24/7 ECEC: Would you like an education with that?

Recent media reports have talked up the possibility of early learning centres remaining open late at night and on weekends to accommodate the needs of families, particularly those with shift-working parents.

As an educator, I instinctually find the idea of expanding operating hours problematic. We have fought long and hard to begin to be recognised as professional educators, not babysitters. That battle isn’t even over yet.

The Federal Government has been instrumental in changing viewpoints on the professionalism of the sector. We are referred to as “educators” in the new regulatory documents and learning frameworks. Spokespeople for the Government even remember to call us that rather than “workers” or “carers”. Most of the time.

To expand the sector to operate until late at night, and 7 days a week, would be a step back for that recognition.

It would entrench the view in society that we are purely a service for working families, with no educational role to play for children. Just like McDonalds is there to service your need for a Big Mac at 3am, early learning centres will become a service industry with a focus of care, not education.

Of course I am not in the position of working shifts, and nor is my wife, so we do not face the issues that those families face. Options for shift-worker families need to be explored, but I am convinced that simply expanding the ECEC sector is a bad idea.

Why don’t we expand school hours for shift-workers? Because as a society we have accepted limitations on what is offered. If the Government is serious about seeing ECEC as an educational environment for young children, and advocating that with Australian families, they also need to accept those limits.

A lot questions about an expansion would need to be answered, and hopefully they will be worked through in any future trials. My first few questions are:

  1. How will extra hours be regulated? Will centres still be under the NQF and the EYLF from 6pm – midnight, when children are asleep? Will there need to be an Early Childhood Teacher there? Or will the sector be split between regular hours (7.30am-6.00pm) and outside hours?
  2. Is this in best interests of children? How do children fit into any expansion of the sector? Is it beneficial to children to be in an ECEC centre at 11.00 at night?
  3. How will educators be paid? Will educators receive penalty rates for work after 6pm, or before 7pm? On weekends? If yes, how is this equitable with educators who work during the day?

There are undoubtedly many more. What are your questions?

This article was originally published on the Big Steps website.

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