Early Childhood Education and Care in Italy: moving towards a shared pedagogical culture

Image: cottonbro / Pexels.com

The Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector in Italy is currently undergoing an important reform, moving from a split to an integrated system.

In the split system, the Ministry of Welfare was responsible for children aged 0-3, while the Ministry of Education was responsible for those aged 3-6.

By contrast, in the new integrated 0-6 system, 0-3 and 3-6 services are regulated by the Ministry of Education as part of the wider education system.

The European Commission’s 2014 Quality Framework for ECEC played a key role in advocating for this reform, which was grounded on two pillars:

  • providing more equal access to ECEC, particularly by reaching out to children and families from socially disadvantaged groups;
  • strengthening the pedagogical quality of ECEC services across the 0-3 and 3-6 sector, as well as across state, municipal and private provision.

From law reform to implementation

Considering that ECEC provision in Italy had hitherto been characterised by stark territorial disparities in terms of accessibility and pedagogical quality, the roadmap towards implementation consisted of both top-down and bottom-up initiatives.

In the first instance, the Ministry of Education developed a National Action Plan, setting out strategic objectives and funding to improve the accessibility of 0-3 provision, facilitating governance arrangements between institutions, and enhancing continuing professional development and pedagogical guidance for ECEC staff.

Secondly, the Ministry of Education nominated a Commission of Experts – including researchers, policy stakeholders, advocacy groups and ECEC provider representatives – whose role was to develop a shared pedagogical framework to be discussed in a nation-wide consultation. As ECEC services in Italy are deeply rooted in local pedagogical traditions – and characterised by different institutional cultures, educational approaches and practices – the aim of such a framework was to outline the mainstays of a shared pedagogical vision. This would facilitate dialogue and the creation of a common ground for practice between 0-3 and 3-6 services across the country.

A shared pedagogical framework

The document consists of six sections, each referring to pedagogical principles that should guide educators’ and teachers’ reflection in their everyday practices. This framework depicts the child as the main protagonist of educational processes, which progress along a continuum from birth to the beginning of primary school:

  1. children’s rights as a starting point;
  2. an ecological approach to the education of young children: engaging with families and local communities in a democratic way, which fosters participation and values diversity;
  3. the child as the protagonist of the educational process: childhood as a time of being rather than becoming, where children’s diverse needs are addressed and their potential is nurtured;
  4. holistic curriculum: everyday practice that intertwines education, care and play, in order to sustain children’s learning, well-being, sense of agency and belonging;
  5. staff professionalism: pedagogical documentation and collegial reflection to constantly improve educational practice, and professional collaboration to foster continuity of educational experiences;
  6. ensuring coherent governance: pedagogical coordinators and networking between institutions to improve ECEC provision at a system level.

How is the 0-6 pedagogical framework currently being used?

Recent research shows that the document has been primarily used to support the continuing professional development of educators. The pedagogical principles outlined in the framework served as a compass to guide educators’ critical reflection on their practices and as common ground to facilitate dialogue between different perspectives.

The document has also been used as a tool for policy advocacy, prompting the creation of networks among ECEC stakeholders and local authorities. In this way, the community continues to co-construct the integrated ECEC system from a grassroots perspective.

Arianna Lazzari

Arianna Lazzari is Associate Professor at the Department of Education of the University of Bologna. Over the last decade, she has been involved in several research projects on ECEC accessibility, quality and staff professionalism funded by the European Commission. Most recently, she has been collaborating with the EEA working group on ECEC as a research consultant.