Equal opportunities is a principle supported by democratic countries and by most people. But, equal opportunities to what exactly?
When the principle of equal opportunities is applied to the work arena, many researchers and workers recognised that this is not actually happening, even if this is desirable and wanted. Different kinds of discriminations, gender pay gap, glass ceiling, and so on are common phenomena. Often, justifications based on background, experience, social and technical skills, nationalities, race or sex are provided to explain why some are given access to certain employment opportunities, whilst others aren’t. In general, the lack of access to equal opportunities are accrued throughout life, so when people start working, it may be a little bit late to balance the initial differences.
So, politicians, activists and the public, in general, propose starting with education. The sooner, the better. Equal opportunities to education mean affordability, universal coverage and good quality for all. If only some children have access to good education, inequality is served.
However, is this even possible? Can a society allow this “utopia” of free universal quality education for children from the very beginning?
The Tavistock Institute was commissioned to carry out an assessment of the first cycle of early childhood education in Spain (0 to 3 years) and to develop a proposal for implementation of a quality and universal coverage education system, together with an economic feasibility study and related socio-economic impacts.
Not every society or individual agrees on how long exclusive parental care should last before a child enters into the formal education system. In Nordic countries and from many psychological perspectives about one year seems reasonable.
Not every society or individual agrees on how long working hours should be to ensure workers also have time to take care of their children in addition to work. Different European countries legislate on this – resulting in a regular working week ranging between 35 and 40 hours. Recent literature points out that shorter working hours increase people’s productivity and well-being.
In any case, all these three policies (paid parental leave, early childhood education and working hours) are considered key for children’s well-being, work-life balance and gender equality policies. These policies have to be understood in each particular context, in this case, the Spanish one. Public institutions research and think more about how to address equal opportunities. This knowledge needs to be translated into how budget and political aims are prioritised.
The research that has been led and financed by the Fiscal Studies Institute, a public organism dependent on the Spanish Treasury, shows that not only free universal quality education for children from 0 to 3 is financially possible and affordable, but that it also has substantial economic and social benefits.
The report developed by the Tavistock Institute, based on international and Spanish data and experience, provides cost estimations for the current situation of early childhood education, and for providing free universal quality education for children aged 0 to 3 in Spain, taking into account the policies of parental leave system and the recommended weekly working hours.
In considering different estimation models and policy scenarios, the research shows that current public spending on early childhood education (0 to 3 years old) in Spain is about 2,500 million euros. How much would be needed to provide free universal quality education for children aged 0 to 3? And how much would be the benefits of this universal provision? These and other findings can be found in the IEF Working Paper, including its executive summary in English (see page 11 of the PDF).
Cristina Castellanos Serrano
Senior Researcher and Consultant
The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations