Child care is a topic at the forefront of much discussion. From politicians to internet commentators, seemingly everyone has an opinion on child care in Australia at the moment. This media of late should have been an excellent opportunity to share information with parents and the wider community on the advances made in the early childhood profession through the National Quality Framework. It should have provided us with a strong platform to highlight the pedagogy and practice of educators choosing a career in early childhood.
Minimal focus has been on children’s rights and children’s voices in recent debates, even less commentary has been on the significant role educators play in children’s early learning experiences. This reductionist approach detracts from the highly skilled pedagogy and practices of educators working in early learning contexts every day across Australia.
We now know the experiences in the first three years of a child’s life lay foundations for future health and learning (Pianta, Cox, & Snow, 2007). The role of child care within this time has long been debated. Recently, research has suggested centre based care in the early years has the potential to influence children’s developmental outcomes at 4 to 5 and 6 to 7 years of age (Whiteford, 2015). Armed with this knowledge, we assert that:
- community views needs to shift and understand and value the importance of early care experiences
- we, as early childhood educators, are the people to change these perceptions
- we need to continually and intentionally engage in commentary within the community to challenge negative perceptions and promote understanding that all children deserve equal outcomes
- early centre based care experiences are an important platform for assisting in this goal.
So how do we shift community perceptions? We believe all educators can take up this challenge and become change agents. A change agent is a person who acts as a catalyst for change; they change perceptions and views on important topics. Understanding the research base informing our work and using this knowledge to create shared visions for the future is necessary if we are to galvanise public opinion in shared understandings of the significance of the early childhood profession. We need to remain proactive and focused and use cohesive messages based on a vision for quality early childhood education and care to permeate all corners of the community.
A change agent not only leads change, they are intent on empowering change from within. We need to look for opportunities in our day to day practice where we can be advocates for the provision of quality early learning experiences. In our centres we need to continue to build a culture of reflection and intention that is critical of the mass media message experienced of late. We must harness our collective vision through our professionalism and be involved as change agents every day. We know the significance of the work we do every day, let us communicate the value of it far and wide collectively. Cultures breed change agents. Let your culture be one that breeds ideas and vision and charts new trajectories for early childhood that raises societal perspectives of our chosen profession. Let this advocacy and enacting of change be at many levels, through your words, actions, through your documentation, through collaborative inquiry, in thought and in deed.
Throughout the current saturation of government and media discourse let us reaffirm our continued commitment to being heard and providing a collective and informed voice that speaks to the significance of what we do in our everyday practice. So often we have heard in the past few months about the political and economic arguments of child care.
We know from educators sharing their stories with us that there are many ways educators work every day in intentional ways to promote their roles as early childhood professionals. Documented centre based practices which support high quality practice have been identified as articulating and making visible practice to families and the wider community, promoting the importance of qualified teachers and appropriate ratios, and sustaining engagement on deep levels with families and the wider community (Fenech, Harrison, Press, & Sumsion, 2010). We would like you to share your stories with us. How do you act as a change agent in your day to day engagement with children and families?
Fenech, M., Harrison, L., Press, F., & Sumsion, J. (2010). Contributors to quality long day care: Findings from six case study centres. Charles Sturt University and Macquarie University.
Pianta, R. C., Cox, M. J., & Snow, K. (Eds.). (2007). School readiness and the transition to kindergarten (pp. 283-306). Baltimore: Brookes.
Whiteford, C. (2015). Early child care in Australia : quality of care, experiences of care and developmental outcomes for Australian children. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.