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Australia vs the G20 on early childhood education’s value

G20 and red tape
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Jennifer Ribarovski recently took a break from her 2018 Australian work travels and headed to Italy where she visited Reggio Emilia, and, among other things, had time to follow international news on the recent G20 summit. Her observations, penned in a transit lounge in Doha, are that Australia remains sadly out of step with other developed countries that are increasingly recognising and investing in high quality early childhood education. Read on, and share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Were you listening Prime Minister?

The 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit was held just a week ago. This leading global forum (The Group of Twenty – G20) sees the world’s major economies gather to attempt to develop global policies to address today’s most pressing challenges. The G20 is made up of 19 countries and the European Union. Collectively, G20 members represent two-thirds of the world’s population and 75% of international trade.  The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was there.

At the summit, the G20 affirmed the critical importance of early childhood development, noting that it is one of the most important stages in human life, key for every child’s development, future well-being and learning capacity. Last week the G20 agreed on proposals to invest in the development of every child’s first 1000 days of life.

Three priority areas

These proposals aim to ensure that every child has access to adequate nutrition, childcare services, health coverage and education. The G20 recognise the link between positive early childhood development and a prosperous future on a global scale. Among several recommendations, the one that is most relevant to the provision of education and care services advocates for quality and inclusive childcare services.

The G20 initiative calls for action in three priority areas:

  1. financing and investing in early childhood programmes
  2. assessing and monitoring the impact of these programmes
  3. international cooperation.

Children aren’t red tape

Consider this very recent communique from the G20, of which Australia is a part, against the backdrop of the establishment of the Select Committee on Red Tape in October 2016, whose interim report was released in August this year, with the final report imminent.

The Senate established this committee to inquire into and report on the effect of restrictions and prohibitions on business (red tape) on the economy and community.  As part of this report, the committee focussed on the effect of red tape on child care (the “childcare inquiry”).

The Chair of this committee is Senator David Leyonhjelm. You may remember him as the one who said that educators’ jobs consisted of wiping snotty noses and stopping children from killing each other.

Sadly unsurprising

No surprise then really that the interim report from this committee, released in August this year, questions the need for qualification requirements for early childhood educators, and the need for ratios. There is regular reference to the effect of qualification and ratio requirements pushing up fees, making ECEC unaffordable for families.

The Committee suggests that an alternative to formal child care is for children to remain at home with their parents who usually have no formal qualifications in early childhood education. Their argument here appears to be that if parents can provide quality care at home with no formal qualification, then why would educators need formal qualifications?

Among several recommendations in the interim report, Recommendation 4 2.33 says this:

The committee recommends that, in reviewing the principles of the National Quality Framework, Australian, state and territory governments recognise that formal qualifications are not the only prerequisite for the provision of high-quality child care, as this can also be provided by parents.

This recommendation is particularly concerning, as at its core is an underlying principle that questions the necessity for educator qualifications, a key feature of the National Quality Framework, which was developed based on international evidence and best practice. This evidence confirms that staff qualifications and ratios lead to better learning and development outcomes for children, that extends into their primary school years and beyond.

It seems a bit rich to establish a Select Committee on Red Tape, while simultaneously introducing more of it.

We’re lost, and we’re losing

It seems we’re heading off course. On a global stage, we have the G20 calling for governments to finance and invest in early childhood programmes, yet in our own back yard, we have a Senate Committee calling for a relaxing of qualification and ratio requirements to make ECEC more affordable.

We have a government that recently cut $20 million from NQF funding in the 2018–19 Budget and a new child care subsidy system that’s added more red tape for both ECEC services and families, who are now required to account for activity, income, hours of care, and complete numerous forms to access subsidies.

It seems a bit rich to establish a Select Committee on Red Tape, while simultaneously introducing more of it.

And what of government investment in ECEC to ensure the provision of quality and inclusive ECEC services, a key message from the G8 summit last week. Were you listening Mr Morrison?

[ends]

G20 media release

Early childhood is one of the most important stages in human life: it is key for every child’s development, future well-being and learning capacity. In Buenos Aires, the G20 Development Working Group agreed last week in Buenos Aires on proposals to invest in the development of every child’s first 1,000 days of life.

The “G20 Early Childhood Development Initiative” points out that “43% of children under five years of age are at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential due to poverty and malnutrition.” With the aim of ensuring every child has access to adequate nutrition, childcare services, health coverage and education, the recommendations suggest adopting “a multidimensional approach.”

This is the first time this issue has been addressed by the G20. The group now recognises the link between early childhood and sustainable development, and its importance in breaking the cycle of structural poverty and inequality.

The document recognises the importance of promoting access to health services for every child and for all women during pregnancy, child-birth and breastfeeding. It also underscores the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy and in early childhood as a means of ensuring full development for all children. It reads that “responsive care is one of the most fundamental elements for optimal child  development,” while advocating for the necessity for quality and inclusive childcare services, which would contribute to reducing the gender gap through women’s labour inclusion.

The document also states that there are currently 70 million children aged up to six years old who have spent their entire lives in conflict zones. “All children should be allowed to develop and thrive in a secure and safe environment,” the document reads.

Given this context, the initiative calls for taking action in three priority areas: financing and investing in early childhood programmes, assessing and monitoring the impact of these programmes, and international cooperation.

About the meeting

Participants at the Third Meeting of the G20 Development Working Group also agreed on another three documents: “G20 Call on Financing for Inclusive Business”, “G20 High Level Principles on Sustainable Habitat through Regional Planning,” and the “Buenos Aires Update” of the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda.

https://g20.org/en/press/press-room/press-releases/g20-reaffirms-importance-early-childhood-development

 

Jennifer Ribarovski

Jennifer Ribarovski has over thirty years experience in the education sector, including playing a key role in the implementation of the National Quality Framework for both the NSW Regulatory Authority and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

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