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National Children’s Commissioner to focus on hearing the voices of children

“We must learn from the mistakes of the past, when children’s voices were ignored with devastating consequences,” [Megan Mitchell, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner] said at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will, I am sure, uncover stories where children’s voices were unheard, and even when heard, were deliberately not taken into account.

“We need to make sure our attitudes and our systems respect the child’s voice. This is one of the essential ways that we can help children to be safe, to realise their potential, and to live full and happy lives.”
Rachel Browne, SMH (15/4/2013)

The importance of listening to the voices of children is an integral part of our work with children in the early childhood education sector, and it is wonderful to hear that this will also be a focus for the Children’s Commissioner.

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Priorities for Australia’s new Children’s Commissioner

On her first day at the Australian Human Rights Commission, the incoming National Children’s Commissioner, Ms Megan Mitchell, has said she would like children’s voices to feature more prominently in the issues that affect them.

“I want to see governments pay greater attention to the needs of children, including through listening directly to their aspirations. I want to ensure that their efforts are focused on creating independence, instilling confidence, ensuring children’s safety and focusing on the most vulnerable and marginalised,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

“Engaging with children and child advocates around the country to hear what children have to say and what they see as important for their futures, will be one of the first things I would like to do,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

humanrights.gov.au (26/3/2013)

It will be very interesting to see where this national focus on children’s rights and issues will go. Megan Mitchell is a fantastic choice as Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, and will strongly champion the rights and voices of children.

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ECEC wage funding only a small part of much-needed wage reform

The childcare sector is 98% composed of female staff. Increasing pay equity in this profession symbolises the ALP strategy to combat decreasing productivity growth by tackling the complexities of our labour market.

But it also speaks to the necessity of attracting women into the workforce more generally.

This is a problem conservatives do not appear to have analysed sufficiently. Tony Abbott leaves himself open to criticism that he is propping up antiquated traditions about the family (code for a male head-of- household) so he can cling to economically unsustainable views about the labour market (that women are supplementary to the “real” earners).

Chris Peers, The Conversation (22/3/2013)

The wages of early childhood educators are clearly a product of the gendering of the sector, as acknowledged by the Government’s commitment to support a pay equity case through Fair Work Australia.

Until the work of the social and community sector is properly valued, and that means wages, this debate will continue. The Government can be applauded for taking the first minor step, but Chris Peers is right in that it does not come close to addressing the complexities of the issue.

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Win for Big Steps, but not quite the full victory

Providers would … have to agree to not increase their fees beyond operational costs, so as not to punish families.

“We know that quality early childhood education and care is dependent on having a qualified and professional workforce,” Mr Garrett said.

“We have listened to the sector and to parents and we are pleased to introduce this fund to help attract and retain qualified staff,” he said.

Simon Benson, Daily Telegraph (19/3/2013)

A qualified win for the Big Steps campaign.  $300 million for some of the sector is certainly less than the ask for professional wages for the whole sector.

But the important thing in this announcement is the Government’s acknowledgement that supporting educators is crucial to ensuring quality outcomes for children. This could be the starting point for much larger reforms.

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Government announces new trials for extended ECEC hours

The Gillard government will today announce new national trials that will include family day care options in the home for parents who do not work standard 9-5 office hours as well as the extended childcare centre hours.

The national experiment will cost $5 million and seek to answer not only whether extended hours are viable for centres but also track whether they reduce the stress levels of families.

Samantha Maiden, Sunday Mail (16/3/2013)

In an election year, “trials” of this kind were an inevitability. It is no doubt a tricky issue – casualisation of the workforce and issues for shift-workers have always been around. While I am in principle supportive of measures to deal with those issues, I am wary of any measures to extend hours for early childhood education and care centres.

As I have written before, turning ECEC into a 24/7 convenience destroys any chance of the sector being viewed as fundamentally an education sector, and as right to children. Instead, it will remain a workforce participation measure and a right for families.

This is fundamentally inequitable for children, and raises substantial questions around how seriously Australia takes the wellbeing and educational rights of children.

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What does education mean in the age of Google?

[Children’s author James] Marsden said that while some schools are “absolute groundbreakers” in the way they foster innovation and open-mindedness, others are sticking to a 1950s didactic education model.

“Children graduate without the social, emotional and intellectual skills to be as successful as they might be,” he said. “They are in more danger of failing in a lot more areas of their lives.”

