Estonia implements EU child care recommendations – Ahead of time or behind the times
According to a number of studies, the availability of childcare places is an important factor that influences birth rate, employment and family planning.
Therefore the attempt of several organisations of the European Union to develop common standards and systems is not surprising. Due to great differences between countries, it has so far been confined to spreading comparisons, recommendations and good practices. Two main child care development trends in the European Union concern ensuring of availability and quality. The article gives an overview of the EU recommendations in regard to the teaching and formal care of preschool age children, and analyses how the situation in Estonia complies with these objectives. The analysis shows that Estonia already has a child care system that corresponds to the EU recommendations by its regulations and standards. Estonia can be firmly considered a country with the so-called single child care system, because kindergartens are the form of childcare guaranteed to parents. At the request of parents, all local governments have to find a place for a child in a kindergarten when the child has attained the age of 1.5 years. The Estonian legislation dealing with ensuring the quality of child care can be considered especially progressive. The main shortcoming of the Estonian child care system is the problem with regional availability of kindergarten places. Although the right to a kindergarten place is provided by law, about half of the local governments of Estonia have difficulties with finding a place for all children who need it. In order to solve this problem, in recent years the creation of new childcare places has been supported, and some quality requirements have been reduced, or mainly the education requirements to people working with children have been lowered. Although these changes may improve the availability of childcare, if these rearrangements become a new standard, it may endanger the quality of preschool education, which is highly valued by parents. The authors think that before making fundamental changes to the existing system, it should be carefully weighed so that the reforms would not endanger the quality of the existing system, toward which the rest of Europe is still moving. In the future, restoring the existing system will be complicated, and the long-term harmful impacts of the reorganisation may overcome the useful impacts.