Building a Progressive Future

Prioritising early childhood education in Europe

17:00 - 19:30
Cesena, Italy
Building a Progressive Future

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Children in Europe are the key to building more just and sustainable societies. Substantial evidence indicates that disparities in life opportunities emerge early in life, primarily influenced by parents’ socioeconomic status, perpetuating across generations. However, early care and education (childcare and pre-schooling) can break this intergenerational cycle of disadvantage.

Despite compelling evidence supporting the positive impact of early childhood care and education, numerous families lack adequate support. Currently, only seven EU member states have achieved the EU objective of 50% childcare coverage, as outlined in the post-Barcelona targets. In 13 countries, less than 25% of children under 3 have access to these services, with disproportionately lower enrollment among those from low-income households and marginalized areas. In certain nations, less than 20% of such children are engaged in any form of early childhood education, compared to over 70% among higher-income households.

This is particularly concerning as over 5 million children under 6 in the European Union face the risk of poverty and social exclusion, a situation exacerbated by economic recessions and financial challenges faced by European families. Without the provision of quality and inclusive early years services, education becomes a tool for better-off households rather than a means to bridge inequalities and eliminate social exclusion.

Progressive initiatives have significantly advanced early childhood care and education across Europe, starting from the European Pillar of Social Rights in 2017, recognizing children’s right to affordable and quality childcare. In 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, over 300 European progressive figures advocated for a Child Union, aiming to ensure equal access to quality early childhood education and care.

The European Child Guarantee, adopted in 2021, urged Member States to ensure equal access to essential welfare services, including early childhood care and education. In 2022, the European Care Strategy pushed for 50% childcare coverage and 96% coverage of preschool education, emphasizing the need to reduce access inequalities and enhance quality.

Finally, the Recovery and Resilience Facility allocated substantial resources to Member States for expanding early childhood care and education infrastructures, mitigating the pandemic and economic recession’s effects.

While progress has been observed, especially in countries led by progressive governments, challenges persist. Affordable and accessible services for socioeconomically disadvantaged children and those in remote areas require attention. Quality improvement should commence with enhancing workers’ professionalization and working conditions. Given the decentralized nature of Early Childhood Education and Care services, local authorities, particularly regions and municipalities, play a central role in organization, financing, and delivery.

Progressives, having tirelessly championed the Child Union, must continue advancing their agenda on early childhood education. Inspiration can be drawn from progressive champions at various levels, including national governments and, crucially, in regional and municipalities.

The event will be available in English and Italian languages.

For more information, please contact Euléane Omez,

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