This Saturday, November 17, teachers, educators, families and children are coming together in a show of support for Canberra’s early childhood education and care workforce.
Big Steps Day is taking place around Australia in support of the campaign for professional wages in the early childhood sector. As well as being a fun family day out with food and entertainment, it has another important purpose.
This year saw the beginning of the National Quality Agenda – a Government framework to improve quality outcomes for children in childcare centres through lower ratios and higher qualification requirements.
However, the starting wage for an early childhood educator is just over $18 an hour.
This, on top of lengthy and ever-changing shifts to meet opening hours and difficulties meeting staffing requirements, has led to an incredible 180 educators leaving the sector every week.
The lack of recognition of the work educators do now no longer affects just the educators themselves. Staff turnover and recruitment challenges for organisations are having a direct and lasting impact on Canberra’s children and families.
Research has shown that the first five years of a child’s life set the scene for the rest of their development – the fastest amount of brain growth and “wiring for learning” occurs before they even set foot in a school.
Early childhood educators are no longer just babysitters. They play a key role in supporting children’s learning, through observations, planned experiences and play.
With a national conversation continuing around the shape of Australia’s education system into the future, and a vision from the Prime Minister that we are in the Top 5 in the world when it comes to education, it is impossible to ignore the early years.
But with a system that is driving educators away and a lack of community recognition for the hard work that goes into every day working with young children, we will not be able to achieve the goal of having equitable access to education for all of our children.
As well as encouraging a lifelong love of learning and providing children opportunities to become aware and engaged citizens, early childhood education and care is fundamental to a great deal of Canberra families.
It’s clear from Canberran waiting list times, particularly infant spaces, that the current system is not meeting the needs of our community. Simply opening new centres (as promised by the ACT Government) will not solve this issue if the mass exodus of educators continues. The ACT faces the very real risk of a spate of centre closures in the next few years.
So I urge all Canberrans to head into Garema Place on Saturday at 11am and support the hard-working and under-appreciated early childhood educators who hold so much of the promise of future generations in their hands.
This article was originally published on the City News website.