Categories
News Quality

Can the US make much-needed changes to its ECE sector?

Laura Bornfreund and Conor Williams have examined President Obama’s second-term focus on early childhood education in The Atlantic.

While early education’s policy reality hasn’t lived up to the last five years’ rhetoric, there is some evidence of a silver lining. Think of it like a rail system: it’s as though we’ve spent half a decade designing and laying new high-speed rails linking sparkling, as-yet unused train stations. We’ve invested in shiny, state-of-the-art engines. But we haven’t yet bought fuel or enough cars to serve all of the system’s young “passengers.”

President Obama has another two years of office left, and is facing incredible political hurdles. It remains to be seen if anything more can be achieved on this issue – which is a shame, as it can and must be a vital part of addressing rising inequality in that country.

It stands in contrast to Australia, where in 2014 we could actually be moving backwards on higher standards and greater outcomes for children’s learning and wellbeing.

Categories
Advocacy News

Listening to the voices of children

From April 2014, children from a number of countries will be able to directly take reports of human rights abuses to the United Nations. But not Australian children. Paula Gerber, Associate Professor of Human Rights Law at Monash University, explains.

Australia ratified the convention in 1990 and has also ratified both of its other Optional Protocols, one on child soldiers and the other on the sale of children into prostitution and child pornography. But can we expect Australia to ratify this latest protocol?

The answer is probably “eventually”. In other words, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Although Australia, under the Hawke government, was quick to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has been less keen to submit itself to the complaints procedures under various UN human rights treaties.

 Since the famous Toonen decision in 1994, which found Tasmania’s laws criminalising homosexuality to be a breach of human rights, Australia has been found to have violated the human rights of complainants on at least 33 occasions.

Australia’s history with the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) is complex. Despite ratifying the Convention in 1990, it has been slow to adopt many of the Optional Protocols.

Gerber explains that the UN Committee that oversees the UNCROC has regularly been critical of Australia’s approach to supporting children’s rights. Right now, Australia is actively placing children in danger in immigration detention. We are also receiving horrific stories from the Royal Commission into child abuse on organisational and systemic failings in our support systems for children.

As one of the most prosperous and secure nations on Earth, Australia is in a position to be a standard-bearer for children’s rights. It remains to be seen when, or even if, this will ever be the case.

Categories
Advocacy News

UNICEF release State of the World’s Children Report

UNICEF has released its annual “State of the World’s Children Report”.

Thirty years have passed since The State of the World’s Children began to publish tables of standardized global and national statistics aimed at providing a detailed picture of children’s circumstances.

Much has changed in the decades since the first indicators of child well-being were presented. But the basic idea has not: consistent, credible data about children’s situations are critical to the improvement of their lives – and indispensable to realizing the rights of every child.

Data continue to support advocacy and action on behalf of the world’s 2.2 billion children, providing governments with facts on which to base decisions and actions to improve children’s lives. And new ways of collecting and using data will help target investments and interventions to reach the most vulnerable children.

As usual, the report includes some incredible statistics on children’s development, education and how their rights are being upheld (or otherwise).

The site includes some fantastic interactive explorations of the numbers that make up the global picture for children. Some of the incredible statistics include:

  • 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5 in Sierra Leone;
  • In half of the world’s countries, 80% of children 2–14 years old have been subjected to violent discipline

The report is interesting to read alongside “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving”, which also presents a wealth of data on how countries are progressing with children’s rights.

Categories
Blog

Lighting Fires is back for 2014!

Welcome back to Lighting Fires for 2014!

Thanks to all those who shared, commented and engaged in discussions on the blog (and on Twitter and Facebook). It’s been great fun exploring the political and policy dimensions of early childhood education in Australia.

I’m excited to keep up with the writing this year, as 2014 is going to a seminal year for the sector. 2014 will see:

  • The Productivity Commission report into Childcare and Learning;
  • The ACECQA Review; and
  • The Wage Equity Case for Fair Work Australia.

There has never been a more important time for the sector to be united and professional in its advocacy for children and their human rights to education.

I’m looking forward to being part of the many conversations that will be happening this year. Please subscribe to the blog to keep up with my posts, and please follow me on my second home – Twitter! You can find me @liammcnicholas.

I also have a Facebook page this year, so please join the conversation there as well.

I’d also love to open up the blog to other commentators, advocates and educators in the sector. If you’d like to post an article or opinion on the site, please contact me at liam.mcnicholas@gmail.com.

Here’s to a big year for ECEC in 2014!

Categories
Advocacy Blog

2014: The Year of Early Childhood Education and Care

2014 is going to be a huge year for the early childhood education and care sector.

The Productivity Commission has been tasked by the new Federal Government with running an inquiry into the “childcare and early learning” system. There has been no such look into the mechanics of the sector since the 1990s.

Fair Work Australia will be considering a wage equity case for Australia’s early childhood education and care workforce.

ACECQA will be undertaking a full review of the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

Throughout December, I will be launching a new advocacy initiative – Children’s Agenda.

For today, can I ask three things of you.

