It probably seems perverse for someone who teaches early childhood pre-service teachers to be questioning the total reliance on qualifications in early childhood, but that’s what I’m going to do.
It’s not that I think qualifications are not valuable, but should they be the sole measure of the capacity to work with young children? In modern society we have seen the rise of credentialism, where the piece of paper achieved seems to take preference over the learning involved. The recent push by governments to achieve a minimum Certificate III standard across early childhood seems to have been about credentialism rather than learning, with widespread criticism of the poor quality of many online courses offering this certificate.
So I am all for a highly-skilled workforce, with a passion for learning, a concern for social justice, and the willingness to question existing practices. If qualifications could guarantee such an outcome, then I would be a big supporter of them. Sadly, even at their best, any certification program cannot guarantee a uniformly high quality of graduates, however dedicated the teaching staff. Some students will ensure they do the absolute minimum needed to pass, gaining a credential while resisting any meaningful engagement in learning. This is a feature of all education, I would suggest, and is unlikely to change anytime soon.
My biggest concern about qualifications is the way that they inevitably privilege those who feel most comfortable in educational environments. We don’t talk about social class much in early childhood, but it is there if you’re willing to see it. Those from more privileged class backgrounds feel more comfortable at school, and tend to do better, because the forms of cultural capital required in school match those at home. Those from more disadvantaged backgrounds find schools confusing or actively hostile, and often get judged on their behaviour rather than their intellectual ability, making them disengage from school. This form of education reproduction tends to work against a more equal society, because it privileges those who are already privileged. Val Gillies and others have written extensively about how both educators and parents tend to see certain children (privileged ones) as ‘bright’, and ignore others who might be equally capable, but lack the (classed) attributes expected in education.
I believe that our early childhood classrooms – especially long day care – are blessed with many fine educators who are capable, thoughtful and emotionally engaged, but that have been let down by our school systems. Somehow these educators need to be recognised in for the skills and dispositions they demonstrate in their work, perhaps through the equivalency processes used in many other competency assessment programs. Any system that requires qualifications risks driving these committed and capable workers away, and will ultimately turn early childhood work into yet-another job only for the privileged. I think our field will feel their loss keenly.