Parenting Strategies around Young Children’s Education in Urban China – Intensive, Responsible and Stratifying?
Lund University, Sweden
This project investigates the empirical realities of shifting norms and practices around young children’s education in urban East Asia. In particular, it examines how parenting strategies are entangled with aspirations for human capital accumulation and upward social mobility, as well as the best interest of the child, and how these notions are reconciled and enacted differently along gender, generation, and class lines.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing and Shanghai, the paper outlines the ways in which parents’ strategies around their children’s cognitive and academic development are motivated, negotiated and prioritised and how parents navigate through compromises, sacrifices and contestations to realise these strategies. Working with the concepts of intensive motherhood, responsible parenting and stratified reproduction it serves to illuminate ways in which parenting cultures both reflect and reproduce inequalities not only with regards to gender and class, but also with regards to intergenerational relations. In order to understand parenting strategies around young children’s education in urban China it is argued that the familialistic welfare policy context, which strengthens dependencies within families both between parents and across generations, as well as the low-fertility context need to be taken into account, as many children are their parents’ ‘only hope’. Parents’ strategies also mirror well China’s ambition to take a lead in the global economy by raising competitive producers and consumers. Yet, among some upper middle-class families, the interest of the child is taking precedent over human capital accumulation, which gives a different meaning to responsible parenting, but at the same adds to intensive motherhood by balancing demands on children’s mental and emotional wellbeing and demands on cultivating and nurturing their skills and knowledge.
A Gap In Development: The Effect Of Parental Involvement On Children Cognitive Skills
The University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Living in poverty during childhood is harsh enough in many aspects. Regarding a child’s overall development, its consequences can be devastating. The so-called socioeconomic gap during compulsory education and beyond, has been widely reported by educational research. But when and how is this gap created?
It has also been found that the quality of care that guardians provide has a sizable impact on cognitive development at the earlier stages of life. To test this hypothesis alongside the socioeconomic component, we used data from the Chilean Longitudinal Survey of Early Childhood (ELPI).
We developed a threefold measure of parental involvement composed of positive parenting, parental stimulation and ineffective parenting, to unveil what can make a difference in a child’s cognitive skills. We found that the effect of parental involvement varies across children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from as early as three years old.
Cognitive scores are found to be higher for children living in the wealthiest households. Although discouraging at first glance, it is also found that a high level of positive parenting has a stronger positive impact on deprived children, while the negative impact of ineffective parenting is stronger on the most advantaged children. This fits into a narrative of striving for success and resilience against all odds for deprived children.
The parental involvement construct can contribute to further our understanding of the socioeconomic gap in cognitive skills acquired by children, which can be particularly relevant for tackling the inequality-related gaps in a variety of later-life outcomes.
A Child As A Subject In Childcare Selection? Parents' Notions Of The Child And Early Childhood Education And Care
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
When the child is nine months old, Finnish parents need to decide about future childcare arrangements. They can choose either to continue taking care of their child at home, or to return to paid work. In the latter case, they can choose from a range of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services or a combination of these. In Finland, the enrolment in out of home care is relatively low, less than 30% of children younger than two years attend ECEC.
In this paper we focus on parents’ accounts for their decision to enrol their one-year-old child in ECEC and especially, on the accounts that focus on the child. We analyse what the conceptions of the child are that the parents draw on and whether they assume the child have agency in the childcare selection. The study takes a novel perspective to research on childcare selection, since previous research usually relates the selection to the socio-economic background of the family (Sylva & al. 2007). The child's role as a 'participant' or 'agent' in the selection is rarely studied.
The agency potentially produced to children in parents' accounts is examined as a discursive phenomenon. The methodology draws on discourse analysis.
The data consist of 63 qualitative interviews with Finnish parents whose youngest child was one to two years old. The study forms part of the CHILDCARE project financed by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland.
The findings show the understanding of ECEC as an arena for the child's social relations. A young child is, especially, described as an agent in the childcare selection through her/his relationships to peers and ECEC activities.
Irresponsible or Incapable? Discussing Parents as Users of Early Childhood Education and Care Services in Finland
University of Jyvaskyla, Finland
The official functions of Finnish early childhood education and care (ECEC) concern learning and development of children and work-family reconciliation. Children have an unconditional entitlement to ECEC, and thus, every parent is able to enrol her child in ECEC. Due to the universal access and the educational function given to ECEC, one could assume that using ECEC services would have become a social ‘norm’. However, this seems not to be the case, since the unconditional access to the services has been recurrently debated. While the debates may concern children, they often concentrate on parents.
In this paper, we investigate the discourses municipal politicians draw on when they discuss and debate universal access to ECEC from parents’ point of view. Applying Foulcauldian thinking, we understand the discourses as producing specific subjectivities for parents and implications of ‘proper’ family life. The data was collected in 2016, when the Finnish government enforced a restriction in the hours of the unconditional entitlement to ECEC. However, municipalities as providers of ECEC could decide whether they enforce the governmental restriction in their area or not. The data includes qualitative interviews with municipal politicians (31) in 10 municipalities and the council debates about the local enforcement of the governmental restriction in three of these municipalities. The analysis applies discourse analytic tools.
The analysis shows two main discourses, the discourse of irresponsible parents and the discourse of incapable parents, which the politicians draw on both in the council debates and interviews. While the discourses produce very different subjectivities for the parents as users of ECEC services, they both suggest that the ‘normal’ use of ECEC is linked with parents’ labour market participation.