Follow @ChildrenAgenda on Twitter. “Like” Children’s Agenda on Facebook. Share these both with your friends and colleagues.

2014 will decide the future of early childhood education in this country. The decisions made in this year will impact Australian children, families and educators for decades.

Now is the time to step up, raise your voice, and have your say.

Categories
Advocacy Blog

Early childhood education: the next great Australian project?

I was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast event at Parliament House this morning, hosted by Goodstart Early Learning and Early Childhood Australia.

As well as featuring MPs (including the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley), Professor Frank Oberklaid spoke on the importance of investment in public policy aimed at the early years.

As the Founding Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Professor Oberklaid is an expert on the development of young children – particularly their brains.

He made a strong argument for a greater, bipartisan focus on funding investments in early years programs, particularly early childhood education and care.

As all the most recent research tells us, children exposed to vulnerable situations will start life on the back foot – and will most likely never escape that handicap.

Yet the evidence also shows that quality early childhood programs can help to close that gap, at a significantly lesser cost than trying to close it later in life.

I was particularly struck by Professor Oberklaid’s challenge to view investment in the early years as Australia’s “next Snowy Mountain” project. This chimes with my own frustrations on current public policy in the early years, which is more “fiddling around the edges” of existing systems.

It would be incredible to see a bipartisan commitment to undertaking the big reforms that are needed – not to change the odd regulation, or add another bit here, but to fundamentally alter how we support young children and families in Australia.

Categories
News Policy

Terms of reference out for Productivity Commission inquiry

The Federal Government today formally announced the “terms of reference” and scope for next year’s Productivity Commission into “Child Care and Early Childhood Learning”.

The Government is delivering on its priority commitment to task the Productivity Commission with an inquiry into how the child care system can be made more flexible, affordable and accessible.

The Inquiry will identify how the current system can be improved to make it more responsive to the needs of parents.

We want to ensure that Australia has a system that provides a safe, nurturing environment for children, but which also meets the working needs of families.

Our child care system should be responsive to the needs of today’s families and today’s economy, not the five-day 9am-5pm working week of last century.

I’ll have a longer article up on this later this week, but this should be sounding alarm bells for all advocates for early childhood education.

The announcement makes clear that workforce participation and economic imperatives are the focus for this Government.

The sector will need to be putting up some strategic and sustained advocacy in the face of this.

Categories
News

Seeking teachers overseas

ECEC organisations around Australia are seeking qualified teachers from overseas, according to news.com.au.

ACECQA will also invite selected universities and colleges in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland to apply to have their early childhood degrees, diplomas or certificates recognised in Australia.

The spokeswoman said 775 foreign childcare workers had applied to have their overseas qualifications recognised in 2012/13 – with 38 per cent from the UK and Ireland, and 22 per cent from New Zealand.

Only 412 applicants were approved, 73 were rejected, and the rest would be assessed this year.

Australian Childcare Alliance secretary Frank Cusmano, representing privately-owned childcare centres, said a shortage of university-trained teachers meant many centres would not be able to comply with new rules requiring them to employ one by January next year.

“There are a lot of exemptions that have been asked for, and received,” he said.

The qualification requirements, particularly around early childhood teachers, have been a source of contention across the sector.

You can read my thoughts on the requirements here. I am entirely supportive of having the highest qualified teachers working with our youngest children, but without targeted and funded support it is unachievable.

This will continue to be the case until teachers who choose to work in the early years are given the same respect, the same recognition and – yes – the same pay as every other teacher in this country.

Categories
News

Addressing inequality

Interesting piece in the New York Times by James J. Heckman, Professor of Economics the University of Chicago, on early childhood education for all.

Everyone knows that education boosts productivity and enlarges opportunities, so it is natural that proposals for reducing inequality emphasize effective education for all. But these proposals are too timid. They ignore a powerful body of research in the economics of human development that tells us which skills matter for producing successful lives. They ignore the role of families in producing the relevant skills They also ignore or play down the critical gap in skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children that emerges long before they enter school.

While education is a great equalizer of opportunity when done right, American policy is going about it all wrong: current programs don’t start early enough, nor do they produce the skills that matter most for personal and societal prosperity.

America has an ingrained distrust against the State interfering in the lives of children and families, which is part of why their “daycare” system is so dysfunctional.

But there is a growing discussion and debate in the US about the importance of early childhood education, particularly following President Obama’s recent focus on ECE.

With Australia still facing structural funding issues with ECE, and a strong focus on testing and outcomes in the school system, a focus on addressing inequality and giving young people the skills and resilience to become successful could be very powerful.

The article is part of the New York Times’ series The Great Divide, which focuses on inequality in various forms. Well worth following.

Categories
News

ACECQA Conference 2013

Today is the first day of the ACECQA 2013 Conference. For those of you on Twitter, I’d recommend following along using the hashtag #nqfcon2013.

If you’re an educator, teacher or otherwise involved in children’s education, I would strongly recommend signing up to Twitter and getting involved. It’s a great way to “meet” fellow professionals and contribute to the broad discussions around children’s learning and wellbeing.

If you do, don’t forget to say hello to me: @liammcnicholas.