In colaboration with Sophie Gardiner.
In the forthcoming IDB publication “Panorama sobre desarrollo infantil en America Latina y el Caribe: Un estudio comparativo” (Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Comparative Study) by María Caridad Araujo, Florencia López-Boo and Juan Manuel Puyana, the programs in Argentina stand out for the high qualifications that are required of teachers, the universal coverage of the programs, and the developed structure of their curriculum. The study analyses three daycare programs. Two of the daycare programs, the Centros de Protección Infantil (CPI) and the Jardines Infantiles de Buenos Aires, are located in Buenos Aires. The third daycare program, the Jardines Infantiles del Municipio de Villa Paranacito, is located in the Entre Ríos province. The whole education system in Argentina is organized at the federal level, meaning that each province is responsible for its own programs, their design, and funding.
When I visited these three programs in Argentina in June 2011, I was gladly surprised by the fact that the teachers and caregivers are required to have very high levels of education compared to those required by similar programs in other countries of Latin America. Specifically, the teachers of all three programs are required to be licensed teachers of early childhood education or preschool teachers, a diploma that, in Argentina, takes four years of study to acquire (post-high school). This means that teachers in a Jardín Infantil or Jardín Maternal will have at least sixteen years of education. In addition to the teachers, teaching assistants (also known as caregivers) are required to fulfill some minimum requirements in terms of qualifications, although there is more variation across programs. In the CPIs, assistant teachers are either community mothers or students who are preparing to become preschool teachers. The caregivers in the Jardines Infantiles in Buenos Aires and Entre Ríos must have completed secondary education. For this work, this is a more stringent requirement than in other Latin American countries.
The second element that was brought to my attention in my 5-days visits and that is worth highlighting about the programs in Argentina is that the coverage of the Jardines is universal, although certain groups of children have priority for enrollment. Highest priority is given to: i) children who live in the neighborhood of the center, ii) siblings of children already in the center; or iii) children of employees of the school. Also, and more importantly, priority is given to children with precarious housing, children in single headed household, those with parents who work in the area, and children who have unmet basic needs. I can see the positive and the negative side of this prioritization process. This could create noteworthy interactions between the wealthiest and poorest children in the classroom; but may be less successful in supporting the most disadvantaged families.
By the end of that last winter day of visits of the centers, I went to the Secretary of Early Education of the City of Buenos Aires for an interview with the extremely helpful Division Head, Marcela Goenaga. She shared copies of the curriculums they use in all Jardines and explain how they have developed them. That is why a final aspect I thought would be worth mentioning in this posting is the well-organized curriculum for the Jardines Infantiles in Buenos Aires. The Secretary of Early Education for the city published a curriculum guide for preschool education in 2000. The guide is divided into three volumes by age group: ages 45 days to two years, two years to three years, and four years to five years. Each volume highlights the most important elements of care for that stage of the child’s development. For example, the relationship with the family, an initial introduction into the environment, classroom activities, key elements for the children’s space, and evaluation methods are all addressed for each age group.
It seems that there is no reason for the children of Argentina to cry much…as the Jardines in Argentina seem to be on track to set high standards of care for the region. It appears that one of the challenges still ahead will be to create a system of prioritization of enrollment that continues to reach children who are most in need.