As an early childhood educator, I have worked in a range of settings, some of which have more working families than others. Because of this, I have seen first-hand the inequity that can come from service partnerships focused on guardians attending the service regularly. At my current service, parents often have other stakeholders assisting with the drop-off and pick-up procedures, limiting guardians' ability to view the program in practice or gain information from their child’s educators.
If we truly value collaborative partnerships between families and early education providers, we must ensure that we take an equitable approach, where all guardians have equivalent access to information about the service as well as their child’s learning and development journey. Online platforms offer an easy solution: providing a platform where all families have information at their fingertips should they seek to explore it.
Excessive digital documentation can reduce the time for quality early learning
While there are many benefits of offering digital documentation, these tools' breadth and constant accessibility can come at the expense of a workforce, who are often allocated little time to complete the complex administrative tasks required for their role.
Many services are increasingly using these digital platforms as a marketing tool, drawing families into their service by telling them that information relating to their child’s every meal, nappy change, mood and milestone will be instantaneously available at their fingertips. Unfortunately, and not of their own volition, many parents may not be aware that updating each child’s profile throughout the day can result in lessening quality care for all children in that environment. Our carefully curated ratios don’t consider the possibility of educators having to spend hours per day on the floor, uploading information onto a digital platform.
Digital tools can reduce opportunities for bespoke and flexible planning
The wide variety of tools offered within these platforms may alter the ability of a service to tailor its own planning cycle based on service philosophy, teaching attitudes, and allocated planning time. Our sector has become a highly pedagogically focused space where advocates and educators alike reflect on what effective and purposeful planning looks like. These digital tools have the power to dictate what these practices should be, as guardians and other stakeholders are given time and access to explore these platforms without the underpinning knowledge of why existing systems were put into place.
Quotas, reports and updates — is digital documentation language skewing expectations?
I have found that some of the language used in these platforms is not always aligned with the appropriate language for our sector. A primary example of this is the ‘reports’ tool — which I believe has the power to shift parent expectations away from a child-centred program and towards a more formal and impersonal evaluation of a child’s development. Reports are not mentioned in any of the guiding documents for our sector, leading me to question whether tools like these have been put in place for the utilisation of educators or simply to draw parents in and increase the uptake of their platform.
The expectation of quotas, daily updates and constant notifications takes time, trust and power away from a workforce already trying their best to ensure positive educational outcomes for all children in their care. As a sector that has fought so hard for respect and value, we must not be so quick to give away the power of establishing a planning cycle to for-profit technology companies.
Taking back our power by re-asserting our ownership of the planning cycle and establishing guidelines
I wholeheartedly believe that services must take back their power in relation to the planning cycle by emphasising the importance of these digital tools as just that; a tool used by the service. Constraints and guidelines should be introduced around their use, allowing parent expectations to be adjusted according to the established planning cycle of the service. When used correctly, these tools can improve and simplify our day-to-day communications with families and provide a more equitable platform for family partnerships. However, if misused, I believe these tools may be doing a disservice to a sector that is increasingly stretched to its limits.
ACECQA. Guidelines for documenting children’s learning. 2018.
ACECQA. Podcast 2: Documentation. Topic: Why do we need to document and what is the most effective way to document? 2018.
CELA, Amplify! How we can scaffold children’s learning by allowing for ‘aha’ moments. 2021.
Teacher Tom. Observing. 2019.
Sarah Riddell, Amplify! Making observations more meaningful with video. 2018.