Volume:2, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2010

Preschool Education: Voices from Perm Preschool Teachers, Administrators and Municipal Leaders
Ludmilla A. Gadzhieva [about] , Tatyana P. Dvorak [about] , Olga S. Ershova [about]

Preschool Education: Voices from Perm Preschool Teachers,
Administrators and Municipal Leaders

This section of the journal presents both answers to some questions of the virtual interview and thoughts about preschool education, submitted by different representatives of the city of Perm – Ludmilla A. Gadzhieva, head of the Perm department of education, Tatyana P. Dvorak, head of the municipal administration for strategic planning, and Olga S. Ershova, leading specialist from the Perm department of education, principals and teachers from Preschools #49, 55, 77, 175, 195, 233, 268, 298, 358, 390, 415, and also by the organizers of a new private preschool “Town of Childhood.” The editorial board hopes that these materials will raise your interest and inspire your comments and replies, which we always look forward to.

First of all, we were interested in the attitude of Perm public preschool teachers to private preschools, and the way they see their pros and cons.

T. Vlasova, teacher, Preschool #55: I believe the appearance of private preschools is a positive trend. The positive features include: a true choice for families and a reduction of waiting lists in public preschools. But there are also negative sides such as lack of strict municipal control and absence of playgrounds.

Teachers, Preschool #77: We think it is positive. The groups in private preschools have fewer children than in public institutions, and teachers can provide an individual approach to every child. But such preschools usually don’t have a strict program, and the parents cannot check how knowledgeable their teachers are. Besides, the facilities are often below the required standards.

Teachers, Preschool #175: We do not fully accept the idea of private preschools, which have their pros and cons. On the one hand, such preschools can allow a small number of children in one group; they can afford modern equipment and a rich selection of didactic materials. On the other hand, their buildings are often not remodeled to meet the required standards; the municipal control is low, and the children are overwhelmed with a number of different classes and programs.

Teachers, Preschool #195: We believe this is a positive tendency though such schools demand high fees, and they are usually out of the municipal control system. But they allow fewer children in one group and these preschools provide an individual approach to children.

Vera Pupyreva, Principal, Preschool #233: I consider it positive. Parents have finally received a chance to choose for their children. Private preschools serve as a challenge for public ones. One negative point in this situation is lack of legal standards for organizing private preschools.

Teachers, Preschool #298: Today, we face the growth of different private preschool institutions. On the one hand, it is good for the parents who have finally received the right to choose. But it is not clear who controls and regulates these institutions.  Different from schools, preschools do not issue their graduates any formal state-approved document but they must provide children with certain ideas, knowledge, and skills. So it is not clear – what programs do these schools pursue? What is the professional level of their teachers? How are the results monitored? Do the physical conditions meet required standards?

Teachers, Preschool #358: We see just one positive feature, and that is an individual approach to every child but the fees are very high, and this is negative.

V.Potapova, teacher, Preschool #415: My attitude towards private preschools is rather negative. The Russian system of preschool education has been formed during many years, and it is unique. The system of private preschools is very young in our country, and there is no appropriate quality and staff control. It is possible that the future of preschool education belongs to private preschools but we should not loose all the best features from the existing system.

Here is how Perm representatives describe a typical preschool teacher:

Teachers, Preschool #49: An energetic professional, kind, artistic, creative, optimistic, attractive from inside and outside, tolerant, adapted to the conditions of the Russian life, a jack-of-all-trades.

T.Vlasova, teacher, Preschool #55: This is a person who is kind to children, good in creating a comfortable psychological climate, knowledgeable of the curriculum, and skillful in using different methods and strategies while adapting them to different age groups. This is a professional who is able to monitor children and consider their individual differences; who can arrange such an atmosphere that promotes children’s development.

Teachers, Preschool #77: An educated, charismatic, energetic, and optimistic person who loves and respects children.

Teachers, Preschool #175: This is a woman, modestly dressed, having an associate degree, aged between 30 and 60, loving children and stress-resistant.

