Pedagogical quality in preschool : an issue of perspectives

Abstract: The main aims of this thesis on the pedagogical quality in preschool are: to define and describe a pedagogical concept of quality; to explore how quality is experienced and valued from different perspectives; to find out what characterises a pedagogical environment of high quality; and to discuss how those characteristics can be used to improve the quality of preschool. The thesis comprises four studies, a meta-perspective of the results of these and a theoretical framework. Two studies were part of a project, which aimed to improve the pedagogical quality in 20 preschools. The use of both external and self-evaluations of quality with ECERS gave an opportunity to compare these evaluations with one another as well as using the results to plan the content of a targeted development programme. In the third study, three preschools evaluated to be of low quality and three of good quality were selected for in-depth studies. Thirty-nine five-year-old children were interviewed about their conceptions of decision-making and how they experienced their possibilities for exercising influence in their own preschool. In a comparative study between Germany and Sweden, researchers made parallel and independent evaluations of the quality with ECERS in 20 preschools, 10 in each country. The underlying perceptual process was documented and reconstructed and presented in the form of five different themes. From a meta-perspective of the results, the concept of pedagogical quality is defined and described on a primary level, which can be seen as one step in the development of a theory of pedagogical quality. The results confirm that high quality in preschool is related to the competence of the teacher and show that activities in the participating preschools are rarely learning-orientated. This indicates that there is a difference between the children’s experience of exercising influence and the level of quality and shows that it is vital for the children to be involved in decision-making. The results clearly show that external and selfevaluations of quality differ, and that there is a tendency for teachers in low-quality preschools to overrate their own quality, while teachers in high-quality preschools seem to evaluate their quality lower than the external evaluator. The results confirm that structural aspects are no guarantee for high quality and show that low-quality preschools are more vulnerable to decreases in resources. Further, the results show that the quality in preschool can be enhanced through competence development even while organisational changes and financial cutbacks are taking place. To allow these conditions to exist and develop, at least four perspectives must be focused on during research on quality and in the development work, that is: the quality of interactions, the perspective of the teacher, the perspective of the child, and the perspective of society. The study suggests that a theory of pedagogical quality needs to be developed, to define the concept further, and that the complexity of pedagogical quality requires broad research approaches and an inclusion of different perspectives.

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