On Monday, myself and a number of educators and proud United Voice members had the chance to present our response to the Productivity Commission draft report at the hearing in Melbourne.
Before our submission in the afternoon we decided to listen to other evidence from day care operators, educators, academics and associations. For the most part, the tying point of their arguments was: quality matters. I’m sure that’s something we all can agree on.
Certificate III qualified educator Kylie speaking at a sector forum
Here are a couple of the comments I noted down:
“Affordable, quality ECEC gives parents the confidence to return to work.”
- Shane Lucas, CEO of Early Learning Australia
"What is acceptable? What about language and literacy? What about social and emotional development?"
- Educators from Swallow Street Child Care Association, Queensland
The United Voice submission was presented by educators and centre directors Kristy Wilkie and Claire Penno, with Acting National Secretary David O’Byrne and researcher Dr Kate Hepworth. The important points made were that qualification standards must be maintained at all ages, while ratios are kept consistent and low.
As Claire stated: "Diploma educators do not just educate children, but also each other, which then in turn benefits child development." She then gave an example she’d observed in her centre - one which many educators found helpful in identifying why qualification standards are so fundamental to quality.
“In our toddler room I noticed a child struggling to grab a block which was just out of reach on a shelf - he was jumping up and down but just couldn’t get it. One of my certificate three educators got up to intervene, but a diploma qualified educator stopped her by touching her arm, and they watched what happened next.
“Another two children joined him and at first they they discussed how to retrieve the block. One of the children pushed a stool over, but they were still unable to reach the block. Then a little girl ran outside and came back with a spade, which the boy on the stool then used to push the block off the shelf. They celebrated this achievement together, then went back to playing.
“It was because the diploma qualified educator recognised this opportunity for learning and collaboration that the certificate three educator was able to understand the importance of giving children time and space to problem solve and have self belief. The children also clearly benefitted. This is what qualifications can give you.”
Kristy then commented on how she’d seen the sector change during her time as an educator.
She said: “I am very passionate about early childhood education, I have seen the profession change and evolve to where we now have a fantastic framework and the standards which support a safe and professional environment for children to grow and learn. I cannot see the profession go backwards."
We currently see educators leaving our sector in droves - we don't want to see more leaving because there is a drop in quality. This would trigger an increase in the stress educators face and result in a lowering of our morale which is the last thing we all wish to see. After all we are in the career of educating, caring for and growing the future population of this country.
With regards to the recommendation that ratios could be spread across the week, both Claire and Kristie agreed they just couldn’t see how it could work. As Claire stated: “These ratios are put in place to ensure the best quality education and care is given to the children at all times.”
Kristy then mentioned: “Fewer educators and fewer skilled educators will mean lower quality education for children, lower safety standards, less early intervention and I believe a lower level of trust from families. We have black and white rules now, if we go back to shades of grey where is the quality and where is the safety?”
When United Voice was asked how to help the stop the high turnover of staff by the commissioner, Kristy answered: “Value the sector!” with David adding: “If there is a watering down of qualifications it will tell educators that their work is not valued.”
I am sure you are with me in feeling that valuing our profession and our careers is something we all want. Australia spends less than 0.5% of our GDP on early years education - where the UN and OECD recommends 1% - something New Zealand has already achieved.
Quality early childhood education should not be seen as a cost but as an investment in the future of Australia, because we can instill a lifelong love of learning in our children. There was a great feeling after our submission; the commissioners were generally interested in our views and taking recommendations from the professionals that we are.
I am pleased to have been part of the group who had opportunity to represent all educators and let the commission know the reality of how their report will impact on our sector.
Want to stand with me and join the Quality Matters campaign? Take the pledge today, and get ready for action!