Stefania Sabatinelli and Marta Cordini, Politecnico di Milano
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has had inevitable serious impacts on ECEC services all over the world, linked to their relational nature. Both in professional and in informal settings, in fact, ECEC services consist of the fact that young children spend time with specifically dedicated adults and, in most cases, with their peers. The early age of children then implies that closeness and intimacy play a pivotal role in this relational dimension. The need of physical distancing caused in most countries the closing up of ECEC services, together with schools, already before the general lockdown was introduced. The re-opening of ECEC services has followed differentiated paths and timings in the different countries (or regions).
The most immediately visible entailments concerned the hard work-family balance for those parents whose work was not suspended during the lockdown, either in the workplace or in home-working, who were obliged to carry out their professional and childcare activities in the same place, at the same time. Besides, the exceptional and unprecedented situation brought about by the interruption of activity first and by the need to adapt the services’ organization to new safety criteria soon after, has had severe implications for the ECEC services systems themselves. In particular, the balance between the need of containing virus spreading and the pedagogical needs of children is challenging the usual design of ECEC services. The panel particularly seeks to deepen two broad dimensions:
- Sustainability and management issues, for public bodies, private providers and services’ workers, connected to the lack of revenues in the lockdown months and to the need to cope with new procedures to limit the risk of contagion and allow tracing, which all increase costs while generally reducing profitability (e.g. reduction of the adult-children ratio and of the children admitted per sqmt, increased expenses for cleaning and protection devices, etc.), and often translate into a reorganization of opening hours (as well as of space), that impacts on the care time that can be ensured.
- Educational and quality issues, related to the need to prevent the regression of childcare to mere custodial functions, in contrast with the social investment principles, that value the temporal perspective of individual and collective returns expected in the future for financial investments in educational policies. There is a fundamental necessity to avoid that the new safety and protection procedures hinder the didactic value of ECEC services and to rather elaborate a sense-making thought to innovate pedagogic protocols usefully integrating such procedures.
More in general, the pandemic has exacerbated the uncertainty conditions in which it is necessary to operate to manage care services. The compression of the dimension of time in the decision-making processes also needs to be taken into account when analyzing the reorganization of ECEC services after the outburst of covid-19.
The panel welcomes papers reflecting on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the ECEC services in one specific context or comparing more than one national or regional/local case. Particularly welcome are papers that combine empirical evidence with theoretical reflections.