Cosima Marriner, SMH (10/3/2013)

The education system is arguably little different from the schools of the early 1900s. With information available at the click of a smartphone search bar, how are we preparing children to be confident, capable and active citizens in this information society? An particularly important question for early childhood educators.

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Retail more financially rewarding than educating children

[Tanya Holmes], a traineeship diploma educator at South Penrith’s Bollygum Childcare Centre, will complete her diploma of children’s services this year.

Ms Holmes said she was forced to take a second job, in retail, to make ends meet.

And she was considering leaving the industry because it was too tough to provide for her family.

Alexis Carey, TheTelegraph.com.au (7/3/2013)

Great to see more of the individual stories of struggling educators out there, particularly on International Women’s Day.

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Attention on the lack of men in ECEC, but what are the causes?

[Early childhood educator] Mr Wagland, 48, happily spends most of his days interacting with children outside, passing on his love of the environment, focussed “on ground level”.

“You don’t notice that your workplace is full of women because you are actually working with children all day,” he said.

Martina Simos, Adelaide Now (4/3/2013)

To be blunt, this article is an incredibly lightweight look at a complex issue. Childcare SA President Sam Mahony (who recently threatened to use ECEC children and families in a political campaign against Minister Kate Ellis) claims that men are wary of entering a female-dominated industry, which may be true, but he does not (in this article at least) raise the issues of professional wages, professional respect and potential suspicion of men who choose to work with young children.

Mr Wagland’s comments also unfortunately reinforce existing stereotypes on men who work with children. Happily spending his days outside with the children is great, but tends to reflect a preconception that male educators and teachers focus on physical development and games with children. This ignores the male educators and teachers who work with children in other areas across the range of holistic early childhood learning. This then creates further challenges for men who do not fit the existing stereotype to join the sector.

As for the comment “You don’t notice that your workplace is full of women”, this is sadly entirely missing the rather obvious point that ECEC workplaces are full of women. This is tied into cultural norms that place women in the role of caregiver, and then into low-paying and lowly-respected roles as essentially “babysitters”.

I would suggest to Mr Wagland that he perhaps takes a another look around his centre and advocate for community recognition of his work and the work of his colleagues he appears not to have noticed.

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Is a lack of high-quality ECEC holding back women’s rights?

The U.S. lags far behind other industrialized nations in establishing a functional child care system. That’s why President Obama’s recent proposal to provide universal access to preschool is encouraging. While it doesn’t completely address the needs of the 11 million children younger than 5 utilizing child care each week, it’s a step in the right direction for women and families.

Not only does preschool improve the educational trajectory of young children, but universal access to preschool would eliminate one barrier to women’s equality in the workforce — at least, beyond a child’s first three years of life. The work-life policies that [New York Times columnist] Coontz seeks must be accompanied by increased public investment in child care and early education, particularly for the most marginalized women.

Anika Rahman, Huffington Post (2/3/2013)

The childcare sector was set up primarily to provide opportunities for women to enter the workforce, due to entrenched cultural biases towards women taking on the child-rearing role. While it is certainly true that a well-funded and high quality ECEC sector could improve women’s rights in the workplace, it can be problematic to purely view ECEC as a workforce issue. This means that the focus is on workers, and not children.

If we wanted to view ECEC as purely about workforce participation, we could simply cut qualification requirements and regulations and have it as an extremely cheap babysitting service. This would enable more families to afford it and enable great workforce participation.

But would that be in the best interests of children? Surely a superior proposition is to have high-quality early learning for children at no cost to any family – thereby ensuring equity for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is the philosophy behind universal-access advocacy, and would be working in the best interests of children, while also giving families (particularly women) choices around their careers.

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The importance of early education

There’s still resistance [to the NQF changes] from some in the sector, mainly private operators who complain about costs and the timetable for change. They say the changes are ”too much, too soon” and that the cost of complying with the new standards has pushed up childcare fees.

Yet failing to provide qualified teachers would be unthinkable at any other level of schooling. When young children start school, parents know their child will be taught by university-trained teachers who are required to continually update their skills through ongoing professional development.

Until the national framework’s introduction at the beginning of last year, there was no such requirement for our youngest children. Yet, as years of brain research have shown, children’s ability to perform in the first years of primary school depends on the experiences and learning acquired from birth.

Maxine McKew, The Age (24/2/13)