development

Article excerpt


The aim of this study was to find out what Finnish early childhood educators (n = 145) value on sustainability and how they assess the promotion of sustainability in their daily lives. They also wrote 495 comments about barriers to sustainable lifestyle. The data were analyzed with quantitative and qualitative methods. According to the results, the most important elements of sustainability were (a) supporting of communality (including intergenerational link and trust); (b) social responsibility of the consumer; and (c) recycling, composting and taking care of hazardous waste. There was a statistically significant difference between all of the valued elements and the actual implementation of them. The main barriers to sustainable lifestyle were lack of time and information, the higher cost of sustainable choices, and the inconvenience of the sustainable way of life. The tendency to transfer one's own responsibility to government, to the industry, or to the housing company was identified. A sense of agency is a core skill to be learned on a winding road towards a sustainable society.

Keywords: early childhood education, sustainable development, sustainability, responsibility

1. Early Childhood Education and a Need of Sustainable Development

In Finland, Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) was governed by social services, but it is a part of Ministry of Education and Culture from the beginning of year 2013. Policy definition about ECEC has been done at government level, by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) as well as the key principles and guidelines of publicly provided and supervised ECEC. The guideline's aim is to further the development of the content and quality of ECEC throughout the entire service and support system. ECEC is a service for children from 1 to 6 years, and the family. The principle underlying pre-primary, basic and upper secondary education is to guarantee basic educational security for all, irrespective of their place of residence, language and economic standing. A Finnish child usually starts schooling at the age of seven and the nine-year basic schooling is free for all pupils. Preprimary education has also previously been guided by the Ministry of Education and Culture (Stakes, 2005).

ECEC principles have four perspectives: society, children, parents and staff. The early childhood education in Finland is often mentioned of its high quality and well trained teachers and caregivers. On the other hand, it has been criticized by the differences in quality between individual adults and the lack of legislative guidance of the quality of education (e.g. Kalliala, 2008, 2011). The care and education staff operating at day-care centers includes kindergarten teachers, special kindergarten teachers, social educators or bachelors of social sciences, bachelors and masters of education, practical children's nurses, kindergarten practical nurses and practical nurses (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2001). In Finland, enrolment rate in formal care for the under three years old children was 28.6 percent, at the age of three 46.1 percent, and at the age of five 62.6 percent in 2008-2009 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2012).

The importance of the years from birth to six have been recognized as crucial learning years for child development, however this recognition has not, as yet, been carried through to Education for Sustainable Development (Tilbury et al., 2005). Research confirms the importance of the early years to positively influence children in a long-lasting way. The value orientations of children are largely determined by the time they reach the age of formal schooling (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2000; OECD, 2012). So there is a strong understanding that also Educating for Sustainable Development (ESD) should begin very early in life. In the early childhood period children develop their basic values, attitudes, skills, behaviors and habits, which will have impact on them for long after. …

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