The significance of qualifications: Highlighting quality in early childhood

This issue of Every Child coincides with the Federal election. It’s not clear at this point how the result might affect early childhood education and care policy and funding, but one thing is certain, there is bipartisan support for the best educational and developmental outcomes for Australian children.

Over a year and a half since commencement, the National Quality Framework (NQF) is operating well, but as with any other change process things take time to anchor and there is always room for enhancement.

On my travels around children’s services—both centre-based and family day care—and in talking to educators, it is heartening to see the Early Years Learning Framework in action and to hear such positive comments about its implementation.

Of real concern around the sector, however, is the ongoing problem sourcing qualified educators—both early childhood teachers and VET-qualified educators. Despite the best will and a raft of training initiatives and support in the right direction, many centres struggle to employ appropriately qualified educators. This shortage is perhaps the biggest threat to achieving more consistent quality across all early childhood education programs.

There will be a continuing struggle to recruit educators, especially in ‘traditionally hard-to-staff’ localities. In reality, the early childhood sector competes with other sectors that provide better salaries and working conditions—but not always better job satisfaction.

We know that when educators work in early childhood they enjoy their jobs and parents value their expertise and dedication. We know too that qualified, experienced and caring educators go hand in hand with quality experiences and outcomes for young learners.

Research shows that educators who work in preschools, early learning centres, and family day care are dedicated, caring and skilled. Today, they have a real choice about career and they have chosen to work with young children.

The recent outburst by Victorian academic Professor Judith Sloan slamming the skills of early childhood educators rightly caused outrage in the early childhood education sector and generated spirited social media debate.

Her insulting comments damaged all educators—whatever age group they work with. As well as being downright disrespectful, the comments were baseless. Her implication that early childhood teachers are somehow the product of ‘second rate’ universities is simply not true. On the contrary, as we know, prospective early childhood, primary and secondary school teachers attend the same universities, with comparable academic entry and exit standards—and a very similar curriculum—albeit with distinct areas of ‘specialisation’.

Happily, I see smart, dedicated, young (and older) people studying early childhood teaching and seeking to work with young children—where without doubt salaries and working conditions are typically less favourable than in primary and secondary schools. Their dedication, expertise and skill bring a real sense of confidence in the future for children.

Every early childhood educator, including me, felt the ‘slap in the face’ reported by Macquarie University graduate Megan Mason as we had ‘our commitment and professionalism called into question’ (www.bigsteps.org.au) by Judith Sloan.

With decades of research confirming the importance of the early years to a range of later cognitive, social and employment outcomes, access to quality early childhood services shouldn’t be a lottery or postcode privilege. Every child needs a quality early education program and the NQF aims to ensure that.

That said, this issue of Every Child continues its focus on quality issues, building a deeper knowledge of child development and how children learn, being more responsive to children’s developmental interests, strengths and needs, and forging partnerships with families. Our writers highlight key issues such as play, inclusion, transitions and ethics and report on family day care’s history and the MENtor program.

On this 75th anniversary of Early Childhood Australia we salute every early childhood educator and offer our deepest appreciation and thanks to the pioneers whose work and advocacy provided the foundations for the range of education and care services that most of us take for granted today.

Alison Elliott
Editor

 

The significance of qualifications: Highlighting quality in early childhood by Alison Elliott featured in Every Child Vol. 19 No. 3—Celebrating 75 years of ECA. Click here and purchase your copy today!