Teachers, Preschool #195: Educated, full of initiatives, with good social skills, loving children, creative and thirsty for new knowledge, ready to provide for self-development and children’s development.

Teachers, Preschool #390: This is a teacher who is knowledgeable of new programs and strategies, and capable to use them in the educational process.

V.Potapova, teacher, Preschool #415: This is a person who loves children, who is educated, creative, full of initiative, and able to work with parents.

Now we will show you a picture of “an ideal preschool” from Perm teachers.

T.Vlasova, teacher, Preschool #55: In principle, an ideal preschool is possible. It should have the following: a swimming pool, sport grounds, playgrounds which depict fairytales’ characters, a winter garden, and research workshops for boys and girls.

Teachers, Preschool #77: An ideal preschool is where children happily run in the morning and where they don’t want to leave in the evening. It is possible when the teachers’ professional level is very high.

L.Timofeeva, teacher, Preschool #268: In an ideal preschool there should be a solid financial basis, modern educational strategies, and best teachers who are ready to give their souls and hearts to children. I don’t believe in the transformation of a regular preschool into an ideal one. They should be created intentionally, and they cannot be numerous.

Teachers, Preschool #390: It should have a very solid financial and material basis, information technologies and competent teachers.

V.Potapova, teacher, Preschool #415: An ideal preschool is such a preschool where children meet with loving teachers, and where it is as warm and cozy as it is at home. Reliable, educated, stable, and professional teachers in combination with responsible parents and a qualified principal can provide complete success.

Here come the answers to the question, “If you had a chance to reform a system of preschool education in Russia, what would you change first?

Teachers, Preschool #49: A solid financial and material basis for the children to feel comfortable and secure. An adequate salary for preschool teachers is required.

T.Vlasova, teacher, Preschool #55: Think first about children’s development and character formation, and then about their education. Children should have more time for games and should be involved less in organized, structured activities. There should be a different environment that provides for children’s development with more playgrounds where children can role-play.

Teachers, Preschool #195: All the teachers should have university degrees with their majors in preschool education. There should be different specialists, including medical doctors; medical service within a given preschool should be of a higher quality than today; teachers should have decent salaries, and a number of children per group should be significantly reduced.

L.Timofeeva, teacher, Preschool #268: Every preschool should be equipped in accordance with required sanitary norms. Teachers should have high salaries, and if they finally start receiving them, they will work hard and do their best.

Teachers, Preschool #298: Preschools should have a sound methodological basis, qualified personnel and computer equipment.  There should be unified standards for preschool education. One more important thing to do is to formulate and place “a federal commission” for new children’s literature, music and movies with a high educational impact. It is well known that children receive plenty of information while playing but most of the computer and other types of games do not produce an educational impact. Quite on the contrary, they often destroy the psyche of children. An ideal preschool should solve all the above-mentioned issues.

Teachers, Preschool #358: The space and size of preschool buildings should be radically increased.

Teachers, Preschool #390: Preschools should be free of charge since our main “customers” are people with a very moderate income. Preschools should receive decent financial support from the state to allow children to play and develop, and to provide their parents with the feeling that their boys and girls are safe and protected.

And finally you can find a variant of reforming preschool education, suggested by Ludmilla Gadzhieva, head of the Perm department of education, Tatyana Dvorak, head of the municipal administration for strategic planning, and Olga Ershova, major specialist from the Perm department of education.

Our analysis of the system of preschool education in Perm identifies two main issues: an undeveloped market of educational services and their low quality in comparison with our consumers’ expectations. There are several reasons for this situation, and we will name just a few of them: preserving a rigid centralized management system; orientation of the controlling bodies towards a final result without paying attention to the peculiarities of the process; a monopoly of public and municipal institutions which leaves consumers no choice.

A necessity to create new municipal models of organizing preschool education is critical. One of these models, developed by the city administration, is based on market management strategies in the field of education.

