This post may sound a hint too critical, I am sorry for that in advance.
In Graz there is a number of early education centres such as nurseries and kindergardens. For more details, the curious reader is invited to see the post “Preschool Education in Graz”. The government guarantees that ALL children in Graz are provided with daycare, i.e. as long as both parents work and thus need this support from the state. This need is in ALL cases catered for. So they say on the media.
Well, the small print is:
“The goal is to provide daycare to 33% of all children below the age of 3 as set by the EU”.
This raises a number of questions, which need to be carefully considered and which are directly related to socio-political systems. First of all, in Austria there is a maximum maternity leave of 3 years. Aha, so you don’t have to go to work for 3 years?? In theory yes, that’s true. Whether that is the best solution for both mother and child, and on the other hand to society in general, is another question.
What are these 3 years based on? What are the beliefs and convictions behind them? One could say…
a. “It’s for the children’s sake because dueing the first 3 years they are best taken care of by their mother as says developmental psychology”
b. “It’s for economic reasons because other people are employed during your maternity leave and create new jobs”
c “It’s a pure patriarchal system embracing the women’s role to be at home and not working”
Where I actually believe in the validity of argument “a”, I still find it difficult to grasp why this system is designed to enable families to dedicate themselves to having kids, while on the other hand we all know that the labor market is not waiting for us women for 3 years. Besides, this is not a compulsory maternity leave. You could legally even go back to work after 2 months. Not that I stand for that but legally it’s a possibility.
So what about the women who decide to have a family and still get back on the professional track after 1-2 years? What about them? Oh, they are probably the mothers to 33% of the kids in Graz, I see… Being one of those mothers I can only report what a difficult endeavor it was getting a place for my son in a nursery. And you have to face so many compromises:
1. you are not able to choose the best institution for your kid. You are possibly given a place somewhere and you MUST be really grateful for it.
2. when you go back to work, you’re back for real. You can work part-time but what about the times your child gets sick? Who will look after him/her? Not to mention awful situations like the Summer holidays that will force you to find a “solution” for your kid for up to entire 7 weeks while you still have to go to work. That solution could mean you hire a babysitter, if you can afford it, or your toddler is placed in another nursery for that period where he is looked after by complete strangers.
3. once you were generously given a place you are not supposed to get involved in any pedagogical discussions, let alone complain about anything because nursery and kindergarden teachers have a much harder life than you do* and BE REALISTIC – you are in no position to be picky…
All in all, this is reality in early education. I have to be fair though and say I’m fully aware that there are much worse realities and at least we know our children are staying in daycare centres with all necessary infrastructure, food and a warm bed. Most teachers are very committed. The teacher-student ratio at nursery level is actually very good – groups with up to 12 kids are entitled to up to 5 teachers depending on the kids’ age. That is really good.
However, by the time your child hits 3 you are forced to deal with much higher challenges like finding a kindergarden in Graz which:
a. is open beyond 1.30pm
b. allows a nap time
c. has more than 2 teachers for 26 children (this one being an illusion as it turns out)
In the end, you need to make your choices as you believe them to be the best for your child. Compromising is probably something you need to adapt to.
*Refer to the study by the Karl Franzens University “Wissen, was los ist”!
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