Across Europe, non-Western immigrants and indigenous minorities like the Roma are at the highest risk for enduring unemployment, marginalization and poverty – negative conditions which are often transmitted to the next generation through maladaptive child-rearing practices and education decisions. Providing early childhood education programmes is among the most successful policies worldwide to break the cycle of disadvantage. Economic costs-benefits analyses have shown impressive return rates on investments in early childhood education and care, which are not only carried by promoting academic ‘hard’ skills (language, literacy, mathematics), but equally, or even more so, by promoting ‘soft’ skills, that is, the abilities to self-regulate behaviour, to collaborate in work, to develop and pursue interest, curiosity and creativity, to plan and organize complex activities. However, curriculum and pedagogy in early childhood education and care are heavily debated. In the policy area, there is a strong tendency to narrow the focus of preschool education to hard skills, but such an approach can ultimately lead to smaller benefits for individuals and society.
In the Netherlands, one of the major reasons for parents’ current choices in combining work and care is related to the perceived quality of the childcare provisions, which is only moderate and found to be declining in the past decades. Current moderate quality is accepted and most users of childcare express satisfaction, but only because use of childcare is not intensive and therefore not expected to be harmful. To increase female labour participation it seems necessary to improve of the quality of the childcare system.
Developing systems of integrated early childhood education and care of high quality with a curriculum that fits the needs of the learning society is a promising reform that can lead to higher overall quality, increased inclusiveness and better adjustment to the needs of the learning society. ELS research groups from several faculties are strongly involved in this area. Integrating knowledge from research in child development, language acquisition, early math and science learning, teacher professional development and the economics of child care, enables ELS to contribute to redesigning the early childhood education and care system. ELS researchers are well-connected to national and international policy agendas in this area. Recently, major grants for research in this area were awarded to ELS research groups.