Celebrating and building a profession

The recent Early Childhood Australia National Conference in Perth showcased the best of early childhood education innovation and practice in Australia and internationally. And the Australian early childhood sector has much to be proud of.

The transition to the new National Quality Framework for the sector presents challenges—as does any change process. But the paramount goal we all share is to provide the best quality early childhood education and care for every child. As research has demonstrated repeatedly, having a good start in the early years sets a child up for later school success.

Many papers and workshops at the conference focused on the challenge of change and ideas around implementing The Early Years Learning Framework, so each child can benefit from its guidelines. Other papers focused on topics as diverse as building educator capacity and competence, sustainability, and learning for Indigenous children.

The conference was an opportunity to celebrate our best. And with such a wealth of excellence on display, it is easy assume that every service provides the exemplary practice showcased at the conference. We all know wonderful services—we have much to be proud of. But there is still an ‘underbelly’ that the new quality assurance approach addresses. Not all children have access to the same high quality education and care.

Improving quality across all services was central to many presentations. Several speakers highlighted the importance of building the skill and experience base of early childhood educators. Staffing shortages loom as a major blockage to boosting quality in all centres. It is a challenge ensuring qualified staff and quality programs for all children, especially in the remotest parts of Australia. It is also difficult to deliver professional education and support to some regional areas. Childcare places for babies are in dreadfully short supply. However, the most socially and educationally vulnerable children in remote Australia—as we so know from assessments of learning, school completion rates, and employment and higher education involvement—need the best start to their education.

Our new national quality assurance processes aim to ensure greater consistency in the educational program standards and care for all our children. We need and want the protection afforded by professionalism for our children. Imagine if our doctors, school teachers, and pilots were not governed by professional requirements of qualifications, registration and on-going training. Surely the care and education of babies and young children in groups away from their homes is at least as important as treating a disease or flying a plane?

In this issue of Every Child we include some articles based on papers presented at the conference. There are some from new writers, such as pre-service teacher Rebecca Trimble-Roles, who writes about the importance of play. Andrew Reimer’s article provides some very insightful ideas about building staff resilience in challenging times. Margaret Sims’ and Margaret Young’s articles highlight the long standing quest to see early childhood educators become more professionalised.

Susan Edwards and fellow authors highlight the importance sustainability and intentional teaching in early childhood, and how to teach and learn about sustainability through play. On a related theme, Jane Taylor’s environmental education project at Warialda Preschool stands out, as do the efforts of the team at Campbell St Children’s Centre in Queanbeyan, NSW.

Best wishes to outgoing ECA National President Margaret Young. Margaret’s role has been instrumental in supporting ECA as a major ‘think tank’ and policy leader for the early childhood sector.

Alison Elliott

Every Child magazine – vol. 18 no. 3, 2012.

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