In the past week there has been misinformed and uneducated commentary made about the early childhood sector – Early Childhood Australia was disappointed with these comments but chose to not respond in the media as it received too much media attention and we did not wish to increase the profile of the Senators involved. Below is an outline from our CEO, Samantha Page.
Comments by Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm and One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson, suggesting that child care is overpriced because of unnecessary regulations that require early childhood educators to hold qualifications are ill-informed.
Senator Leyonhjelm does not see any difference between a parent at home with a child and an early learning service catering for 40 – 260 children and families. He argues that because parents do not need to be qualified neither do early childhood educators. He does not understand that educators are working with much bigger groups of children. They are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of children that are not their own and tasked with providing a rich learning environment in which children can thrive and grow. This is not at all like being a parent at home and is much more demanding than babysitting – ‘wiping noses and stopping kids killing each other’, as Leyonhjelm describes it. This is skilled work. It is hard, it is demanding and it is undervalued by people with no understanding of the importance of the early years.
In the first five years of life children learn how to communicate, how to empathise, how to cooperate and regulate their own emotions. They learn how to be part of a group and they develop their own sense of identity and agency, which prepares them for lifelong social and emotional wellbeing. They are curious and ask a lot of questions – skilled, responsive educators can foster this so that children become talented learners for life. All of this is well documented in research summarised in multiple reports to the Australian Parliament. These include the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, the Review of the National Quality Framework and various Senate Inquiry reports on regulation and subsidy reforms. There are executive summaries and parliamentary briefing papers that very succinctly and very firmly substantiate the importance of qualifications in early education settings.
In various submissions to multiple inquiries and reviews, clear evidence has been provided that removing qualification requirements would not reduce the cost of childcare. It would only reduce the quality of service provided to children and reduce the return on investment from the billions of dollars invested by both the Australian Government and parents.
Removing the regulation of the quality of services not only jeopardises the wellbeing and safety of children, it is likely to have widespread social and economic impacts, all of which are against the interests of this country. This has been the consistent conclusion of every review, and we would hope that Senator Leyonhjelm would acknowledge the research evidence that supports regulating for quality.
Senators should provide leadership. The community expects them to be well informed on issues that are before the Parliament. They should show respect for the evidence, and for the professionals who are caring for a generation of young Australians. It is disappointing that Senator Leyonhjelm did none of these things, and we are seeking to meet with him and ensure he is briefed on the importance of quality early learning.
Australia has one of the most highly regarded and effective systems for ensuring that young children are learning and thriving in early education. Qualifications are a cornerstone of this. As far as investments go, it is not particularly expensive and it ensures that young children get the best start in life while parents are enabled to work and secure their family’s financial security. It’s time we move on from justifying this and focus on making early learning affordable and available.