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Deleting education

Losing an advocacy battle is hard. When the Jobs for Families (JFF) legislation was passed in February this year, I was devastated. Despite spending over a year arguing my hardest that this package would fundamentally undermine children’s right to access early education, the package passed. From July 2018, the children in our country most at risk of vulnerability and with the most to gain from high-quality early learning will be locked out.

I realised this week that there might be something even harder – losing a battle we didn’t even know we were fighting.

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Donating to ASRC in May and June

45 children still remain in some form of detention on Nauru and on mainland Australia. What we have done to these children will haunt them for the remainder of their lives.

I am not one of those courageous few who devote their every day to changing those facts. People in organisations like Save the Children, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and others.

I work in early childhood, and I write. I’m incredibly privileged and fortunate in every area of my life. I have no idea if my writing can help, but I would like to make a small gesture – even if a gesture is all it will be.

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Are we too interested in children’s interests?

One of the fundamental features of play-based approaches to learning and development in the first five years is a focus on children and their interests. Formal, rote or instructional learning in this space has limited, if any, benefits to children, while approaches that promote engaging children in fun and interesting play can have an amazing impact.

The Early Years Learning Framework strongly acknowledges this approach, particularly through the Principles and Practices that support educators to think holistically and individually about each child, their family and their community. Since the introduction of the National Quality Framework I have seen a big shift in the sector towards focusing on “children’s interests”. When I speak to Team Leaders in particular about their approaches to educational programs and practices, I often hear variations of “I extend on children’s interests”.

This is worth exploring. On the surface, this seems obvious and clear. We’ve been told for a long time to explore children’s interests – surely we should promote the things that engage children? But as with all of our teaching strategies, we have to be prepared to engage in critical reflection about what they mean and how they affect children.

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The Jobs for Families Package

It seems likely that within the next few weeks, the Government’s long-promised and much-analysed early childhood education and care reforms – under the telling title the “Jobs for Families” Package” – will finally come to a vote in the Parliament.

I’ve been writing and speaking about this Package for more than a year now. I am as firmly opposed to it now as I was then, if not more so. As we’re approaching a time where it may either pass and become law, or fail and surely be a wake up call to a Government that has got this policy area so wrong, I thought it might be helpful to clearly and simply articulate my position on this package.

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Professional relationships with families

As early childhood professionals, we play a significant role in the lives of young children. We are in a position to support their learning and wellbeing, and have a profound affect on their lifelong disposition for learning. The National Quality Framework reforms are a reflection on how important early childhood education is, both in Australia and internationally.

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What we did doesn’t end today

It seems that we’re extremely close to an announcement that the refugees illegally imprisoned in Australian-funded and managed island trauma factories will be sent to a variety of other countries as part of some byzantine Government negotiations.

I’m writing this quickly to make a point regarding this announcement – the specifics don’t matter. The arrangements don’t matter. What matters is the people (including children) at the centre of all this.

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The teaching of tolerance in a climate of fear

It feels pretty unnecessary to add yet more words to the rise of Trump, but I think a lot of people are processing this through writing. That’s how I do it, anyway. So bear with me, I’ll be quick.

For early childhood professions – educators, teachers, managers, leaders, policy makers – there is now no more crucial time to focus our efforts and energies more on intentionally teaching tolerance, and diversity, and the evils of prejudice.

The children we work with with soon inherit a world that appears still riven with intolerance and acceptance of the worst aspects of human nature – even elevating the personifications of those characteristics to one of the most powerful positions in our world.

As with so many things, feelings of powerlessness and defeat are overwhelming. But if you are in a position to either influence the planning and programs offered to children (or influence those developing and providing them), why not commit to taking action. By intentionally planning for the only things that can eventually defeat the darker parts of ourselves – role-modelling, teaching and enacting tolerance and respect.

Take the dinosaurs, play-doh and puppets off the planned and documented program for a little while. Focus on kindness, and celebrating difference. A better world depends on it.

Creative approaches to accessing professional learning and development

As with all professions, it’s important to be continuous learners. No matter what our current level of qualification, there’s always more to learn and be challenged by. That’s why ongoing professional learning and development is so important. It means we can keep up-to-date with the latest research and thinking about the work we do.

For early childhood educators, this is even more important. Research and thinking about learning in the Birth – 5 years has dramatically increased recently, and every day seems to reaffirm how important those foundational years are. The knowledge that underpins the sector is changing and updating all the time, which means we need to change and update our thinking all the time as well!

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