Winter is here and the winds of change blow fast and slow! Yet again the shortage of Early Childhood Educators has hit the headlines – ‘Australia needs 16,000 new educators to fill shortfall in childcare sector,’ ‘The pay does suck: Why it’s so hard to get a childcare spot,’ ‘Childcare wait times in Australia grow amid worker shortage, leaving parents unable to rejoin workforce.’ The list goes on…
These headlines have been on a loop for several years, yet we are no closer to resolving the educator shortage. The elephant in the room – poor wages and conditions – has still not been addressed, resulting in an exodus of experienced Educators and a failure to attract people to the profession.
As CEO of a successful training organisation, it is my experience that a genuine lack of understanding exists of how best to address the issue. It’s not an easy fix and has been exacerbated by a lack of genuine collaboration from key stakeholders including the federal and state governments as well as those driving the competency-based training package. An example of this is current NSW funding, which targets funding for diploma training but whose criteria excludes almost all current Certificate III Educators wishing to upgrade in favour of cooks or administrative staff.
Why? Who developed this criterion? Who was consulted?
The current competency-based Early Childhood Education and Care training packages are both repetitive in content. They include some highly complex concepts that would be better explored at university and demand performance to be assessed for tasks that do not reflect the work role, particularly at Certificate III level. Australia needs competent, well-trained, and well-paid Educators. We need pathways that allow Educators opportunities to upgrade while being supported financially and provided time for study.
Our counterparts in the school sector have always had this opportunity, why should the Early Childhood Sector be any different?
The burnout rate and subsequent attrition of Early Childhood Educators makes a mockery of the National Quality Standards. Australia, quite rightly, has set high standards for the care and education of our youngest citizens. However, this can’t happen when Educators are not valued by government. It is remarkable to me that Educators continue to produce quality developmental programs and engage in critical reflection on practice when their renumeration is less than that of many less qualified workers.
There is no doubt that Educators genuinely care for and are invested in the well-being of young children and their families. However, this may also be their nemesis, allowing governments to ‘talk the talk’ but fail to ‘walk the walk’ in taking immediate action to make significate changes to the way Early Childhood Education is funded and supported.
Recently when overseas, I was asked about the Australia’s NQS. There was great praise for a national commitment to quality standards. There was also astonishment when told that our Educators are among the lowest paid workers in Australia.
“How” this person asked, “can Educators be expected to implement the NQS when they are not valued with appropriate pay and conditions?”
“That” I said, “is a question that sends successive governments ducking for cover.”
Karen Kearns (M.Ed (EC) B.Ed.(EC) Grad.Dip.Ed. (Spec. Ed.)
CEO, International Child Care College