Advocacy Blog

Qualifications and a lesson for the ECEC sector

A colleague told me a story today.

A friend of hers had spoken to the media for the first time regarding the Productivity Commission public hearings. She was nervous, but did great. The story was picked up and ran in a major newspaper. She spoke about the importance of not watering down qualification requirements for educators working in the 0-3 age range.

Then my colleague told me that since the publication of that story, a number of people had attacked her friend for what was reported. It was perceived that she was having a go at educators who held a Certificate III, or were studying towards one. The attacks were personal and upsetting.

I was shocked, and then angry, to hear this story. I remember the first time I spoke to a major media outlet – I was terrified. I still occasionally do media, and still get fairly nervous. This person had shown personal courage, and demonstrated the strength of her convictions for what young children deserve.

This story helped me re-examine and reflect on a disturbing feature of Australia’s early childhood education and care sector that I have regularly observed. It was strongly visible during the introduction of the National Quality Framework.

The best way I can describe it is “reverse elitism”. A disdain of higher qualifications, and a visceral reaction when the Certificate III qualification is questioned.

I have never understood this. I used to not have any early childhood qualifications. I studied my Certificate III. I accepted that the Diploma qualification was a higher qualification.

I studied my tertiary degree, accepting that it was a higher qualification than the Diploma – thereby conferring on me greater knowledge and skills.

The section of the media report that had unleashed the attack on my colleague’s friend was a section that referred to Certificate III-qualified educators as “less skilled” than Diploma qualified educators.

OK, that is not “having a go” or “disrespecting” educators. That is a statement of fact.

I work with fantastic Certificate III-trained educators, and those who are studying towards that qualification. I value and respect their contributions to their centres, and try to ensure that I give them face-to-face acknowledgement of that.

Do you know what the next thing I usually say is? “When are you studying your Diploma?”

I say very nearly the same thing to the great Diplomas I encounter. “When are you going on to do your degree?”

A colleague of mine recently asked me what my plans were to do my Masters degree!

A higher qualification is just that – a higher qualification. It is not disrespectful or elitist to say so. A similar argument was raised when the minimum qualification requirement was introduced – it was disrespecting the “experience” and “wisdom” of those who had worked in the sector for a long time, but had no qualification.

This battle is over. A minimum qualification is essential. The idea that you need a minimum qualification to help build a house, but can wander in off the street and help lay the foundations for a child’s entire future is insanity.

We should be encouraging everyone to strive for a higher qualification – the Certificate III is a wonderful entry into the sector, but it is only the beginning of the set of skills that are needed to support young children’s development.

Yes, study is a challenge. I studied my Diploma while working full-time, and I completed my tertiary degree in a four-year period which saw me get married, welcome two children into our family and work full-time as a Centre Director and Area Manager. Easy, it was not.

It is time that the sector confronted this ugly vein of prejudice. The Certificate III is the beginning of an educator’s qualification journey, not the end. Those who hold this qualification are worthy of being valued and respected for their contributions, but this does not change the fact that we should strive for the highest qualified people working with young children.

Clearly stating that the Diploma qualification is a higher-skilled qualification than a Certificate III should not be a shocking statement that upsets anyone – and the fact that it does tells of a deeper issue with our workforce.

My colleague told me today that the experience had left her friend unwilling to undertake any more advocacy. What does this say about us that when one of the few of us with the courage to speak out does so, she is shot down?

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

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