Not qualified, but committed

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.

Yarrow Andrew'
Yarrow Andrew is a lecturer in early childhood education at Flinders University, Adelaide, who researches the gendered and classed politics of early childhood work. Yarrow’s wider research interests include emotional labour/capital, sexualities, pay equity issues, and the nature of early childhood expertise, drawing on fifteen years of teaching experience in long day care settings.

25 thoughts on “Not qualified, but committed”

    Glenda Houldsworth says:

    I couldn’t agree more Yarrow!

    Gael Nash says:

    Thanks for this great article. I have met and worked with early childhood teachers with degrees who do not have the dispositions or skills needed to work with children and their families. I’m sure there are also teachers in schools who fit this category too. Perhaps we should be looking at this important area as a course unit of study for all educators Cert. 111 to degree level.

    Judith says:

    I’m not sure that teaching a unit of study on educator dispositions is the answer. Of course any content on understanding ourselves, how we think. learn and respond would be valuable but we need to go back further to ensuring that those who enter training are interviewed. We need to see it as a privilege to be selected to commence training to be an educator . Interpersonal skills need to be a factor along with a warmth and genuine desire to accept the responsibility for the role ahead in a career as an early years professional. It is time to rethink the intake system at all levels then rethink the training system including units of study with children’s rights to a quality care and education outcome paramount to all processes.

    Linda Simpson says:

    I absolutely agree with you Yarrow 100%.

    Pauline Burgwin says:

    Well said. Thank-you.

    Philippa Wong says:

    “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”

    These educators can be recognised as can their skills,there are many training organisations out there that run Recognition for prior learning (RPL) courses. This allows the Certificate III trained educator to identify, through documentation, where they may have met competencies in the Diploma courses and thus do a shorter course.
    The comment about social class is interesting – I have been training people in this industry for 5 years now, and we try and make our classes and delivery as equitable as possible. Often finding that students who, themselves, identified as being disengaged in school – enjoy training in the RTO environment as it is a different delivery to school. It, social inequities, may happen in other places, but we offer as much support (without hand holding) to students as they feel they need to allow them to feel that they can achieve the course. And we would never give a qualification where one was not deserved based on the work of the student to meet the competencies of the course.
    Along the way I have met some amazingly talented educators, who come to us just to get the piece of paper – so I tend to agree with the idea of credentialism.

    Lisa Williamson says:

    Thanks Philippa, I agree completely with your thinking around this issue.

    My concerns have always been around the delivery of training through on-line RTO’s. I would like to see research into the quality, knowledge and skill level of educators who have attended face-to-face training and work placement or traineeships versus those who have engaged in on-line training.

    fiona says:

    I agree with most of what as been said, however, do think that the writer has been rather condescending when writing “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”.
    That to me reads that the educators are not intelligent enough, not smart enough to get a degree. That is wrong, circumstances, in my knowledge, dictate if you get a degree. I have completed a degree, I failed school, struggled, I am compassionate and empathetic.

    Yarrow says:

    I appreciate all the feedback and am glad everyone realises how troubling this issue is, on a variety of levels. There are no easy answers to the question of what skills/attributes matter most in early childhood (emotional insight or basic literacy? Hard-working or knowledgeable about children’s learning?). Even harder to answer is what purpose compulsory education serves in the 21st century. Is it simply to keep children off the streets? Do we expect every student to succeed at tertiary levels? Does strengths-based learning work at all levels of education? These are genuine dilemmas that face those who are involved in frontline education or those trying to develop policy.

    Maree Aldwinckle says:

    Can someone who is not literate or numerate truly call themselves a teacher and be awarded a degree. Qualifications need to be structured to take account of different levels of ability. Perhaps we need to create a new qualification – the practical educator. Or rethink diploma qualifications so there is more emphasis on principles of education and curriculum.

    Jen Friedli says:

    Study generally demonstrates an individuals commitment to a career. I know a lot of people who are wonderful with children who have already left the field when the Cert III became compulsory. They did not want to get a bit of paper, they never wanted or needed before, but that indicated to me their lack of commitment. Research suggests that children have better outcomes when they are taught by someone with a higher level of education. We are educators – we should embrace further education! Why wouldn’t you want to try to achieve higher education if it means better outcomes for the children we care for?

    megacakes says:

    Gosh…that’s a pretty arrogant view, one which the author seems to be trying to address. A “Lack of commitment??” There are many reasons that someone might not choose to further their education. Poverty, family circumstance, disability or language issues. If you’ve been working for 25 years successfully as an “untrained” childcare worker, how insulting to be told that those 25 years are invalid and you can no longer do your job? It’s not like there are droves of staff arriving for the fantastic conditions, pay rates and respect from others in the community…

    hcnt01 says:

    Thankyou for your wonderful dedication to being a carer. I too have been carer for the past 10 years. My certificate that I completed, by distance ed, back then is now obsolete. Running a family and registered care business, efficiently, leaves little time for further studies imposed by govt. Lack of committment is NOT what we are. but dedicated parents and carers.

