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Quality in Time and Space: Defining ‘Quality’ in a Canadian Context (10 Years After the Original European Document on Quality)

By Helen Penn (University of East London)
Published in the NZRECE Journal, Vol. 10, 2007, pp. 25 - 32.



This paper discusses how a European initiative to discuss quality in childcare, which was developed and disseminated over a seven year period, was taken up and used 10 years later in Canada.

As one of the authors of the original European document on quality, I discuss shifts in thinking about ‘quality’ across time and space. Questions that emerged when re-writing the document on quality childcare for a Canadian audience were: (1) an increase in women’s participation in the workforce, (2) the rapid increase in the number of early years services and in particular services run for-profit, (3) issues of governance, (4) multiculturalism, (5) environment and globalism and (6) child rights.



Most of my working life, first as a campaigner, then as an administrator, and for the last 15 years as a researcher, I have been wrestling with the concept of quality in early childhood services. ‘Quality’ might be translated roughly as ‘good practice’, but as Bourdieu (1992) suggests practices of any kind accumulate slowly and partly unconsciously, built up out of whatever local repertoires exist. So what kind of behaviours, attitudes and assumptions go to make up good practice in early education and care? How long have they been in the making? How can they be influenced? What kind enabling conditions are necessary for good practice to emerge? What are its outcomes? Are there widely accepted good practices which cross local and national boundaries or are such definitions irredeemably local?


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