New Zealand campaign to improve early education launched

Cuts to funding are eroding the quality of ECE services and the union wants the Government to commit more money to ECE in the next budget, NZEI national president Judith Nowotarski says.

“It is a great cause for concern that earlier gains such as a goal of having 100 percent qualified teachers in ECE centres have been dropped and centre sizes have been allowed to balloon out to 150 children,” she said.

“Quality ECE is crucial for all children but is particularly important for those children who come from low socio-economic backgrounds.”

3 News (3/3/2013)

A great shame to see early education services for New Zealand children and families being reduced. New Zealand has a progressive and respected approach to early learning with children – particularly Te Whāriki, NZ’s early learning and development framework.

The conservative government of the United Kingdom has also flagged rolling back reforms to their ECEC sector. What would these moves signify if we end up with a Liberal Tony Abbott-led government in September?

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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.

Goodstart Early Learning: Government must pay for the reforms they have introduced

Ms Davison’s [Goodstart Early Learning CEO] intervention is significant because Goodstart is a strong supporter of the quality reforms, but she is speaking out to highlight their impact on its operating costs.

She said the debate over the reforms must now be over and the government needs to instead concede that fees will go up and be passed on to parents unless it pays for them as a matter of urgency.

“A full review of the funding model and an increase in levels of funding available to providers and families is the only way to fully realise the benefits that can be achieved through a holistic approach to a child’s education beginning from birth,” she said.

Patricia Karvelas, The Australian (27/2/13)

Fantastic to see Goodstart Early Learning continuing their positive advocacy for children and families with Government. Other not-for-profit providers around Australia should follow their example.

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)

Wage disparity between ECTs in ECEC and Government Preschools

Only hairdressers, animal trainers and supermarket checkout operators earn less than childcare workers, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics figures. Full-time childcare workers earn $811.40 a week, compared with the average full-time weekly earnings of $1122.60, forcing many to take on second jobs to make ends meet.

Cosima Marriner SMH (24/2/13)

Less tinkering needed, more consideration to a “root-and-branch” overhaul of ECEC

The current funding model – a John Howard special – removed the direct funding of services entirely from the system, replacing it with standardised fee subsidies for parents.

The rhetoric is straight economics 101: parents are the best judges of the quality of care so they will choose the right services. They are assumed to be able to compare prices, hours, quality, like choosing a Laundromat, and be ready to move the child if there is a better local offer. The model assumed a level playing field between consumer and provider but a perennial shortage of care in most areas put the power into the providers hands.

“Child’s play: Coalition childcare inquiry doesn’t go far enough”, Eva Cox (The Conversation)

Big Steps still doing the media rounds

Early childhood expert Elspeth McInnes, a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia, said it was crucial to have better-paid, more qualified staff.

“Best practice in childcare involves a policy of continuity of care, an environment where the child consistently has a familiar carer available to them,” Dr McInnes said.

“Childcare pay row tests the care factor”, Elissa Doherty (Herald Sun, paywalled)

Early childhood education is not just about families

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning Sussan Ley this weekannounced the terms of reference for a Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s early education and care sector.

As expected, the focus is entirely on affordability, flexibility and workforce participation. In the two-page document, there is one reference to early learning outcomes for the 992,520 identified children in an early education and care centre.

I’m not exactly sure why the Shadow Minister bothers to have “Early Childhood Learning” in her title, as it is clearly of little or no interest to her or the Coalition.

The Coalition is barking up the same tree that governments (including the current Labor Government) have continued to bark up for the entire history of the sector.

“What is the impact on families? What is the impact on the economy? What is the impact on workforce participation?”

With nearly one million children accessing early education and care, we should ask a seemingly obvious question: what is the impact on children?

The Labor Government has at least put forward a National Quality Agenda to provide a focus of educational outcomes for children. But without addressing the structural problems of the sector, these will struggle to be anything more than token gestures.

Both sides of politics have failed to reach for an early education vision beyond fees, waiting lists and productivity.

The Coalition would roll back regulations at the first opportunity, creating the environment for more disturbing incidents in services, such as a case of alleged torturein Queensland.

The Labor Government failed to take the opportunity presented by the collapse of ABCLearning in 2008 to fundamentally repudiate the for-profit model of providing education and care to young children and take overall responsibility for the sector.

Research from around the world has repeatedly proven the importance of giving children access to quality, play-based learning and educational experiences in the first five years of their life — and not just 15 to 20 hours of preschool a week. Over 90 per cent of a child’s brain is developed in the first five years, before they even set foot in a school. If the Prime Minister is serious in her challenge of placing Australia’s education system being in the world’s top five, early education cannot continue to be ignored.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children has also revealed the exponential benefits of early learning in educational and social outcomes in later life. The investment we make in early intervention and equity for all children right at their start of their lives can be repaid many, many times over in their futures.

And yet as a community, we cannot make up our minds about what we want the sector to be.

Early learning advocates have a vision for the sector as a free-to-access, universal model that can be accessed by all children in our community. The possibilities of lifting children out of inequality and vulnerability are limitless.

The other side is those entirely see the sector as just “care”, essentially organised babysitting. This view is one of individualism, that the education and care of children is the responsibility of the child’s parents. In this model, centres can be all-but-unregulated, no qualifications are required and private operators can make as much money as they want.

This is the choice that Australia, as a community, needs to make. It cannot work both ways, but the Labor Government is currently attempting to do both.

Labor speaks of educational outcomes and quality environments for children, but will not undertake the sweeping structural reforms necessary to actually achieve that. Simply adding new requirements on to already strained, underpaid and undervalued early childhood teachers and educators simply will not work.

With the released terms of reference for their planned inquiry, the Coalition is clearly signaling that they have no interest in early education and are purely focused on the short-term economic and political goals.

So much for the nearly one million children in an early education and care service today.

The early childhood education and care sector in Australia is being pulled in two vastly different directions right now, and it cannot continue. A simple choice needs to be made.

Remove all educational requirements from the sector, and just be basic “childcare”. No qualifications required, limited regulation, minimum-wage for the workers and available only to those who can afford the fees.

Or, reform the entire sector so that educational, learning and social outcomes can be effectively set and met. This would require a large investment, but the benefits are far beyond that initial investment. The Government is already committing large amounts of money to the sector, but indirectly (through rebates to families) in a way that gives them no control over where the sector is heading.

Individuals will always complain about their taxes going to things they don’t like, but the community as whole benefits when we support individuals to achieve their potential.

Both sides of politics need to lay their cards on the table. Trying to do both will not work.

But it must address the question that no-one wants to answer in these inquiries. What is in the best interests of the nearly one million children that this will affect?

This article was originally published on the New Matilda website.

Big Steps Day: Media Roundup

Big Steps Day crowd in Garema Place, Canberra
Big Steps Day crowd in Garema Place, Canberra

Big Steps Day on Saturday November 17 was a hit, bringing out a great deal of support from the community for undervalued early childhood educators. The events were well covered, and I’ve collected up some of the major coverage here.

SMH: Caring for children is no picnic, say workers

Canberra Times: Childcare workers rally for more pay

Fraser Coast Chronicle: Childcare workers take action to gain higher wages

Herald Sun: Child care workers march for better pay

Communities around Australia rally to support professional wages for early childhood educators.

The director of Master Kid Childcare Centre in Matraville, Emily Donnan, has been in the industry for 16 years and said she had spent 12 of those working two or three jobs at once.

She said many of her staff were living at home because they could not afford to rent. ”They will never be able to even think of having a holiday, getting a mortgage or even owning their own car,” she said.

Caring for children is no picnic, say workers, Melissa Davey (SMH)