Educators struggled to find the information they needed during COVID-19, researcher says
The Sector > COVID-19 > Educators struggled to find the information they needed during COVID-19, researcher says

Educators struggled to find the information they needed during COVID-19, researcher says

by Freya Lucas

December 05, 2022

As a community network trusted by families, early childhood educators are in direct contact with more than 700,000 families who turn to them for advice, support, and compassion. 


Because of the highly regulated nature of their work, educators are seen as having a comprehensive understanding of common childhood illnesses, and of how to follow disease prevention guidelines and regulations in order to minimse risk. 


Despite this, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the multiple, and often rapidly changing or conflicting announcements and protocols left educators struggling to keep up, and missing the information that they needed. 


“I heard the cries for relevant health information coming from the sector,” ’said Professor Sheila Degotardi, Director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education, Macquarie University.  Professor Degotardi was motivated to seek a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant during the pandemic, to co-design a research plan to analyse the health information sourced and communicated by the early childhood sector during the pandemic.


MRFF grant opportunities fill gaps in areas that need more research. The aim of the team’s research plan was to develop policy recommendations that could facilitate rapid, accurate and effective communication of health information to families of young children and their educators. 


Their research proposal, Harnessing the health communication power of the early childhood sector, was supported by the MRFF with a grant of $175,000.


Creating ‘democratic knowledge’ with community impact


The researchers worked closely with their early childhood and health stakeholders, something Professor Degotardi termed ‘democratic knowledge production’.


“Stakeholders know far more than we do about how to impact their communities and bring about change,” she explained.


The stakeholders helped the researchers:


  • analyse health information documents used by the sector for readability
  • survey early childhood educators and families
  • survey EC and health organisation leaders
  • hold case study interviews with targeted EC services.


The need for one trusted health information source


“We found the early childhood sector was incredibly agile during the pandemic,” Professor Degotardi said. 


“They adapted their policies and processes to support their staff, the children, and their families. They went above and beyond to provide correct and timely health information.”


The study showed that children’s families highly rated the health information they received from their early childhood services. But sourcing and providing this high-quality information involved much time and cost for providers.


“Many educators and managers would read between four and six different sources of COVID-19 health information each day,” the Professor continued. 


“Often the information was contradictory, so they didn’t know which advice to follow. Each document was often too complex for a general audience. Or it was for schools, which wasn’t appropriate.”


Study participants at all levels asked for one trusted source of information to streamline communication to the sector, but given the complexity of the sector, where different services are offered by different kinds of providers, from large employers to stand-alone operators working in centre- and home-based services, providing this was a challenge. 


The researchers had to work out how to streamline information from national, state, and local government health care through these complex early childhood sector layers.


A policy proposal


Based on consultation with stakeholders and end users, the research team sees benefits in such health information being coordinated at national level, and have proposed a new early childhood education health communication unit, staffed by experts in early childhood education, health, and health communication.


“There is potential for early childhood services to be more effective and efficient health communicators,” Professor Degotardi emphasised. ‘“They understand their local community and are a trusted source of information.”


For more information about the project, please see here

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