Early childhood reforms need less talk, more action

16 JUNE 2022

Early childhood reforms need less talk, more action

An early childhood education expert has weighed in on the recent announcements of changes to the sector, including an extra year of pre-kindergarten. She says the ideas are good but the correct policies will be needed to implement them.

The recent announcements for the early childhood education sector are wonderful but they don’t mean much if attention is not paid to educator remuneration, and feepolicies and implementation to ensure their success, according to a Charles Sturt expert.

By Senior Lecturer in Education with the Charles Sturt University School of Education Dr Leanne Gibbs.

In the last three days, three major announcements about the early childhood education sector have been made. The first is to do with the expansion of 47,000 new childcare places across the state. The second is to do with fee reductions for parents. And the third is the announcement of an extra year of education, five days a week of pre-kindergarten for four year olds.

That’s a lot of attention to early childhood education and if all goes to plan, this is excellent news.

However, the execution of these plans will need to be highly sophisticated with attention to the policy detail and implementation.

We should be asking a lot of questions, particularly from a regional and remote perspective.

The regional and remote areas are ‘childcare’ deserts. Availability of places is low and critical workforce shortages will threaten not just the operation of services, but the quality of education provided to children, as I have previously discussed.

The proposed “$281 million to boost the childcare workforce, including $25,000 university scholarships for early childhood teachers to entice more people to consider a career in the sector” is not enough, but it’s a great step.

There are many talented students who would value the opportunity to be debt free, have a high-quality qualification and a guaranteed job. Mentoring and programs to retain graduates who are in their first year of teaching should be an imperative in this scholarship plan, as should higher pay as teachers enter the workforce.

Educator remuneration is, therefore, the most important issue that needs to be addressed. People leave the sector because they can’t earn enough to live and support their families.

We are asking educators to work with children as a virtuous contribution. There is no point funding people with scholarships if they are going to leave the sector.

A recent news article stated that “to increase the number of childcare places, the state government will run a competitive tender process, where the private sector will bid to receive funding, which will be dependent on operators increasing the number of affordable places on offer to families.” It’s hard to make dollars from childcare as quality costs money, but this is an important move. Profit constraints are the only way to ensure fees are affordable.

The Sydney Morning Herald Game Changer article mentions ‘this will be at cost initially’. This could be concerning as the gap widens. People who can afford an extra year of preschool use it and then those who can’t afford it lose the extra year for their children, creating greater inequality.

So, the ideas are excellent – lower fees, more places, more education for children, more opportunity for women. But we need to ensure we have a highly skilled and qualified workforce who are well paid and are retained.

We need a good plan for free preschool regardless of the setting (long day care/ preschool/ kindergarten) so that all children have access to education. And we need a good plan on profit constraints.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Leanne Gibbs, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on 0429 217 026 or news@csu.edu.au

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