Bought and sold: Early education in Australia

A couple of things happened in the early education sector recently. Neither of them are huge deals on their own, but they both represent trends in the sector that tell us a lot about where we are at right now.

One of Australia’s largest early education organisations ditched the “Early Learning” in their name for “Childcare and Education”. Some blokes in suits, with no early education qualifications whatsoever, did it to grab a few more clicks from families on Google they could convert into revenue.

And an AFL team has decided that a “childcare centre” near their stadium shaped like an enormous football would be pretty cute. It’s called Kool Kids, of course. More blokes, more suits, same amount of early education qualifications (zero).

What matters about these announcements isn’t that they’ve happened. It’s that they’ve happened and no-one cares. Reached for comment, Australia’s early education sector said: shrug emoji.

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Do we need a Code of Ethics for non-educator roles?

In a market-based model, the need for a Code of Ethics to underpin the work of early childhood educators is critically important. Alongside the National Quality Framework, it provides a framework for ensuring that children’s rights are prioritised, and that educators themselves can advocate for the importance of their own roles and the experiences of children.

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LIKE! SHARE! COMMENT! How we’re turning children’s learning into a social feed and why it needs to stop.

The things that are easiest to see aren’t usually the things that matter most for kids. An alphabet sign on the wall doesn’t mean kids are really engaging with reading and learning. A daily email with a photograph of your daughter is nice to have, but it doesn’t tell you much about whether the teachers are talking to her in a supportive way or sparking her curiosity about science.

– Suzanne Bouffard, The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children

I’m slowly making my way through Suzanne Bouffard’s excellent new book on how early education is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in the United States, and the passage above really stood out. It’s early on in the book, and Bouffard is discussing how quality early learning environments can be challenging to explain to families. They have pre-existing ideas of what children’s spaces should be, and are naturally more inclined to just accept things that celebrate their individual child like lovely photos.

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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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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 importance of relationships

The way we think about early childhood education has changed a lot in a relatively short space of time. It’s amazing to remember that across Australia, guaranteed access to preschool education in the year before school is a very recent initiative. The Universal Access commitment from all Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) was only agreed in 2009. For a long time, education was something that only happened once children started formal primary education.

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The loss of the PSCs will make for a less inclusive sector

From July, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector will face some significant changes to the way support to improve quality approaches is provided. The Federal Government will cease funding Professional Support Coordinators (PSCs) in each State and Territory, while Inclusion Support Providers (ISPs) will continue with an expanded funding framework.

Additional funding to support inclusion issues is of course very welcome. The current Inclusion Support system has been underfunded for many years, particularly in the funding able to be provided to services to be able to raise the educator:child ratio to support inclusive practice. But what will this additional funding achieve, and is it worth the loss of the PSCs?

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Why do we struggle with critical reflection?

The National Quality Framework (NQF) reforms acknowledge that good outcomes for children can only be supported by qualified and professional educators, who regularly reflect on their own – and their colleagues’ – practice. As with any profession, research and knowledge is always changing and being updated. It’s important that educators, no matter what their qualifications or experience, always remember to give themselves time and space to discuss and analyse their own work.

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