Project

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Research and policy intervention on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC from now on) has flourished in recent years. Strong socio-economic and demographic trends underpin discourse and policy innovation in this field, putting the question of who looks after the children at the centre of public debate and scholars’ attention.

ECEC has especially come to the forefront of policy discourse and action as part of a wider attempt to reformulate welfare state intervention through a Social Investment (SI) strategy, an approach to social policy that emphasises equalising life opportunities rather than life outcomes with the underlying goal of ‘preparing rather than reparing’. However, this simultaneous change in the paradigm governing childcare and common trajectory in the transformation of ECEC in Europe and around the globe is taking place departing from very different starting points in the different countries. The common set of ideas, benchmarks and policy prescriptions regarding ECEC at EU and OECD levels does not seem to lead to a shared trajectory of policy change.

Developments have not been uniform as for what regards both the pace of transformation and the specific path taken. Hence, we seem to be facing a shift in paradigm at the level of problem definition but we cannot conclude that a third order change has or is taking place. There are bound to be tensions and tradeoffs between interpretation at the level of discourse, the precise problem definition, the mechanisms put in place to tackle such problem and the outcomes they produce. Our starting premise is that the degree to which an increase in childcare spending can truly be interpreted as moving in a Social Investment direction will depend on a number of pre-conditions. These can be grouped in two main linked concepts that are central to the Social Investment logic: Equality in representation and access and Quality of provision.

On the one hand, we need to understand if all social groups benefit equally from ECEC interventions or if, as the ‘Matthew Effect’ suggests, these are biased towards the middle classes, benefiting those who are least disadvantaged but that hold greater political visibility. On the other hand, we need to know if the urge to expand services (given greater demand) comes at the price of quality, in which case the argument that ECEC expansion is part of a wider Social Investment strategy can hardly be made.

To study how equality and quality interact with ECEC expansion we propose an analytical focus organized around three main streams (1) Politics, (2) Policies, and (3) Outcomes. These three integrated parts will look at the political conditions under which the development of the investing in children paradigm takes places unveiling tensions and contradictions among different actors and mobilization capacity of different social groups and public opinion support; investigate the realization of the investing in children paradigm by looking at policy designs and implementation mechanisms at national, subnational and municipal levels into the early years; and study the outcomes of these policies by looking at conditions of accessibility for groups of different socio-economic background.

The research will focus on Spain with several sub-national cases and we will undertake specific comparative analyses at given points in time of the research project.

 

EL PROYECTO

La investigación y la intervención política sobre la Educación y Atención de la Primera Infancia forma parte de un intento más amplio de reformular los Estados de Bienestar hacia una estrategia de Inversión Social (SI), un enfoque de la política social que enfatiza la igualdad de oportunidades de vida con el objetivo subyacente de ‘preparar en lugar de reparar’. Fuertes tendencias socioeconómicas y demográficas sustentan la innovación en este campo, poniendo la cuestión de los cuidados en temprana infancia en el centro del debate público y la atención académica. Los desarrollos han sido diferentes en los distintos países, tanto respecto al ritmo de transformación como al camino específico tomado, generando, probablemente, tensiones y compensaciones entre la interpretación a nivel del discurso, la definición del problema, los mecanismos establecidos para abordarlo y los resultados obtenidos.

Nuestra premisa de partida es que el aumento del gasto público en este ámbito puede interpretarse como Inversión Social solo si verifican una serie de condiciones previas que se pueden agrupar en dos grandes conceptos recíprocamente conectados y cruciales: Igualdad de oportunidades en el acceso al servicio y la calidad del mismo.  En este sentido, resulta necesario, entender, por un lado, si todos los grupos sociales se benefician igualitariamente de las inversiones en política infantil o si, como sugiere el ‘Efecto Mateo’, estas están sesgadas hacia las clases medias, beneficiando a los menos desfavorecidos. Por el otro, es importante determinar si la necesidad de expansión de los servicios (dada una mayor demanda) damnifica la calidad, en cuyo caso difícilmente se puede argumentar que la expansión de estas políticas sea parte de una estrategia de Inversión Social más amplia.

Proponemos entonces un enfoque analítico organizado alrededor de tres puntos principales (1) Política, (2) Políticas y (3) Resultados. A partir de estas se analizarán: las condiciones políticas bajo las cuales se desarrolla el paradigma de inversión  en la temprana infancia, revelando las tensiones y contradicciones entre los diferentes actores, la capacidad de movilización de los diferentes grupos sociales y el apoyo entre la opinión pública; Cuáles son los mecanismos de implementación a nivel estatal, subestatal y municipal; los resultados de estas políticas mediante la observación de las condiciones de accesibilidad para grupos diferenciados.