Helen Penn University of East London, UK
My current interests are the interfaces between theory, policy and practice in early childhood education and care, and in particular how policy shapes provision; and early education policy and practice in low income countries. A key part of my work on policy concerns the childcare market, and the role of for-profit entrepreneurs within systems of early education and care provision. This perspective on the childcare market is important and relevant not only in high income neo-liberal English speaking countries, but even more so in low income countries, where much or most provision for young children is entrepreneurial.
With my colleague Eva Lloyd, I co-direct a research centre, The International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare. www.uel.ac.uk/icmec This is a multi-disciplinary centre, involving economics, business studies, and the private sector, as well as early childhood specialists. We run regular seminars on topical issues concerning childcare markets, as well as generating a small research programme. We are editing a book on childcare markets, with contributors from many countries. The theme is the relationship between provision that relies heavily on entrepreneurial for-profit activities and inequality. I have also published widely on this topic in academic journals.
I work on a number of European projects. I was commissioned to write a report Early Education and Care in Europe; Lessons for Policy Makers which has been widely translated and circulated throughout Europe www.nesse.fr/nesse/activities/reports/ecec-report-pdf
I have also worked on other European projects on the regulation of the for-profit sector across Europe and on financing childcare. I have also undertaken work for the OECD. A summary of this work is available in my recent book: Quality in Early Childhood Services: An International Perspective" www.mcgraw-hill.co.uk/html/033522878X.html
I have been working in low income countries, especially in Southern Africa and Central Asia for over 15 years. Much of my work has been with international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and large consultancy firms, where I have been contracted to develop policy initiatives and developments in early education at a governmental level. I have undertaken work for UNICEF, most recently in Iraq; and for UNESCO, when I contributed to the 2010 World Conference on Early Education, held in Moscow. I have close links with the University of the Free State in South Africa, and |I co-authored a recent booklet on childcare provision in South Africa, Siyabonana: We All See Each Other.
I have taken a critical perspective on the activities of INGOs and in particular on the early childhood policies of the World Bank, and argued that they are unduly influenced by neo-liberal economic theory emanating from the USA. This work has been published in a variety of books and journal articles, most recently in the journal Childhood.