To protest against their poor wages and conditions, and timed to coincide with International Women's Day, early childhood educators from 30 centres across the nation will stage a walk-off-the-job at 3.20pm today.
Professor Frances Press, a lecturer and researcher at the CSU School of Teacher Education in Bathurst said, "This is a good choice of timing given that an estimated 97 per cent of the workforce in early childhood education and care is female."
Professor Press emphasises that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has noted that early childhood educators all over the world often work 'under poorer conditions than educators in other levels of schooling', and has called for called for improvements in their status and working conditions.
"But this raises the question - why is so little credence given to the skills and knowledge early childhood educators bring to their work?" she asks.
"Arguably, it is partly because many wrongly regard working with young children as women's work – something that comes naturally and requires no specialist knowledge."
Professor Press notes several recent examples of men dismissing the value of early childhood educators' work, but she argues that the childcare environment is a unique educational setting (see Media Note below).
"Unlike in schools, in childcare children arrive and leave at different times of the day and educators are required to work with many different groups of children throughout the week," Professor Press said.
"The fact is that what early childhood educators do is skilled, demanding and often complex.
"Because children attending early childhood education and care settings are so young, educators' duty of care to them is very high. There are stringent requirements relating to nutrition, health and safety. However, because there is more at stake than keeping children safe, the research is clear that educators need, at the very least, a foundational understanding of children's development.
"To this, the ILO adds that educators must have an understanding of pedagogy (the art, theory and practice of teaching), play, be good communicators, creative, innovative, empathetic, and be able to 'impart to children values, knowledges and skills necessary for peace, gender equality, tolerance and respect for diversity'.
"Importantly, early childhood educators have to develop a sound understanding of each and every child they are responsible for, and assess and plan for each child's development and interests. They need to know each child's family and have the confidence and skill to conduct difficult conversations when children look as if they might need specialist support," Professor Press said.
"They are required to regularly document and report on how children are faring but the time they get 'off-the-floor' to do so is minimal. And although they work longer hours each day, often have primary responsibility for a greater number of individual children, and do not get school holidays, university qualified teachers in long day care programs are paid less than teachers in schools.
"In addition, the knowledge and thought behind why educators do what they do is invisible. The play-based curriculum underpinning most early childhood education and care programs is not recognized as 'curriculum'. When children's interests are sustained and extended, this is rarely credited to the skill of the educator, but seen as natural product of children's play."
To address the misconceptions that continue to plague this work, researchers at CSU, the Queensland University of Technology, and Rutgers University are conducting a three-year study into the nature of early childhood educators' work, and the skills and knowledge base that underpins high quality early childhood education.
The research, 'Exemplary early childhood educators at work' (LP 160100532), is funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Program and eight industry partners. It aims to dispel the myths surrounding early childhood education by identifying, highlighting and documenting the distinct and complex nature of educators' work.
Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084
Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Professor Frances Press.
Professor Press noted several recent examples of devaluing early childhood educators' work, including one by a consultant who asserted that the introduction of minimum qualification requirements for childcare centres has led to the loss of the 'lovely old ladies' from 'the industry'.
She said the sentiment is important to note, although its truth is, in any case, highly debatable given the lifting and physical exertion involved working with children. In the same opinion piece (and same vein), another male claims that 'looking after children requires common sense, not a forgettable foray into child psychology'.Professor Press also noted that more recently an Australian Senator proclaimed that childcare workers 'don't need a certificate 3, 18 months of study … to learn how to wipe children's noses and stop them from killing each other'.