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.

No comment! Who is telling our stories?

As educators, directors and teachers in the sector, are we well-placed to affect the political and media debate around Early Childhood Education and Care?

As ECEC is one of my driving passions, I try to keep up on media coverage on the sector. My interests also lie in politics more generally, so that makes for a nice crossover.

I write, I tweet and I comment. I think it’s important to add my voice to the debate, but I also enjoy it on a personal level.

ECEC is certainly not short of representation in the media and political spheres. It’s not the brightest, shiniest issue out there, but you can generally expect an article or essay to pop up every couple of days.

What I have noticed is that our voice isn’t out there. By “our” I mean Early Childhood educators, directors and teachers. The sector representation is coming from families (cranky about waiting lists and fees), private operators (negative about reforms and wages) and government (always ready to talk about what they have done, not what they could or should).

Occasionally a great story breaks through (check out this fantastic one from Catherine Deveny), but the vast majority of the time we are having our story told for us, or not told at all. There are undoubtedly a myriad of reasons why this is true, but from my “infovore” perspective, I wonder if it’s because as a group we aren’t terribly good at putting our views forward?

I’d love to hear from any readers of this blog (there have to be one or two, right?), how do you engage with and access the wide world of the media in relation to ECEC? I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to this, but I don’t think it’s too hard – and I think it’s something that anyone can and should do.

I know as much as anyone how much the ECEC sector asks of us in terms of time and energy, so I can’t imagine suggesting that we all take more of an interest in how ECEC is portrayed in society is going to be too popular! What I thought I might do however, is just list a few simple ways to get started.

  1. Read – Simple, but effective! We all spend a lot of time reading the latest Early Childhood publications (AJEC, Rattler), but I think it’s important that we get perspectives from outside our own professional community.

    A really simple way of gathering news on a topic is to create a Google News Alert. Google then does the work for you, searching the Internet each day to find any articles relating to a search item and then emailing you the links in a single handy email. Unfortunately, the best keyword to use is still “childcare”, but you’d be surprised what can turn up in your inbox.

  2. Network – Get social networking! For some reason, I always get a lot of resistance from a lot of colleagues and friends about joining and utilising social networks. I may be biased, but they are the absolute simplest way of meeting, networking and crucially sharing with ECEC colleagues from around Australia.

    So if you’re not on, get on! No matter your IT skills, Facebook and Twitter are designed to be simple to use so that they get more people signed up. You might be surprised who you can connect with in the ECEC online world!

  3. Share – At a wonderful local centre here in Canberra, the Senior Teacher utilises a “Media Wall”. Whenever she finds an article on ECEC locally or nationally, she clips it out and adds it to the wall for comment and debate by educators, families and children. I really loved this concept, and it’s a great and easy way to engage with media and political issues as an ECEC centre community.

So there are my three easy tips to become ECEC media-literate! There are many, many reasons to have that engagement as part of our work, but crucially for me if we’re not collectively engaged, aware and active, others will tell our stories for us.

If you’re taking the plunge and getting into social networking, look me up on Twitter and join the ECEC discussion!