Imagine one educator left in charge of 20 infants for an indefinite period. That is a real prospect under mooted changes to Australia’s early education and care sector, the early childhood education union, United Voice warned today.
The changes could mean centres are allowed to comply with educator to children ratios “on average” over a week which would seriously compromise children’s development and safety. Currently minimum ratios are mandated at all times.
This afternoon United Voice acting national secretary David O’Byrne and early childhood educators Kristy Wilkie and Claire Penno will give evidence in Melbourne at the Productivity Commission’s hearing on childcare and early childhood.
They will tell the Commission that professional, qualified educators, strong ratios and a well-funded sector are crucial for children as well as for the economy.
Mr O’Byrne said: "Australia risks creating a third rate early childhood system. Families will not trust a system that abandons higher training standards for educators and strong educator-child ratios.
“Quality early education sets children up for a lifetime of learning. Remove that and you cheat children of the best possible start in life.
“Educators are abandoning early childhood in droves because of low pay and little recognition - 180 leave every week. This exodus of talent and experience is not in children’s interest but it will continue until this is fixed.”
In its draft report on childcare and early learning, the Commission recommends:
removing the requirement for centres to have some diploma-qualified staff;
averaging educator-child ratios across the week rather than meeting them at all times, and forcing states to accept weaker federal ratios;
removing the requirement to have early childhood teachers for children under three years of age.
“Certificate trained educators are committed, highly skilled and capable, but the added presence of diploma and degree qualified staff provides a deeper understanding of developmental milestones and special needs, in turn helping centres to meet individual children’s requirements,” said Mr O’Byrne.
“We’re very concerned by the push to wind back education for children under three. Young brains develop rapidly from birth with 85 per cent of development occurring by the age of five, so quality early learning is just as important as quality care.
“Not every educator needs to have a diploma, but having diploma qualified staff present in every centre is a vital human resource. It also creates a career path to help retain talented educators who are now denied professional pay.
“Averaging ratios across a week would inevitably compromise children’s safety and development, as well as being an administrative nightmare which would create stress for staff. This would only add to the sector’s workforce problems.
“In the past few years we’ve made big steps towards a first rate system for children. Let’s not sell out our children’s future just to save a few dollars.
“If parents – especially mothers - can’t find care they can trust then they won’t go back to work. That’s the big issue the Commission has to confront.”