13 September 2009

Eleftherotypia, September 12th 2009

Municipal Day Nurserie

The situation deteriorates year by year

By Christina Papastathopoulou

The insufficient number of buildings, the dearth of staff and the absence of a national system of pre-school education are the most serious problems that beset the institution of municipal day nurseries in our country. 

This year, just like every year, thousands of parents rushed to submit the application in order to ensure that their child would be accepted in a municipal day nursery. In the Municipality of Athens only, the 97 municipal day nurseries received 1000 more applications compared to last year.Many parents were successful in their endeavor and their children are following the classes since the 1st of September. But all over Greece there were thousands of others who did not manage to get a place in the municipal day nurseries and were thus faced with a tremendous problem. They either had to turn to the private day nurseries and bear the heavy cost or seek an alternative solution.This school year, only 62% of the applications submitted to the country’s municipal day nurseries were accepted. During 2008-2009 school year the number of children that were left out of the 97 day nurseries that belong to the Municipal Foundling Hospital of Athens was 2000, whereas in 2007-2008 the number of children was 1700.

Who is to blame for the fact that an increasing number of children is left out of the municipal day nurseries?

Why do the applications outnumber so greatly the available places?


Difficulties

“I don’t know the exact number of the rejected applications. It remains to be examined. What I do know, however, is that this is happening because there are not enough buildings to accommodate all the children” notes Ms Iro Valsamaki, president of the Municipal Foundling Hospital of Athens. She adds that it is extremely difficult to find plots or buildings that meet the standards for the establishment of new day nurseries or for the translocation of some of the existing ones.“

The lack of appropriate buildings is a chronic problem that has not been tackled on time” says Evangellia Kalaitzi, president of the Pan-Hellenic Association of Early Childhood Educators (PAECE). She adds that in the urban centers there aren’t any buildings that meet the standards which are necessary for a day nursery and she proposes the founding of an organization, similar to the Organization of School Buildings, which will be responsible for finding properties that are suitable for the construction of day nurseries.In spite of the difficulties Ms Valsamaki feels optimistic for the future and hopes that during the school-year 2009-2010 the number of the operational nurseries will rise from 97 to 100.“

You cannot resolve the problem overnight” she notes and adds that “if there were another 30 day nurseries the problem would be solved and the needs of the citizens of Athens would be met”. “For the time being”, she says, “PAECE focuses on making the best out of the existing buildings in the municipality of Athens”.But why does the demand for a place in a day nursery increase year by year?“

The reasons are legion” says Ms Valsamaki “but the most important one is that the parents have now realized, more than ever in the past, the importance of day nurseries”.According to Ms Kalaitzi, the main reason is the ever increasing number of economic immigrants. She also highlights an interesting paradox. In the urban centers the number of applications for a place in a day nursery is disproportionate to the available places, the result being the rejection of many applications. Contrarily, in the rural areas, communities and villages, the educators are striving to convince the parents of the importance of day nursery and of its beneficial effects on the socialization, evolution and development of their child. In these areas the day nurseries face a problem of sustainability since they have to operate with a very limited number of children.Apart from the lack of suitable buildings there is also the problem of the dearth of staff. “

There have been no new recruitments and as a result there is a 25% shortage in educational and assistant personnel” says Ms Kalaitzi and highlights the disgrace of having unsuitable people who are doing their practice and who do not belong to the staff of the municipality teaching classes because of the lack of suitable educators.According to Ms Kalaitzi, one of the most serious problems afflicting the sector of early childhood care and education is the lack of permanent practitioners. “It is unacceptable for a sector where children are involved, not to have permanent educators taking care of the children. The constant alternation of faces upsets the children, disturbs their emotional world and prevents them from developing a sense of safety and relationships of trust.

Education

The problems however go deeper and affect the level of education itself.“We accept that the day nurseries are part of the preschool education level. It is my personal belief that they must be incorporated into the basic education and that this matter must be discussed and tackled by the Ministry of Education as soon as possible” says Ms Valsamaki and adds:

“There is no doubt that the work of day nurseries is pedagogic. When I assumed this position I was impressed by the fact that the Pedagogical Institute was not involved in the preparation of Programs. There must always be a pedagogical approach and for that reason I gave particular emphasis on the training of the personnel. It is not the buildings that matter but the teacher. We all know that the teacher is the soul of everything. This simple truth was not taken into account when they transferred the day nurseries within the purview of the municipalities”. (Note: Since 2001 the Local Authorities are responsible for the day nurseries)

The president of PAECE states that “the research data of different sciences, pedagogy and psychology included, has proved the necessity of having a single national system of early childhood education and care”. She adds that “to achieve that it is necessary to make some radical reforms in the educational system so as to provide a unified university level education to early childhood educators. Moreover, this single system must be within the purview of the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, none of the political parties has realized the importance of such a system. This becomes evident by the fact that no political party has included the issue of day nurseries in their plans for the education.

* The party “Front for Athens” makes reference to the day nurseries in one of their press releases stating that this year 3000 applications were rejected compared to 2000 of last year. It also states that the “lucky” parents who have ensured a place for their child in one of the municipal nurseries will have to pay considerably high fees reaching up to 150 euros per month. Moreover, many children will be cramped in unsuitable buildings that do not meet any of the standards and will be taught by teachers who feel stressed because of the flexibility in the labor relations, the low wages and the anti insurance measures.

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