By CELA on 19 Apr, 2017

Since the Senate passed the Jobs for Families legislation I’ve been thinking a lot about how early childhood education and care (ECEC) is both positioned and perceived by government, and in the public eye.

I’ve been in the sector in one way or another for over 35 years, so I’ve seen plenty of changes in policy and funding, in response to changing governments and priorities.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the current government has two key drivers – productivity and privatisation. ECEC is viewed by the government as necessary for workforce participation (hence the phrase Jobs for Families on a childcare reform package).

The absence of the word child in this bill speaks volumes. The Productivity Commission Review, on Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, reviewed the terms of the National Quality Framework for Education and Care Services. See what happened there?  The word education magically disappeared.

Now on to privatisation.  The significant increase in private for profit provision of ECEC services is testament to the free market approach of the current government. Workforce participation equals demand for ECEC services, creating a market that the government leaves providers to sort out.

Convenient, isn’t it?  But again, where does the child fit in to all of this – and if we can’t see the child in the big picture, then arguing for ECEC as anything more than just a service for families becomes problematic.

I know that early childhood teachers and educators have a strong body of professional knowledge and skills.  They learn this in their studies and on the job.  I see it every day in my work.  They know that children are learning from the day they’re born, and that play based pedagogy supports children to make sense of their worlds, or in other words, to learn.

However, I can’t help but wonder whether our staunch adherence to play based rhetoric is secretly celebrated by governments, giving them a platform from which to argue that play doesn’t require ‘teaching’. In other words, that play doesn’t equal education.

If play is children’s innate way of learning, then what as teachers and educators do we need to do, apart from step back and let the play happen? How very convenient for governments again!

And if teaching isn’t required because children are ‘just’ playing then the pay parity case becomes irrelevant because educators are seen as ‘just’ child minders – oh, how easy it is to slip into conspiracy theories then!

So, my first pondering in a series of ponderings for CCCC is this:

“Is the elevation of play based curriculum a strategic position that minimises the ‘education’ in ECEC, diminishing the case for pay parity with other education professionals?”

If you subscribe to this theory, then the case for raising the educational profile of the work of early childhood teachers becomes an imperative.

What do you think of Jennifer’s first provocation for the Amplify! blog? Tell us in the comments below or use the Facebook or Twitter buttons in this post and add the tag #amplify in your response. 

Does the use of the word ‘play’ make it even more difficult for early childhood educators to gain wider respect as a profession? Agree or disagree, or give us a completely different view: we’re listening!

Meet the author

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).

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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