    Sarah says:

    I was raised in a single parent family with a mother who was formally uneducated with next to no extended family support, I grew up in housing commission and my mother was 16 when she had me.
    I started school at 4 1/2 and struggled with fitting into the school system as well as finding my social immaturity hard to mix with my peers.
    I was living on my own from 17 years old, supporting myself through full time work and then fought my way through full time studies – Associate Diploma Children’s studies whilst I worked evenings to support myself, later moving into full time work and part time studies, I then completed my Degree in Teaching (Birth to Five years) whilst I was raising my 6 month old whilst living on my own as a single mother.
    I value education highly and feel there is a great need for education in all fields, it is where we learn the background theories on why we do what we do, and gain a better understanding of our practices.

    Sarah says:

    I do believe the industry is also in need of passionate carers who are not as interested in gaining high levels of training, there are some wonderfully caring, creative and passionate carers who do not have formal qualifications but nurture children in so many ways.

    Sue says:

    I’m sorry but I am torn with this discussion. Yes there are many passionate educators out there who are not qualified that are able to contribute to a child’s learning and development in a meaningful way, however, there are some basics that I believe need to be addressed before individuals are given the responsibility to care and educate our youth. Basic literacy and grammar in both written and oral language is essential – how can they possibly be a role model in these areas with out having these basic skills? Child developmental milestones should guide the appropriateness of activities experienced with the children – common sense is not always ‘common’ in this area. … I could go on. I believe education is key if the intention is to educate children in a way that sets them up for life. Wolves nurture their young but would you want them raising yours?

    Philippa Wong says:

    I agree Sue, the idea of educators who cannot spell and workout / teach basic mathematics concepts need to up skill themselves to support the learning of the children they are teaching. Adding to your idea of role modeling to the children there is also effective communication to families, there is a lot of paper work that needs to be done these days, that needs to be shared among staff with all levels of qualification. I have visited several centers where wall displays have spelling errors in plain sight of potential clients/ families – this is not good in any workplace, let alone an education setting.

    Brinda says:

    Would you go to a doctor who does not have a qualification but is passionate about biology, human body and is wonderfully caring?

    Sue says:

    I agree with the article (sadly). In regards to the statement, ‘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’. You are very correct that this is a concern in all areas of education and there is little that can be done about it. As an RTO we focus on building the passion for learning and promote the importance of quality outcomes for children. We enthuse students to become sponges and be the best educator they can. their commitment is the only way to achieve that and not any piece of paper. I see far too many people in ECEC sector who really are only there as ‘a job’; and that, I believe is the problem. Lets focus on employing the right people, not a qualification.

    vince says:

    I have worked in an early childhood setting (child care) for over 20 years and most of it as a unqualified educator. I agree with the article. Just because you have the certificate does not mean your qualified I have seen alot of examples of this and with teachers aswell. In my experience the biggest influence is the culture of the workplace which i think could be applied to all services. Schools kindys childcare centres and OHSC. If you have a good mentor program, stong leaders who guide you and demand quality practices and make you accountable then anyone can develop and grow into an educator. Some things you cant lerarn out of a book like compassion, understanding, patience ebnthusiasm cultural sensitivity group management and people skills. If leaders/principles/directors/team leaders set the bar guide others and are able to sack the people who dont measure up or are not teachable we would have alot better services for our children.

    Yarrow says:

    I like the way you frame this. I too have seen many excellent centres that work that way because the staff as a group (and there are usually good leaders too) expect commitment from each other. I think I could have written a whole piece on accountability too – something your workmates can hold you too, but university teaching staff cannot.

    Jen Jackson says:

    This is a terrific article Yarrow. I’m just starting my PhD research on the unique contribution of educators at lower qualification levels (as part of an ARC-funded research project on the same topic), because I think there’s a lot we still don’t know about the relationship between qualifications and practice. I’m pleased to see so many thoughtful comments here, which show what a complex issue this is.

    Zoe says:

    I think there’s a very true sentiment to what your saying Yarrow. Although,I believe it’s even more complex than just disadvantage….Or it it that we need a broader view on how we identify disadvantage? Family support structures (
    No matter how questionable the shared values maybe to an outsider) provide essential resources that a single person without family is without regardless of country of origin,economics educational background. Babysitting, loans,trasport support just to name a few and with an overcommitted 6-9 pm working population,the capacity for individuals to spend more time as human beings who can discover their practical and cognitive potential versus the human doings many of us have become means we are all lesser for the diversity we need to resolve the challenges we have ahead in the industry. On paper I know many people who don’t appear to live with disadvantage… Dig a little deeper and it’s surprising just how little we know about the challenges/ traumas that people face in getting ahead. So how can learning both on the job and in formalised settings be more inclusive? Here are my top 5 strategies; 1) Our workforce should reflect society…whose not in the room and why? 2) reduce the cost of living by committing to renewables now- what if you never had to pay another power bill? 3) industry campaigns that remind govt and service providers you get what you pay for ….value children over earning what it takes to get an extra car 4) education in early childhood ed units need to be included in psych, medicine, law and other areas to raise the awareness of the value of EC in transforming society 5) Challenge ourselves to be supportive of those trying to make a difference in this profession regardless of their perspectives. Challenge and contribute. Let’s not be critical without input.

    Doc says:

    With all these silly weesstbi, such a great page keeps my internet hope alive.

    Yarrow Andrew says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Jen. Please do get in touch with me at Flinders, if you want to talk more about your research, which sounds fascinating.

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