Our children are developmentally vulnerable and here’s why
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
There’s a perfect storm brewing. Educator turnover is high and our children are suffering as a result.
Neuroscientific developments show that skills and behaviours developed in the early years are fundamental to a child’s lifelong learning. During these early years, children learn social, interpersonal and cognitive skills that will help them go on to lead healthy, happy lives.
The benefits of children accessing early learning and childcare during this time are undeniable.
Children who access early childhood education and care are shown to do better at school, less likely to repeat grades and more likely to complete Year 12. Participation in early childhood education is linked with lifelong benefits like better health outcomes, more financial security and higher levels of employment.
No one understands these benefits better than the educators who work tirelessly to ensure every child is given their best start to life. These educators have chosen this career path because they deeply care about early learning – so why is there such a high turnover in the sector?
In fact, there are thousands of vacant jobs in early learning centres but no takers.
Put simply, wages are low, centres are under resourced and many educators find they do not have enough time to effectively do their job. Worryingly, 30 per cent of educational leaders, who have responsibility for quality curriculum in early childhood services, don’t have any funding for this vital work.
Educators in the first years of their career can earn more at a call centre than they do for the essential service of educating and caring for children. Many educators are unable to work under these conditions and continue to provide for their own families.
We were recently contacted by an educator who told us that it was becoming really stressful and frustrating for quality and passionate educators to work in minimum wage conditions as they are forced to work out of ratio and unable to provide children the care they need.
Children are also given less resources and education, and not provided with the necessary skills to learn and develop that will impact on them for the rest of their lives.
Eventually, they leave the sector, choosing to work elsewhere. It’s Australian children who bear the burden. Children in low-quality centres where there is a high staff turnover have poor language and social development.
The current system is unsustainable. When an educator leaves, it takes three to six weeks to find a replacement. In the meantime, children are being shuffled around their centre while the remaining educators work even harder just to keep their heads above water. Conversation and play with children take a big hit.
Centres are under pressure and struggle to attract and retain skilled educators, with pre-covid turnover estimated at up to 30 per cent.
Research shows that children experience turnover of their early educators negatively.
The current early learning and childcare system is not working for educators, and it’s not working for children.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
This is our future generation, and the benefits of a reformed early learning and childcare system staffed by professional educators who are valued for their skills and expertise would be immensely valuable to our nation.
Not only would a high quality, easily accessible and affordable early learning and childcare system deliver value to children and educators, it would also be a huge economic boost allowing almost 100,000 parents to go back into the workforce. Already, for every single dollar invested in the system, Australia receives two dollars back over the course of a child’s life. Universal access to high quality early learning is imperative to any modern economy, and we are falling behind other developed countries who have made reform to early learning a priority.
This is a no-brainer and it’s time Australia’s governments started treating it as such.
With the global pandemic, we passed through a crisis which revealed the absolutely fundamental role that early years educators play. Now we have the opportunity to put in place the most fundamental building blocks for a better society – a world class system of early childhood development.