ECA Central Coast hosts roundtable political forum ahead of NSW election
Over 60 early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals gathered at Mingara earlier this week to hear from local candidates ahead of the NSW election, to be held on 23 March 2019.
Politicians present included: Adam Crouch, state Liberal Party member for Terrigal; Abigail Boyd, Greens upper house candidate; Liesl Tesch, state Labor member for Gosford; David Mehan, Labor Party member for The Entrance; Anne Charlton, Federal Labor Party candidate for Robertson; and, David Harris, Labor Party MP for Wyong
In setting the scene for the evening, ECA spokesperson, Kate Hodgekiss, compelled those present, and the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector more broadly, to engage in political discourse, saying:
“early childhood educators need to get political, join their unions and raise the profile of their profession if any progress is to be made.”
“Most early childhood professionals earn less that people stacking shelves in supermarkets and yet they are entrusted with the care of our nation’s most precious assets.”
She went on to outline to the politicians present that working conditions within the ECEC sector “have not improved for decades and teachers in the sector with the same qualifications as those in primary schools, earn up to one third less and have much longer working hours”.
The Central Coast branch of ECA NSW said that most of those attending the evening were hopeful that the politicians attending understood that educators are required to have a minimum of a Certificate or Diploma qualification and typically remain in the profession between three and five years, before leaving due to poor rate of pay, demanding working conditions, and limited professional opportunities.
Two suggestions were posed from members of the audience in relation to the high turnover within the ECEC sector:
- that policy makers would be better off improving the working conditions of those in the sector rather than continuing to fund the training of workers who may love the job but find it impossible to remain in the early childhood field – mostly due to demoralisation.
- Universities need to be supported to offer dedicated birth to five years qualifications as few students with a birth to 12 years qualification choose to work with the early childhood age group. More training of teachers and improved working conditions was called for as this would see an improvement in recruitment and retention rates, both of which are vital for the healthy functioning of the sector and our society in general.
Prior to the forum discussion beginning, a member of the audience made the request that access to affordable early childhood education be considered a right for all children and that the rhetoric linking early childhood access to parents’ workforce participation be separated across all political agendas.
The NSW Central Coast branch of ECA noted that children who participate in early learning have half the rate of vulnerability as children who don’t attend any early learning, yet in Australia only 58 per cent of three year olds attend a preschool program. Compared to other OECD countries Australia ranks in the bottom third. Those who were present were hopeful that this political message was being noted and that these inexcusable statistics can be improved.
Abigail Boyd spoke about increasing government-funded services and phasing out the for-profit model of early childhood education, citing statistics that place Australia in 30th position on a list of 35 countries measured on GDP spend on early childhood. The question was posed that if countries like Norway and Denmark can provide free access to quality early childhood education why can’t NSW?
Liesel Tesch outlined Labor’s intention to increase funding and support to early childhood educational services, and David Harris stated a commitment to improving access and communication with Indigenous children and families on the Coast who require access to culturally appropriate early childhood learning environments. Adam Crouch was able to outline the spending that the present Liberal government had made in early childhood.
This event was organised by the Central Coast Group of Early Childhood Australia (ECA) – a not for profit organisation whose focus is advocacy on behalf of young children and their families and supporting the vision that every young child is thriving and learning. This political forum was hosted to promote the belief that “it is time for Australia to increase our investment in early learning. It matters for our children, and it matters for our community into the future”, ECA representatives said.