The roots of Australia's ECEC system can be traced back to preschools established to educate children experiencing poverty during the depression of the 1890s.
Over the last 130 years, much work has been done to improve the outcomes of the early years system to improve life-long outcomes for children. The benefits of early childhood education are becoming more well-known; evidence consistently highlights the benefits of quality early childhood education for children. Early childhood teachers and educators have impactful roles to play in the outcomes for children. High quality interactions between a child and educator directly impacts child outcomes (Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2018). Yesterday as we celebrated Early Childhood Educators' Day there was an acknowledgment of the increasing opportunity to bring together decision-makers, the sector and the community more broadly to work towards better outcomes for all Australian children.
Every year, Early Childhood Educators' Day focuses on the significant advantages children gain from attending quality early learning services and the important role that early childhood educators play in shaping our young children's worlds. Children who enjoy quality early learning are likely to be well socialised, confident, inquisitive about the world, accepting of diversity, resilient, able to manage challenges and become lifelong learners. These benefits flow onto our families, the wider community, and the Australian economy (Shaping their world 2022).
To mark Early Childhood Educators' Day 2022, we asked the members of our online community what it means to them to be an educator in 2022.
A sector professional working in early childhood education for more than ten years spoke passionately about the need to create a plan that delivers quality early childhood education and care for all children and their families. Acknowledging the need for the sector to be a valued as part of the education system, placing children at the centre.
Research shows that high-quality adult-child interactions are vital to children's social and academic development (Tayler et al 2016). High workforce turnover and a lack of retention of skilled and experienced ECEC teachers and educators have implications for the workforce continuity and quality. Given the natural relationship between quality delivery of early childhood education and care and the workforce, the consequences of poor wages and conditions impact the whole ECEC system.
Further contributions from a sector professional suggested that while a review of wages and conditions is integral to the attraction and retention of any robust workforce ‘we also need to meet the emotional wellbeing needs with strategies to maintain an energised and engaged community of educators and teachers.’
A 2022 report highlighted the challenges faced by those tasked with 'shaping the world' of Australian children; it found that the sector reported over 6,000 vacancies (around double the vacancies for the three years prior to the pandemic) and that over 11 per cent of providers by early 2022 required waivers exempting them from normal staff ratios (Mark Dean, 2022). The high vacancy rate can be attributed to several factors. Many stakeholders note that equivalent jobs in other caring sectors offer higher pay or more opportunities for progression and professional learning.
Early childhood educators play an integral role in fostering the social and emotional skills, confidence, creativity, and sense of self that will set children up for school and life. For parents, the ECEC workforce is a key identifier of quality. In the Front Project’s research with families, most parents (83 per cent) agreed that ECEC educators and carers significantly impact young children's learning, wellbeing and care (The Front Project, 2021).
This year, on Early Childhood Educators' Day, as we asked educators and teachers to accept our gratitude for their contribution to shaping the world, we also had the opportunity to listen to them as they provided insight into opportunities to improve quality in ECEC and create better outcomes for Australian children.
Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation. (2018). A review of the effects of Early Childhood Education. https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au//images/stories/PDF/A-review-effects-of-ECE_AA.pdf
Shaping their world 2022, accessed 31 August 2022, <https://www.earlychildhoodeducatorsday.org.au/latest-news/early-learning-services/shaping-their-world>.
Taylor, C., Cloney, D., Adams, R., Ishimine, K., Thorpe, K. and Nguyen, TKC. (2016) Assessing the effectiveness of Australian early childhood education and care experiences, BMC Public Health 16:252, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186%2Fs12889-016-2985-1.
Dean, M. (May 2022) Educating for care: Meeting skills shortages in an expanding ECEC industry. Centre for Future Work – Carmichael Centre at the Australia Institute, https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Educating-for-Care-WEB.pdf
The Front Project. (2021). Work and play: Understanding how Australian families experience early childhood education and care. https://www.thefrontproject.org.au