In brief, the following statements can describe this model:

  • The state shapes the so-called “frame educational standards,” places an order and expects a certain result.
  • Both state and non-state institutions can fulfill this order.
  • A consumer receives a real (and not a declarative) opportunity to choose an educational service and its provider.
  • State and non-state educational institutions have equal rights in their search for consumers.
  • A fair competition becomes a primary instrument of increasing the quality of education.
  • The state provides an independent inspection of quality attracting more representatives of the public into this process.

These characteristics of the “market-based” educational model have a specific nature depending on whether it is preschool, school, or supplementary education. The differences come mostly from the mechanism of placing an order for an educational service. In principle, there could be two types of such mechanisms depending on the “customer:”

  • If the customer is one of the management bodies – a regional ministry of education or a municipal department of education, then public funds go directly from the customer to the provider of an educational service. The amount of funding depends on the number of consumers who have chosen this provider, and also on the standard cost of this service.
  • If the customer is a consumer himself, then the funds are sent directly to the consumers in accordance with the standard cost, and consumers themselves make a choice of an educational service and its provider.

In real management situations a choice of the described mechanism depends on different factors, such as educational goals, a type of an educational service, budget funds, etc. It is also possible to combine both mechanisms. In our view, they create necessary preconditions for developing the market of educational services, a competition of providers in their search for potential customers, and as a consequence, they help to increase the quality of education.

Now let us see how we can apply these approaches to the model of preschool education. One of the municipal bodies will compose a list of educational services that are differentiated in accordance with their duration in hours (12; 10.5; 3.5), age groups (1.5 to 3; 3 to 5; 5 to 7) and their orientation (developing, healthengthening, etc.). Then every standard is described and issued in the form of a “passport” of an educational service, after which the accountancy department can calculate its standard cost.

This exact cost is given to the parents of the child who are responsible for both, the choice of an educational service and its provider (municipal or private). For students’ ages from 5 to 7 expenses are paid out of the local budget and sent directly to providers; for students’ ages from 1.5 to 5 the budget gives subsides to the parents themselves.

The municipal department of education will need to restructure a network of educational institutions, changing their status from budget to autonomous and also providing conditions for the development of non-state institutions. This by itself will give consumers a real choice of educational providers. One of the primary strategies here is organizing competitions between providers and granting the winners with the municipal preschool buildings on long-term rental or concession contracts (up to 25 years) for the creation of private preschools. The municipal bodies should create a system of an independent quality control, which will allow providing the consumers (parents, trustees’ bodies, other organizations) with quality assurance.

All methods of implementing this new model can be split into two groups. The first one presupposes forwarding the money to the provider of educational services (this happens in the situation when the order of the service comes from the municipal educational body) or to the consumer (when the order comes directly from the consumer). The second group is oriented towards developing strategies of restructuring the municipal network of preschools and developing a private educational sector.

The first group includes:

  • Standardization of preschool educational services (a description of its content and structure, quality demands and conditions of the service provision). It’s very important that every educational service should be described using the language that is clear for its consumer.
  •  Calculation of the educational service cost (including all the expenses such as salaries, building maintenance, capital funds, etc.).
  • Procedures for placing municipal orders in educational institutions (including the whole spectrum of services and the expected quality).
  • Procedures for placing municipal orders on a competitive basis in private organizations (procedures of formulating the order, a complete package of documentation for a competition participation, a form of a municipal contract, etc.).
  • Procedures for the expenses’ “transmission” to the consumers (certain payments, monetary compensations).

The second group includes:

  • A change of status for a number of preschools, from budget institutions into autonomous ones; transmission of empty buildings to the providers of non-state educational services on a long-term lease (documents for providing a competition; ways of working with potential contractors, etc.).
  • Renting out the municipal property for different educational service providers, including mini-preschools (documents for providing a competition; ways of working with the providers of preschool educational services, etc.).

A successful implementation of a market model will allow modernizing a municipal system of preschool education, creating a true competitive variant of providing quality educational services and granting genuine choice to parents of preschoolers.

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