Child care features prominently in the news currently. That’s good? Not really. The problem is that the focus is only on the prohibitive cost to families and insufficient supply. There needs to be more child care, and it needs to be cheaper – end of story.
The term education and care services began replacing preschool and child care around the launch of the EYLF in 2010 and in anticipation of the new National Quality Framework. One Framework and one system for assessing quality – most members of our profession understood the significance of that somewhat unwieldy new term and welcomed it. We inferred that the intention was to declare that all services offer both education and care, and that education and care are inseparable.
Finally, we thought, the artificial, unhelpful and inaccurate distinction made within and outside of the profession will disappear. No longer would anyone work and advocate with the notion that children learn only in services labelled pre-school or kindergarten, and that child care is little more than babysitting on a large scale – a necessary arrangement to enable workforce participation by parents, the aim being aim only to keep children safe and happily occupied. Status, working conditions, remuneration, and requirements for qualified staff were only some of the ways this distinction played out.
We did wonder, of course, how children would know that important learning didn’t happen until they entered something called preschool or kindergarten and that only then should they switch on their brains and learn!
While early childhood professionals understood the significance of the term education and care services, some educators felt threatened by the idea that children learned throughout a whole day. They were troubled by the prospect of working with children all day, working with very young children and the possibility of less favourable working conditions.
There hasn’t been enough time for the broader community to appreciate the significance of the term early education and care services and its implications for quality and to embrace it. The exception is families who have been fortunate enough to experience a very good quality full-day early education and care service. They understand what the term means.
Currently at the policy level we seem to be back where we used to be. When the topic is child care, politicians and bureaucrats focus on lack of access and affordability of child care as impediments to workforce participation. There appears to be little recognition that ‘child care’ represents a substantial proportion of many children’s childhoods, the time when foundational learning that shapes the rest of a child’s life occurs.
Children are learning all the time, in poor quality services and in excellent ones. The important question is What are they learning in services that are viewed as places to park children while their parents work?
Now, more than ever, we need to be strong, articulate, persuasive advocates for good quality in early education and care services.