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An “Edu:Care” Ratio Theory?

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Balancing the ratio of care and education in ECEC as a proposal to resolve the education and care dichotomy while remaining focussed on the best interests of children.

Duality of provision

Early childhood education and care as a professional sector has always straddled a duality of the provision of care coupled with the education of young children. This is especially evident in the triple aspect inspection process whereby the Department of Education and Skills inspection process focusses mainly on curriculum, the Tusla inspection focusses on health, safety and child protection while the Pobal inspection focusses on funding. Even those legislating for and overseeing the quality of the sector cannot seem to agree on the balance and interplay between the education and care concepts within ECEC practice.

Positive and negative

When working in the ECEC profession there is no doubt that practitioners must hold the best interests of children close to their heart. This aspect of vocationalism in ECEC practice feeds into both positive and negative perceptions of the sector. On the positive end of the spectrum, the deep care that practitioners have for their profession and for the children whom they care and educate is a major contributing factor to the quality of children’s ECEC experiences. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the dichotomy between care and education and the perceived vocational undercurrent which feeds into low pay and recognition, has had a negative sectoral impact. This has contributed to a degradation of the job satisfaction experienced by practitioners and feeds into the attrition of ECEC practitioners into other more professionally recognised and better remunerated fields such as social care and primary school teaching.

A dichotomous debate

Although rich debate around the dichotomy between education and care is likely to continue for some time, it seems to me that they are both interdependent partners and symbiotic allies in the provision of quality ECEC. However, perhaps it is the intricate balance between the two dispositions which is the differentiating factor? According to Noddings (1984), when we are working in a role which requires the care of others our sense of empathy is aroused which results in an increase in the level of care which we provide. This feeds into the concept of ECEC practitioners establishing a “professional love” whereby the quality of the secondary attachment (Bowlby, 1969) and reciprocal caring relationship between the practitioner and child contributes to the quality of ECEC provided (Page, 2011). This is because the child’s basic physiological, safety and belonging needs on Maslow’s hierarchy are being met therefore placing the child on a securely attached footing to enable them begin to meaningfully engage in the ECEC environment and meet their “growth needs” which reside at the upper end of Maslow’s hierarchy (see image below) such as confidence, creativity and problem solving (Maslow, 1943).

A ratio theory of “Edu:Care”?

I would suggest that the dichotomy between care and education could be resolved through shifts in the ratio balance between care and education as a child moves through the various stages of growth and development in line with the trajectory of Maslow’s hierarch of needs. As babies, children are much more reliant on the ECEC practitioner for their care needs which take initial precedence in order for the child to effectively engage in pedagogical activities. However, as children grow and become more independent they develop increased autonomy relating to elements of their care routines and this therefore provides space for the ECEC practitioner to shift the ratio balance towards pedagogical practice within ECEC provision. Of course, children in ECEC at all ages and stages require us to provide both care and education, but perhaps, in order for our practice to be child-focussed, relevant, meaningful and developmentally appropriate, there needs to be an age and stage appropriate ratio balance between care and education which shifts in response to the child’s individual needs instead of a persistent dichotomous debate which benefits no one? ……… Perhaps I should copyright the term “Edu:Care”???...............

About the Author:

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (, where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:


  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

  • Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 19(1), 63-67.

  • Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Page, J. (2011). Do mothers want professional carers to love their babies?. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9 (3), pp.310-323.

  • Maslow Image: J. Finkelstein, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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