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Early childhood investment wasted without quality

Process quality interactions
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A new paper from Mitchelle Institute, released overnight, finds that quality is lagging in key ECEC areas and improving teaching should be a top priority.

Scroll to end to download your copy of the paper

Mitchell Institute Policy Program Director, Dr Charlene Smith said governments should prioritise building early childhood educator skills and make sure investment reaches the children who need it most – in line with what they are working to achieve in schools.

“If we had schools with teachers who haven’t finished their qualifications or don’t have the right kind of training to help children learn, there wouldn’t be time for a conversation – there would be immediate action,” she said.

“We have accepted this scenario for younger learners for too long – it isn’t good enough.”

Clearer links than before

The researchers – Kate Torii, Dr Stacey Fox and Dr Dan Cloney – found that quality teaching by degree and diploma qualified educators is even more important for children than previously believed. They also found gaps in the learning educators undertake and recommended a much greater focus on process quality.

In addition, the paper confirmed that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – the children who have the most to gain – are less likely to access high quality services than children from higher socio-economic families. In the most disadvantaged areas, services were 10 per cent less likely to meet the key quality benchmark than more advantaged areas.

One way this lower quality education for lower socio-economic areas was evidenced is in a professional form of word gap: educators in disadvantaged areas spoke fewer words, and had fewer quality interactions, with children than their counterparts in higher socio-economic area services.

Process quality

Quality areas infographic Mitchell Institute
Quality areas infographic Mitchell Institute

The paper’s authors found that while the National Quality Framework has provided a good structure for increasing the structural quality of early education in Australia, the focus now needs to shift to process quality.

This is the area that grows children’s early literacy, language development, reasoning and problem solving skills. It includes the quality and consistency of interactions between educators and children.

It is the area that is assessed particularly under National Quality Standard 1.2 – a problem area for the sector that does has not shown significant improvement in five years.

The paper finds that many ECEC services are struggling to meet this quality area. This means not enough children are receiving education experiences that will have lasting effects throughout school and into adulthood.

Speaking to the release of the paper, Dr Smith said one in five services fail to ensure educators are active and reflective in designing and delivering learning programs for children, and half of services only meet the minimum quality benchmark in this area.

“We know that early education changes lives and is particularly transformative for disadvantaged children but it is only effective if it is of sufficient quality to impact their development,” Dr Smith said.

“Governments have invested significantly to help more children access early learning and improve affordability, but there will be no return on that investment unless children attend high quality services.”

Better training required

With input from Dr Dan Cloney, attached to the school-focused Australian Council of Education Research, the paper is able to draw comparisons with teacher training in the primary and secondary sector.

Mitchell Institute’s release advice states: Unlike the school sector, Australia has not invested in ongoing professional support and development of early the childhood workforce.

Dr Smith said, “Highly skilled educators are the most important ingredient to achieving high quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) but many early childhood educators don’t receive sufficient training or support.

“Early childhood educators need better training and professional learning to support the important work they do.”

Four key priorities for government

A number of changes could be made to build educator capability and lift quality across the system:

  • Review of pre-service qualifications
  • Establish pathways to grow pedagogical leaders, mentors and professional networks in the ECEC sector
  • Design and implement models of support for educators
  • Use data to understand and track children’s development and progress, and design appropriate, personalised learning opportunities

The paper recommends governments focus on ensuring that universities, TAFEs and private colleges teach early childhood education students the skills to boost children’s learning; creating opportunities for educators to share knowledge and attend professional training; and collecting data to track children’s development and improve learning experiences.

It says cohesive policies are needed to address the complex challenges in Australia’s ECEC environment.

“If we want to realise the potential of young Australians, we need to stop cutting corners with early learning quality,” Dr Smith said.

Quality is key in early childhood education in Australia is available to download here – click on the report cover below.

thumbnail of Quality is key in early childhood education in Australia Mitchell Institute
Quality is key in early childhood education in Australia, October 2017 Paper by Mitchell Institute

Watch for our related story on word gap research, coming soon.

 

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CELA WRITERS

Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.

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