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Nordic countries

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden

System development takes many forms. Perhaps the most successful ECCE countries are Nordic—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Their attainment originates in and illustrates the importance of their cultural context. The Nordic countries have strong traditions of social welfare, enshrined in their constitutions, ensuring quality education, health, and social services to all individuals, including children. They are among the nations with the highest commitments of financial resources to ECCE in relation to the size of their economies (as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP)). However, this legal protection and budgetary commitment is more a reflection of their historically shared norms and culture than it is a cause, itself, of their success.
Although the national government plays an important role, ECCE services in the Nordic countries are provided at the municipal level. Centralization is pursued mainly through highly developed systems of communication and coordination among various levels of national, regional, and municipal governance. Citizens themselves are committed to the system and participate fully in ways that reinforce its quality. A shared social value of community is the magnetic force that ensures sustained, resilient ECCE systems for all children.
Multilevel roles and responsibilities are well established and well integrated with each other in the Nordic countries, starting from national ministries, down to local institutions, and private and non-profit providers (Jónsdóttir and Coleman 2014, Boqvist 2015). A shared expectation exists among stakeholders concerning the quality of services and outcomes, cost and cost sharing, and regulations and procedures. All citizens know what to expect when sending their child to preschool (namely forskola), for example, or in participating in services provided at a local family center or public health clinic. Public communication and information transparency are prized within these systems. Usually, information is gathered across sectors and made publicly available by the kommune (municipality) or the region.
This system of coordination and shared information is supported by a strong system of monitoring and evaluation procedures (Disch 1999, Boqvist 2015). As a within-sector illustration of system interconnection, the Swedish National Agency for Education which issues school curricula and trains teachers in that curriculum, is also in charge of the implementation and evaluation of the curriculum. This practice produces a strong coherence among teacher training, instruction, and learning outcomes. This is supported by a highly specific set of standards and regulations, and longstanding monitoring and evaluation practices. The government determines how services are to be delivered, at what level of quality, and then makes this information publicly known. Standards are developed through participatory consensus processes starting with interviews of the practitioners and leaders and later involving parents.
The system emerging over time in these countries illustrates the importance of a cultural context that honors a strong historical tradition of communal participation.