Vision for Childcare in an Independent Scotland

quote_2014-05-13

by Soozy

WHERE IS IT??? I’m pro-independence, but I also work in the childcare sector and am really disturbed at the lack of dialogue and information I can find on this front. I may have been looking in all the wrong places, but there certainly hasn’t been any word from the childcare sector that shows engagement with the referendum.

There’s been nothing on a vision for childcare in Scotland in any of the literature I’ve picked up from referendum debates and stalls, and many internet searches later (news articles, government papers, childcare blogs) the only dialogue I can find is about increasing childcare hours.

Having more children in childcare for longer and how much this will do to boost the economy and equality for women in the labour market: this is pretty much the extent of the White Paper on Childcare. Markets, markets, markets – I’d expect as much from the Yes campaign, but am shocked that I can’t find any discussion beyond this. Not from the Common Weal, not from Aileen Campbell (Scotland’s Minister for Children and Young People), nor anyone else for that matter.

[edit: the Common Weal recently produced a paper on issues of social justice and democratic participation for children, but this did not include information on childcare – http://reidfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Childhood1.pdf%5D

This is an amazing time when the nation is clearly opening its eyes to look for inspiration from Scandinavian models of governance. Can we push a little further and leave getting hung up on the economy? That’s the whole reason behind why Scandinavian models work and why their economies are so healthy – they look at the wider picture.

I find it thoroughly depressing that cogs are creaking in the minds of radical thinkers in Scotland, but we can’t get past our obsession with economics… ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE – THEY’RE ALL PART OF THE SAME DEAL.

In the UK, childcare workers are underpaid and undervalued. In Scandinavia childcare workers are respected and paid a living wage. In Scotland children go to school at the age of four or five years and begin desk based learning, starting as early as possible to achieve literacy and numeracy to be ‘effective economic contributors’. In Scandinavian countries children are outside, discovering themselves and the world around them: their thoughts, feelings and imagination (growing minds for the future); the natural environment which provides us with food and shelter (and all profit making goods); as well as developing friendships and social skills through interactions with others.

So WHY IS SCOTLAND’S VISION FOR CHILDCARE ABOUT THE ECONOMY? DO CHILDREN COUNT IN THIS EQUATION? It’s not that there aren’t fantastic things happening in the world of childcare in Scotland – certainly in Aberdeen City alone we have Nurture Groups for children with attachment issues, PEEP Groups (Parents as Early Education Partners) which recognise the invaluable role parents play in their child’s development, and host of fantastic initiatives which get kids outside to play and discover, to name but a fraction of the great childcare services in the city.

Thankfully all this good practice is backed by national strategies, but I do feel there’s a need for this to be represented in our vision for an independent Scotland. Whilst more childcare hours for children will help more women get back into work and is an incredibly important part of what needs to happen, on its own it doesn’t seem like the wisest and most inspirational vision for Scotland’s children.

What might a vision for Childcare in Scotland look like?

  • Breaking cycles of poverty – education in child development and parenting skills for secondary schools (alongside earlier sex education – most folk now acknowledge that hormones, not rules and law govern the impulses of young people).
  • Education in how we develop for all – before becoming parents or childcare workers, how many people know that the first 3 years of a child’s life are considered to be a key period for brain development? And the kinds of experiences which should be provided for young children to nurture this rapid period of neural activity?
  • Ages 3-6 years is considered another key period in brain development, although not quite as intense as the first 3 years. Given this and knowledge of the types of experiences which nurture the brains of children of this age, perhaps we should be reconsidering our approach to Early Years Education and introduction of formal education? Finland is considered a world leader in education. In Finland children don’t go to school until they are 7; the first 7 years of their lives are spent discovering themselves, the natural world around them, building strong relationships with others and developing a curiosity to discover more about the world – creating minds ripe for learning.
  • Boosting the impetus for outdoor education – early years and beyond. Without this levels of obesity, ADHD and other behavioural issues will continue to rise and “environment,” “ecology” and “sustainability” will become meaningless concepts.
  • We need to value and promote skills of the hands by introducing vocational-manual-trade skills into mainstream education – don’t just talk about it, make it a reality. Without this, the problems listed above will be exacerbated, an intellectual elite will continue to dominate, labour markets will continue to be based on false economies and unfair trade, cycles of poverty will continue and our options for addressing climate change will continue to narrow.
  • Recognition of the value of parenting – the current message is moving in the direction of saying that mothers of young children should put their children into the care of others for as long and as early as possible in order to earn money. This message needs to be balanced with greater promotion of initiatives like Parents as Early Education Partners and the message that bringing up children can be an incredibly valuable way to spend one’s time – parents who choose to spend time raising their children can contribute to society equally as well as money earners. This should be seen as a choice, with equal weight afforded to both scenarios.

Ambitious? Yes, but isn’t that what a vision should be? It is highly likely that, as with the rest of the Third Sector, Scotland’s childcare workforce are far too busy looking after children, dealing with ever changing structures, legislation, budget priorities and cut-backs to spend much time articulating a vision. However, this referendum is about the future of Scotland and has huge implications for Scotland’s children. I feel that we shouldn’t be burying our head in the sand, but making a genuine attempt to engage with Scotland’s history in the making.

Could we perhaps pull together all the good guidance that Scotland’s childcare sector works to (Getting It Right for Every Child, Every Child Matters, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Early Years Collaborative, etc.), to create an over-arching vision for children in Scotland?

Scotland will be a country which fully recognises that our children are our future. Scotland will be a country where the nurture of our children is a real priority, bearing in mind that the economy does not trump all. The Scottish people will be knowledgeable in the development of children and understand how to nurture children. Scotland will be a country where all children are valued and respected – both as the people they are now, as well as for the potential they hold for the people they will become. Individuals and services will work together to make this vision a reality.

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About RIC Aberdeen

The Radical Independence Campaign sees Scottish independence as the first step towards creating a fairer, greener, more democratic place. RIC Aberdeen are a local campaigning group, ordinary people who want to make a difference. We do canvassing every Wednesday night, along with other events. Please get in touch for more info.

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