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Values in Education i Nordic Preschools: Basis of education for tomorrow

Projekter: ProjektForskning

  • Broström, Stig (Deltager)
  • Hansen, Ole Henrik (Deltager)
  • Jensen, Anders Skriver (Deltager)
  • Emilson, Anette (Deltager)
  • Johansson@uis.no, Eva (Projektleder)
  • Puroila, Anna-Maija (Deltager)
  • Einarsdottir, Johanna (Deltager)
  • University of Stavanger
  • University of Linnæus
  • University of Oulu
  • University of Iceland
Se relationer på Aarhus Universitet


Project description

The project is supported by NORDFORSK

1.1 Project relevance

What kind of future citizens do we foster in early childhood education (ECEC) in order to build cohesive pluralistic societies in Nordic countries? Increasingly, children and practitioners in preschools represent diverse cultural and social backgrounds and values preferences. Practitioners are significant persons from whom children learn values, but at the same time, practitioners report that the demands of multiple decisions and pedagogical priorities make working with conflicting values a burden (Thornberg, 2009). Practitioners often find that they lack a language for values. The teaching profession itself, along with researchers, has called for more knowledge in the field of values education (Ohnstad, 2008).

This research project deals with values education in Nordic preschools. Values are understood as principles that guide human action and by which actions are judged to be good or desirable (Halstead & Taylor, 2000). Values education as a concept refers to educational practice through which children are assumed to learn values (Halstead & Taylor, 2000; Thornberg, 2010). The aim of the project is to deepen understanding of the institutionalized fostering of values in Nordic preschools at the theoretical, methodological, and empirical levels. The project applies and further develops Habermas’ (1995) theoretical ideas about communicative actions, life-world, and system, which have rarely been utilized in research on a preschool context. Habermas’ theory allows for the exploration of values education in preschools from multiple points of view: 1) communication through which values are conveyed; 2) participants’ inside perspectives of values (life-world); and 3) broader societal contexts framing the communication, values, and values education (system). The project develops innovative research methodology in which the participative action research methodology of nation-level sub-projects is connected with the cross-cultural orientation of the joint Nordic research.

Within the frame of the NordForsk thematic program of “Education for Tomorrow” the project is highly relevant. Firstly, the project is a joint enterprise of researchers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. On a global scale, the common ideological basis of the Nordic countries has been emphasized (Wagner & Einarsdottir, 2006). The Nordic countries share the ideas of the Nordic welfare model, which has shaped the policies, practices, and ideologies of their educational systems. The Nordic societies are acknowledged as the world’s most equal, both from economic and gender perspectives (UN, 2004; Wagner & Einarsdottir, 2006). Nonetheless, we know little about how these values are articulated in the educational policies of ECEC, or how values education is realized in encounters between young children and practitioners in Nordic preschools. This kind of knowledge would promote the further development of educational systems, curricula, and teacher education in the Nordic countries.

Secondly, values education is a significant but under-represented area in the field of ECEC. Preschools are important societal sites for the communication of values. Every day, a variety of values are more or less consciously communicated in pedagogical practices (Emilson & Johansson, 2009; Johansson, 2011). Although a value perspective is embedded in the core curricula and legislation regarding ECEC in all of the Nordic countries, values education remains one of the most neglected areas. While there is a strong focus on the subject areas and academic learning, there is a tendency to overlook values (Bae, 2009; Biesta, 2009; Østrem, 2011).

Thirdly, there is worldwide recognition that investments in early years have strong connections to the future of societies (OECD, 2012). Research evidence from many disciplines indicates that the first years in children’s lives are the most critical for providing the foundations for children’s learning and development (Evans, 2001; Katz & Redmond, 2009). These insights have been supplemented by economic studies highlighting the positive returns of early childhood programs. For instance, Temple and Reynolds (2007) found that the positive economic outcomes of high-quality preschool programs exceed most other educational interventions, especially those that begin during school years. It is also argued that investments to early childhood education are among the best ways to decrease social inequality caused by children’s diverse backgrounds and growth environments (Kartal, 2007). All of these benefits are, however, dependent on the pedagogical content, social relationships, and the overall quality of early childhood education programs.

The proposed project promotes the objectives of the thematic program of "Education for Tomorrow" by:

1) Enhancing understanding of values education in the context of Nordic preschools;

2) Promoting Nordic co-operation in early childhood education research;

3) Addressing values education from the perspectives of equity, gender issues, and Nordic welfare states, which are core themes of the program;

4) Implementing high-quality, forward-looking research on values education in Nordic preschools;

5) Employing innovative research methods and multilevel analyses;

6) Working collaboratively within multidisciplinary national and international research networks;

7) Providing high-quality researcher training and promoting researcher careers; and

8) Disseminating the results of the project beyond the research context.

