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LTS hosts first early years international summit digitally via Glow

A little bit like Terry Wogan hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, Jean Carwood-Edwards, the early years team leader at Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), was last week calling, "Come in, Iceland", followed by Sweden, Italy, Serbia, Romania and Poland to speak over the airwaves.

But this was no voting contest and no one was awarding "nul points (although Romania's microphone failed to work).

Instead, from the headquarters of LTS in Glasgow, the organisation was hosting the first early years international summit conducted digitally via Glow.

The session was opened by Adam Ingram, Scotland's Minister for Children and Early Years, who outlined Scotland's Early Years Framework, launched in 2008; the launch last year of its "Go, Play, Read" campaign for babies and toddlers; followed by "Go Play", targeted at the 5-13 age-group in areas where children have the least opportunities.

The burning question for Mr Ingram came from Iceland: "How do you reach the parents who really need support?"

Acknowledging that there was still a "substantial number, particularly in pockets of deprivation, who do not have that kind of nurturing parental support", Mr Ingram talked about the family-nurse partnership programme, piloted in the Lothian area, which he hoped would reach out to such families.

In Iceland, children start formal schooling at the age of six and, in the pre-school stage, are split into two age groups - 1-3 and 3-5. Helga Jonsdottir, headteacher of Leikskolinn Furugrund, says staff use video as well as traditional written diaries to record the youngest children's progress; once older, dictaphones record the "how and the why" questions and answers.

Serbia was represented by Jelena Vranjesevic, a PhD student in child participation. Her country divides pre-school into three levels: early - 3 months to 3 years; kindergarten - 3-5; and pre-school preparation for elementary school - 5-7.

There are two early years' curricula in Serbia working in parallel: model A is child-centred offering teachers greater autonomy, while B is rigid, traditional and teacher-centred.

Only 30 per cent of children go to kindergarten, although 100 per cent attend the pre-school level; parents have to send their child to the nearest centre and cannot choose between curriculum A or B.

When the more child-centred curriculum was introduced in the mid-1990s, it had led to tensions, so the Serbian authorities had allowed both models to co-exist. In the next two years, however, Serbia will have to choose between them, said Ms Vranjesevic.

Tizziana Cippi, a pre-school teacher from Milan, related how children in her school learned baby signing and other forms of sign language to help their language skills.

In Sweden, the pre-school curriculum was founded in 1998 and expects children to express their own opinions and influence their own learning environment, said Jill Hojeberg, a pre-school and primary teacher in Stockholm.

"Before 1998, the emphasis of evaluation was on a child's learned skills," she said. "Now we evaluate ourselves as teachers and pedagogues, and our plans include attitudes and the environment of learning."

Poland's curriculum had been changed radically last year, said Magdalena Grzegorczyk and Maria Giach, kindergarten teachers from Lodz. At the beginning of the year, each teacher had to identify gifted children and those with special needs, and then plan a detailed programme for each child on that basis, they added.

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