Do you have a child? Do you think staying at home with children is easy?
What if you combine your one child with seven other babies from a variety of backgrounds with one other educator? So now you have eight under two-year-olds and two educators.
Each day these educators must provide the best possible care to their children and implement a learning program.
Educators plan the learning programs – recording nearly everything they do in the day and pass this onto families so that the children’s learning is visible.
This requires absolute dedication, intuition and the ability to anticipate. It involves constant problem solving, time management and complex decision-making. Educators also need a strong knowledge of attachment theory and effective communication skills.
Babies are not on a conveyor belt in a production line. High quality educators try to mirror each baby’s home routine. That means deep relationships with every child, so they can read their cues.
Fortunately, we have thousands of these highly qualified, highly experienced, and highly skilled educators working in the sector today.
But they leave constantly because they can’t afford to stay. We have a repeating crisis: extremely high turnover and low attraction rates. That is a crisis for children, families, educators, and society in general.
For true quality settings we need stability and continuity. Children deserve to be able to maintain attachments to their favourite educators and so do families.
A conversation with a family about their child’s behaviour or possible developmental delay is never easy. But it helps if you have deep trust with the parents. This is impossible when educators leave in droves.
I’m extremely fortunate. I live and breathe quality every day. I manage four early learning centres at a Sydney-based university. I have 100 staff, 60 percent have been with us for over seven years. This is unheard of.
Why do they stay? Because they are recognised as professionals, and receive professional salaries and generous working conditions under the university’s enterprise agreement. The younger staff members receive mentoring and coaching. Older staff members value the opportunity to be role models. There are great career progression opportunities.
This reduces turnover and spending on recruitment, training and induction.
The same family has contact with the same educator for their second, third and fourth child. We are not starting at the beginning repeatedly. Instead, our relationships strengthen. We hit that next level of care and education because we become an extension of the family.
Of ‘my’ 450 families at our centres each week, at least two-thirds are new to the area and from culturally diverse backgrounds. Having stable, professional, high quality care for these families is priceless.
Like any other growing business, we need to invest in our most valuable assets. In early childhood education and care, those assets are our educators.
We know children learn most in their first five years. We know the foundations of a child’s morals, values, and stereotypes are laid by the time they go to school. So their early childhood experience is critical.
We teach fairness and equality and demonstrate democracy. We expose children to and celebrate diversity. We teach children acceptance. We also teach children to have a connection to their natural world, and how to respect their surroundings. Our youngest learners learn environmental sustainable practices at a time when learning shapes them.
Learning doesn’t start at school. It starts at birth. We know that every dollar invested in the early years saves many dollars later.
We are missing the opportunity to invest our dollars in the area that provides the best return, not only into the future, but with benefits that are returned instantly for the child, their family and our communities.
by Jemma Carlisle
JEMMA CARLISLE IS AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATOR AND GENERAL MANAGER OF FOUR EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTRES BASED AT A UNIVERSITY IN SYDNEY.
THIS IS AN EDITED VERSION OF A SPEECH DELIVERED AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, ON 30 OCTOBER.