2.1.1 Arts and cultural education in pre-primary education

General aspects of Austrian policy

Formal pre-primary education

In Austria formal pre-primary education is defined as Vorschule, numbered as grade 0 (zero). It is part of the lower level of primary education comprising grades 0, 1 and 2. Vorschule may be organised as a separate part or as an integrated part of grade 1 and 2 (Lehrplan der Volksschule, 2008, p. 10).

Admission to Vorschule is determined by the criteria for compulsory education [Schulpflicht] and school maturity [Schulreife]: children that have reached the age of six before 1 September, start primary education. Children that have not reached school maturity by that time attend Vorschule.

Non-formal pre-primary education

Early Childhood Education and Care (OECD 2001, p.7) [Frühkindliche Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung] other than Vorschule is considered non-formal education. Although non-formal education intends to base itself on systematic learning processes, non-formal education is not as structured as formal learning at school. Learning outcomes are not attested (Specht, 2009, p. 15).

As an exception the district of Carinthia [Kärnten] installed a compulsory year of pre-school education [Vorschuljahr] within the Kindergarten system. Structure, aims and content of this compulsory pre-school year are based on the education guidelines for Kindergarten of the federal country of Carinthia [Bildungsplan des Bundeslandes für die Kindergärten] (Landesrecht Kärnten, 2009).

Cultural education policy for pre-primary education

Up to now the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture [Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur (bm:ukk)] has not formulated an explicit definition for arts and cultural education in general, let alone for pre-primary education. However, in some government documents and official speeches one can find the following indications:

  • A special curriculum for Vorschule
    Vorschule as part of compulsory schools has a specific curriculum [Lehrplan, (Lehrplan der Volksschule, 2008, p. 28, 36 - 78)]. Its aim is to design a supportive learning programme for each child within the group (Bundesgesetz vom 25. Juli 1962 über die Schulorganisation, §9). The learning  process is inspired by objects and aspects of life familiar to the children and refers to the children's interests and experiences outside school. (Lehrplan der Volksschule, 2008, p. 11). A definition of arts and cultural education is not mentioned in the Lehrplan.
  • Developing a special pre-primary curriculum

    On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture the Charlotte-Bühler-Institute for applied investigation into the experience of toddlers in Vienna [Charlotte-Bühler-Institut für praxisorientierte Kleinkindforschung, Wien] introduced a Common curriculum for children before the age of six (including the pre-primary education level) in 2009 (Bundesländerübergreifender BildungsRahmenPlan für elementare Bildungseinrichtungen in ÖsterreichLandesregierungen, 2009). This curriculum was designed to build a bridge enabling children to reach primary school. It was developed by experts on education in kindergarten.

    In the passage aesthetics and design [Ästhetik und Gestaltung] the term culture is defined as follows:

    The term culture [Kultur] refers to a system of connotations passed on through history that manifest themselves symbolically e.g. in the form of objects of art or literature. Furthermore culture refers to concepts and activities, such as the culture of eating [Esskultur] or linguistic codes, that are expressed symbolically and passed on from generation to generation. Culture can be understood as a dynamic process in which human beings express their knowledge about life and their attitudes towards life, maintain this knowledge or develop it further. Therefore culture finds expression in daily life, in customs and traditions, as well as in cultural products and works of art in the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre, dancing, music, literature and the media.

    Visual and performing arts as well as music are integrative parts of culture. They comprise activities and works of art based on perception, imagination and intuition and are expressed through creative processes.
    (Bundesländerübergreifender BildungsRahmenPlan für elementare Bildungseinrichtungen in ÖsterreichLandesregierungen, p. 18).

For the present political discussion concerning the introduction of a compulsory pre-school-year, the above definition of culture might be used as a basis for the ongoing process of defining the pre-primary curriculum.

In Vorschule there are no (experimental) educational models that focus on music or the arts. Schools that independently developed a special profile for culture and the arts, have integrated pre-school activities.

Teachers on arts and cultural education

The educational mandate of teachers of Vorschule is targeted towards guiding children on their way to school maturity. Among the criteria that help develop school maturity aspects of art and cultural education are not explicitly mentioned. Interviews with teachers of Vorschule, however, show that they value the playful, artistic, musical and creative aspects within the curriculum as these are highly motivating and support childrens' social development.

The Earlier the Better

The Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture emphasised the importance of early linguistic support and inititiated the project The Earlier the Better - early linguistic support [Je früher desto besser - sprachliche Frühförderung]. The project integrates aspects of various art disciplines and especially makes use of musical patterns to help support linguistic progress.

Besides, music schools [Musikschule] aim to support children with special talents as early as possible.