1.2 Previous research pertaining to the topic

The project has its origins in the research conducted by Johansson (2002; 2007a; 2007 b; 2009; 2011) and Emilson (2007; 2008) regarding moral values in Norwegian and Swedish preschools. Emilson and Johansson’s (2009) study established three value fields: caring, discipline, and democracy. Values of care are reflected by concern for the wellbeing of others; disciplinary values refer to adapting oneself to rules and order; and democratic values are directed toward one’s possibilities of participating in, and influencing, a community. These value fields are interrelated and at times overlap; they can also be in conflict. By relating to both individual and collective aspects, these value fields refer to important dimensions in fostering future citizens in pluralistic societies.

In early childhood education research, a growing body of research literature highlights the importance of exploring values education. Several researchers have pointed to the fact that practitioners in early education mainly consist of women who base their work on values for care (Broström & Hansen, 2010; Dahlberg & Moss, 2005). It is expected that preschool teachers create a caring, affirming, and nurturing ethos (Gannerud & Rönnerman, 2006). Researchers have also shown how practitioners strive to encourage children to care for others, show others compassion, and give comfort (Johansson, 2002; Emilson, 2008; Thronton & Goldstein, 2006). Maintaining discipline has been identified as another value field characterizing early childhood education contexts (Broström, 2004; Emilson, 2008; Nordin-Hultman, 2004; Puroila, 2002). For instance, Ekström (2006, p.116) found that preschools foster “normalized, modulated and obedient citizens who are responsible and independent with the ability to join in the system of rules and practices”. Recently, the values of democracy have been studied based on the perspective on children's rights, and with a focus on children’s participation and influence, through which children can create greater capacity for self-determination and solidarity (Bae, 2009; Broström, 2006; Emilson, 2007; 2008; Einarsdottir, 2005, 2010, 2011; Puroila, Estola & Syrjälä, 2012b). This research implies that children’s opportunities for participation and influence are limited and conditional upon a variety of issues, such as teachers’ attitudes, communication between children and practitioners, institutional practices, and cultural routines of preschools.

Previous research also raises questions about gendered expectations in relation to the caring, discipline, and democratic values (Emilson & Johansson, 2009). The communication of care may take different expressions attributed to gender-coded expectations (Johansson, 2007a). While expectations tied to “girlishness” seem to allow for caring through physical contact, expectations of “boyishness” appear to encourage caring through verbal support. There is also research evidence demonstrating that the communication of disciplinary and democratic values is gendered (Einarsdottir, 2005; 2008; Johansson, 2007a; Palludan, 2007). Boys and girls seem to have different opportunities to interact, express themselves, question, and relate to rules (Hellman, 2010; Månsson, 2000). However, the role that gender plays in relation to values is not obvious, as children are capable of both upholding and transgressing the patterns of gender (Johansson, 2007a; Hellman, 2010; Markström & Simonsson, 2011).

The research review provides a picture of preschool as an important site for values education and raises several challenges for this research. Firstly, the previous studies have mainly been carried out at a national level. In spite of the fact that the Nordic countries are often described in terms of shared values, we know little about the commonalities and variations within values education in Nordic preschools. Secondly, values education emerges as a multi-level phenomenon connected with individuals, the communications and relationships between individuals, and the institutional and cultural contexts and practices of preschools. There is a need to advance theoretical and empirical knowledge about the interconnections between individual perspectives, communication of values, and societal contexts in the field of values education. Thirdly, the relationship between values education and gender has not yet been systematically investigated. The research literature suggests that gender stereotypes influence communication in preschool contexts. The picture is, however, complex and transgressions of gendered expectations have also been identified. Therefore, there is a need to explore how maintenance and transgressions of gender patterns emerge in values education. Moreover, the research review addresses the democratic deficits of contemporary ECEC. There is a need to challenge and support practitioners’ work with values in preschool contexts. In this research project, we attempt to confront these challenges.

2 Objectives

The research project aims to deepen understanding of the institutionalized fostering of values in Nordic preschools at the theoretical, methodological, and empirical levels. The objectives and research questions are as follows:

1) To deepen theoretical understanding of values and values education by further developing Habermas' ides about life-world, system, and communicative action.

2) To develop innovative research methodologies in which a participative action research method is connected with cross-cultural orientation;

3) To advance empirical knowledge of values and values education in Nordic preschools.

- How do the national educational policies frame values education in preschools?

- What is values education like in preschools?

- What kinds of values are communicated?

- What kinds of gender patterns emerge in values education?

- Which commonalities and variations in values and values education can be found among the Nordic countries?

3 Methodology, research material, and analysis

The project develops research methodology in which the participative action research methodology of the national sub-projects is connected with the cross-cultural orientation of the joint Nordic research. The research design enables the researchers to work at different levels ranging from the Nordic level to national policy documentation, preschool communities, and individual practitioners.

The national sub-projects last two years and are methodologically based on a participatory action research model, which aims to both create knowledge about values education, and contribute to change (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). Change in the context of this project refers to the practitioners’ growing recognition of values, and their developmental work towards values education in preschools. Within the action research process, the researchers and practitioners are involved in a close collaboration. The goal is to align theory and practice together in a dialogical process (Nielsen & Svensson, 2006). The researchers' role is to initiate, challenge, and encourage the practitioners to reflect upon values and values education. The practitioners’ role is to identify issues that need to be developed and work towards the developmental process in preschools.

