The Principality of Liechtenstein recently joined the Jacobs Foundation’s Primokiz2 program, which connects actors in the education, social services and healthcare sectors and helps them develop a comprehensive early childhood policy, with the goal of creating favorable structural conditions. Marlen Jehle, who oversees coordination and advisory services in the field of early childhood at the Parent-Child Forum (Eltern Kind Forum) in Liechtenstein, talks about her organization’s priorities and the challenges it is currently facing.
What led you to apply to participate in the Primokiz2 program?
Nearly a year ago, the Parent-Child Forum launched its Early Childhood Coordination and Counseling Center (Koordinations- und Beratungsstelle Frühe Förderung, KBFF). I first learned of the project while attending a RADIX event in Zurich. I liked the idea of “looking across the border” and sharing experiences and information with like-minded individuals, so we decided to apply to participate. The first question, of course, was whether collaboration with Switzerland’s “little neighbor” was even possible.
What are your priorities as you focus on issues of early childhood in Liechtenstein?
KBFF is currently formulating a strategy for Liechtenstein, a country of 11 communities and a population of slightly over 38,000. At both the national and community levels, many early childhood programs are already in place. These need to be coordinated and connected to one another, and we need to identify any gaps. We provide support and advice, as well as raising awareness of the importance of early childhood education among the relevant actors, communities and families. Right now our first priority is to make sure that people know about our mission and the programs we offer.
“There is enormous interest in this topic in our country, and it is a major concern for many experts.”
Was there a specific moment in your career that motivated you to work even harder toward a comprehensive early childhood policy?
I have been in my current position only since August 2018, so we can’t yet talk about my “career.” But the Parent-Child Forum has always been concerned with the needs and problems of families. We are also active in educational counseling, child care and parental education. In our day-to-day work, we seek to promote the interests of families, with whom we are in constant communication. We recognize that preschool entry can be a difficult time for families struggling with social problems and for children growing up in difficult circumstances. We want to help ensure more equal opportunities. In January 2019, we organized a kick-off event under the heading of “Early Childhood Education: Networking and Coordination.” At that event, 120 experts from various disciplines came together to share ideas on how early childhood education can succeed. It became clear that there is enormous interest in this topic in our country, and that it is a major concern for many experts and institutions. Naturally, this has motivated us to continue our work on behalf of all families in Liechtenstein and to promote an early childhood policy.
The sixth of nine arguments in the “Case for the Primokiz Program” states that “ECEC helps to build bridges.” To what extent does this apply to your work?
We want to “build bridges” for all of Liechtenstein’s families. All children, regardless of their backgrounds, should have the same opportunities for healthy development. We want to ensure that all families have access to existing programs. We particularly want to bring onboard families that are difficult to reach, and help parents understand that these programs offer opportunities for their children. The Parent-Child Forum has already introduced the early childhood program “schritt:weise” for socially disadvantaged or migrant families. This is a first “bridge,” which helps us gain families’ trust and allows us to explain how our education system works. We need to find ways to make programs more accessible, for example with the help of a family center. Some communities are already offering programs to promote early language skills, and we want to encourage others to do likewise.
At the political level, what challenges do you face in Liechtenstein?
We need to make policymakers, particularly at the community level, more aware of the importance of early childhood education. Communities need to recognize the value of addressing this issue. Every community should affirm its support for an early childhood policy and allocate the necessary staffing and financial resources. The project phase – the establishment of KBFF – is designed to run for three years, and staffing is set at just 20 percent of employment. Upon completion of this phase, it will be clear whether policymakers at the national level support the project and will ensure that it continues. In that case, an increase in staffing would obviously be desirable, so that we can provide more comprehensive support for all of our country’s families.