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The Diversity+ project has reached its mid-term phase. The Erasmus+ initiative looks to develop governance, benchmarking, recognition and professionalisation tools for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) professionals in order to understand and improve their current approach to diversity inclusion. The multinational partnership is coordinated by CIAPE – Centro Italiano per l’Apprendimento Permanente, and involves ISSA – International Step By Step Association based in the Netherlands, Skola Dokoran – Wide Open School in Slovakia, Schola Empirica in the Czech Republic, Aspire-igen in the UK, Link Campus University in Italy and the Business Foundation for Education in Bulgaria. 

In the last 18 months, the partnership conducted an in-depth analysis of the current challenges that the early childhood education and care systems are facing across the partner countries. It included interviews with ECEC practitioners and key policy experts, as well as desk research into the situation and the needs that should be addressed. The analysis helped the partners to collect inspiring practices of diversity inclusion and to identify the key factors to make services more inclusive and embracing for children. 

The Diversity+ Ebook presents summary of the research into diversity inclusion approaches, commonalities, differences, needs and areas of innovation found across Europe and findings from the research in partner countries. It contains 25 good practice examples from the partner countries, and 8 from other European countries. 

The Diversity+ Charter – a document addressing ECEC directors with the aim to help them improve their governance approaches to Diversity inclusion. The Charter sets out the minimum requirements that ECEC organizations need to meet in order to consider themselves Diversity positive. This includes provisions related to equal access to services by all children and families, curriculum, that integrates and promotes a whole child approach, valuing, acknowledging, and respecting all aspects of a child’s identity; competent, diversified and sensitive workforce which is prepared to meet the variety of needs; ongoing measures for internal monitoring and external evaluation aimed to continuously improve and update services; and governance approach that embraces all policies and practices .

As a further step, in the last 6 months the partnership developed and designed an online Footprint Assessment Tool, based on the Charter, which aims to support the teachers, headmasters and other ECEC professionals to evaluate their diversity inclusive practices and improve them. 

The innovative assessment tool provides incentivized guidance and support that not only shows ECEC providers what a good Diversity inclusive organization looks like, but also guides them on their journey to reaching this level themselves. The interactive digital tool is designed in a very appealing and friendly way that easily and quickly allows ECEC organizations to assess their services against the benchmarking criteria. The partnership has piloted the tool with practitioners in their countries and have received a very positive feedback.

With sustainability and long-term impact in mind, the partners have also started working on an EQF profile and training resources for the development of a Diversity Ambassador role

By the end of the project, the partnership will also develop Diversity+ interactive scenarios and serious game addressed to ECEC practitioners to help children in recognizing and challenging bias, racism and prejudice; how to increase knowledge of own group and others; how to reduce inter-group conflict; how to nurture cooperation and solidarity; celebrate differences; foster empathy, mutual respect and awareness in relation to equality and diversity to create an inclusive community. The scenarios will address the topics of inclusion and diversity in everyday routine with children, as there are many primary areas of bias that ECEC practitioners can directly acknowledge, discuss and challenge on a daily basis including race, ethnicity, physical abilities and characteristics, gender, family composition and economic class, etc. 

The highly transferable resources will help Diversity+ achieve a wide impact on the governance structures found across ECEC institutions, helping these organisations to become more welcoming and inclusive for a range of diversity identities. This will see an improvement in the numbers of children from these groups engaging with ECEC services, helping to address the current underrepresentation of minority groups. As a result, more people from within these groups will develop key social skills, empathy, compassion, mutual respect and awareness in relation to equality and rights, something which will ultimately improve social inclusion long-term across the countries involved and beyond.

All developed products are already available in English, Bulgarian, Czech, English, Italian and Slovak on the project website

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Author: Nevena Rakovska, Business Foundation for Education, Bulgaria

Photo: Diversity+ team meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia. November 2021.