Depending on the national resources of the Nordic countries, between two and seven preschools per country are invited to participate in the project. The small number of research sites enables the researchers to carry out an intensive action research process, and to acquire a rich pool of qualitative research material. The selection of the preschools is based on both practical and motivational reasons: the preschools must be located close to the universities and the practitioners commit to a two-year long developmental process.

In order to support and challenge participating practitioners' work with values, the national research teams will organize reflection seminars (6-8 for each preschool) and inspirational days. Reflection seminars are half-day events involving one researcher and practitioners from one preschool. Innovative and creative methods are used, such as construction of learning stories (Broström & Frøkjær, 2006, 2012; Carr, 2001), metaphors (Pramling, 2006), improvisations (Steinsholt & Sommerro, 2006), and narratives (Puroila, Estola & Syrjälä, 2012a). The inspirational days are whole-day seminars that involve practitioners from all of the participating preschools and focus on different themes of relevance for the project (e.g., values in general, values in play, values communicated between children, values and gender). The aim is to inspire reflection, contribute to new knowledge, and share experiences from the work with values.

Research material will be gathered through multiple methods: policy documents, individual interviews, group interviews, (video) observations, and written diaries from the participants and the researchers. Policy documents consist of the core curricula, legislation, and guidelines that frame values and values education in preschools (system level). Group interviews, individual interviews, and diaries focus on the practitioners' inside perspectives of values (life-world level). In order to explore the communication of values to children, research material is also collected through (video) observations in each preschool (communication level).

A variety of qualitative analysis methods will be flexibly employed and developed, such as document analysis, content analysis, dialogical analysis, and narrative analysis (Hammersley, 2007; Ozga, 2000; Riessman, 2008) in order to explore values education at the system level, communication level, and life-world level. Six perspectives characterize the analyses: 1) educational policies; 2) practitioners' perceptions of values and values education; 3) communication of values in educational practices of preschools; 4) gender; 5) processes and critical incidents for change in preschools; and 6) Nordic commonalities and variations.

The Nordic co-operation continues throughout the whole duration of the project. The aim of the joint research is to advance knowledge about commonalities and variations in values education among the Nordic preschools. The orientation of the project draws upon sharing and co-constructing knowledge within the Nordic framework, rather than drawing direct comparisons between the countries. A variety of innovative tools will be used in order to gain cross-cultural insights, such as using practitioners' quotations from the five countries; employing an 'insider-outsider' perspective; and writing up observations of countries other than the researcher's own (see Osborn, 2004). Through collaboration of Nordic researchers, and the use of multiple methods of data collection and analysis, we aim to minimize the risks of ethnocentricity involved in cross-cultural research.

4 Implementation

4.1 Nordic co-operation and the national sub-projects

The co-operation at the Nordic level is implemented through Nordic workshops (twice per year), Skype meetings, researcher mobility, and joint writing (see schedule and dissemination plan).

In Denmark, the project will be carried out in a co-operation between the University of Aarhus and the network of six preschools named the Laboratory for experimental preschool education. Most of the preschools are located in the neighborhood of Copenhagen. Approximately 18 practitioners, three leaders, and 120 children will be involved in the research process.

In Finland, the project will be implemented in a co-operation between the University of Oulu and two preschools located in the neighborhood of Oulu. Approximately 30 adults, two leaders, and 60 children will be involved in the project.

In Iceland, the project will be carried out at the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education at the University of Iceland and undertaken in two preschools in the City of Reykjavik. Approximately 18 practitioners, three leaders, and 120 children will be involved in the research process.

In Norway, the study rests on collaboration between the University of Stavanger and two municipalities: Gjesdal and Sandnes. The project involves seven preschools, approximately 180 practitioners, and 250 children.

In Sweden, the project will be conducted in a co-operation between Linnæus University and seven preschools. The preschools are located in south east of Sweden. The project involves 20 practitioners, seven leaders, and 100 children.

4.2 Schedule


- Nordic workshops: Stavanger (spring) and Copenhagen (autumn)

- Researcher mobility: four visits (each lasting two weeks)

- Conference: Joint paper presented at European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) conference

- Joint writing: First joint article submitted

- National sub-projects: Beginning of field work and data collection, preliminary analyses


- Nordic workshops: Oulu (spring) and Sweden (autumn)

- Researcher mobility: Four visits (each lasting two weeks)

- Conference: Joint paper presented at American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference

- Joint writing: Second, third, and fourth joint articles submitted

- National sub-projects: Field work and data collection ends, preliminary analyses


- Nordic workshops: Reykjavik (spring) and Stavanger (autumn)

- Researcher mobility: Four visits (each lasting two weeks)

- Conference: Joint paper presented at Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA) conference

- Joint writing: Fifth and sixth joint articles submitted, manuscript of a Nordic book on values education written

- National sub-projects: Analyses finalized, national reports written

Effektiv start/slut dato01/01/201301/06/2017


  • Values, Preschool, Democracy, Gender, Communicative action, Habermas, Dagtilbud, Early childhood, Dannelse/demokrati/værdier



ID: 128966738