Early Childhood Profession in Australia

Executive Summary

This report analyses the state of early childhood profession in Australia. Numerous features characterise early childhood profession. They include passion, creativity, and flexibility. Various complexities impact early childhood profession in Australia. They include lack of national harmonisation of employment and compensation of early childhood professionals. The country does not have a defined curriculum for early childhood education. A major strength of early childhood profession in Australia is that it equips kids with skills for future learning. Undervaluing of early childhood professionals is the biggest challenge facing the profession. The government is introducing policies meant to improve the state of early childhood profession. The government should ensure that it harmonises remuneration to early childhood professionals.

Introduction

Early childhood professionals refer to individuals who take care of child’s growth at a young age. These are people who look after children aged below eight. Brennan (2007) holds that childhood professionals include caregivers, teacher assistants, and educators. Besides, early intervention specialists are an integral part of childhood professionals. On the other hand, childhood profession refers to the career that entails taking care of the young children. It involves helping children grow socially, spiritually, and intellectually. For individuals to succeed in early childhood profession, they require having an understanding of the current trends, policies, and movements that influence the vocation. Understanding the current trends would equip a teacher with the requisite skills. As a result, it would be easy for the teacher to guarantee that children acquire desired knowledge. On the other hand, understanding the policies that influence childhood profession would go a long way towards ensuring that a professional meets the necessary standards in childhood education. Having knowledge of the movements that affect early childhood profession would enable one to direct his/her concerns to the relevant institutions.

Characteristics of Early Childhood Profession

Brennan (2007) identifies numerous features that characterise early childhood profession. One of the features is enthusiasm. According to Brennan (2007), an early childhood educator must be an enthusiast. The professional should be able to relate to children without difficulties. The profession requires an individual who is patient and one that can cope with stubborn children. In most cases, the society has an erroneous perception of the early childhood profession. Many people do not understand why a person should study for four years only to acquire skills to deal with children. Brennan (2007) claims that there exists a belief that individuals who pursue early childhood profession do not have the capacity to handle “real” teaching. Such a mindset is flawed. Early childhood profession is just like other teaching jobs. However, it requires individuals who are enthusiastic, patient, and tolerant.

Flexibility is another characteristic of early childhood profession. According to Fenech, Giugni, and Bown (2012), the early childhood profession demands that an individual is capable of coping with unanticipated turns. At times, a professional may be required to make decisions within a short period. For instance, in times of disasters, an early childhood professional may have to accommodate the affected kids. In such a situation, the professional would have to ensure that he/she handles each child individually based on its needs. Creativity is a vital characteristic of early childhood profession. Fenech et al. (2012) maintain that it demands creativity for one to teach in an environment with limited resources.

Additionally, early childhood professionals deal with children from different backgrounds. The kids have different approaches to education. Thus, it is the duty of the professional to look for creative ways of dealing with the individual students. Besides, the professional has to be creative to ensure that the learning environment appeals to all students. Fenech et al. (2012) allege that inventiveness is a hallmark of early childhood profession. Fennech (2013) cites authenticity as a feature of early childhood profession. Fenech et al. (2012) argue, “Being authentic means knowing who you are and what you stand for” (p. 6). Authenticity is what gives early childhood professionals honor and confidence. Kids are insightful judges. They can easily tell if a teacher is dependable and act accordingly.

Complexities of Early Childhood Profession

According to Fennech (2013), the profile of early childhood profession has changed drastically. In Australia, “the compensation and conditions of employing early childhood professionals are linked to industrial system, which is fragmented due to the involvement of a mix of trade unions with inadequate national coordination” (Fennech, 2013, p. 91). Additionally, Australia does not recognise masters degrees in early childhood. Australia lacks a national professional registration system for early childhood professionals. As a result, it is difficult to evaluate the employment prospects of the early childhood profession. Consequently, “there has been limited movement in addressing issues of public visibility and validation, career pathways linked to formal studies, as well as professional registration and licensure” (Fennech, 2013, p. 93).

The responsibilities of early childhood professionals have changed significantly. About three decades ago, Australia bestowed the responsibility of teaching young children to early childhood professionals. The professionals were given the duty to design and deliver education programs for pre-schoolers. Today, the profile of early childhood profession comprises care responsibilities and education. Besides, the professionals are expected to serve a broad age range. The demand for teachers to work in liaison with multiple stakeholders has augmented the complexities associated with early childhood profession. It inhibits their ability to make autonomous decisions on issues that affect child development. According to Friendly (2008), nationalisation of early childhood policy restructuring in Australia has contributed to complexities associated with the profession. Today, early childhood professionals are not only expected to offer pedagogical leadership but also ensure conformity with legal responsibilities and run childcare centers as feasible businesses.

According to Friendly (2008), Australia does not have a defined curriculum for early childhood education. As a result, it is hard for the country to equip professionals with requisite skills. Many Australians claim that it is difficult to develop a curriculum that is child-driven. Friendly (2008) holds, “The term curriculum is associated with the syllabus and the notion of a prescriptive, subject-bound set of experiences to be followed in a fixed manner in all centers” (p. 41). Early childhood professionals encounter challenges in developing a curriculum framework that elucidates broad developmental goals and expectations. The inclusion of children with disabilities in the early childhood education programs calls for partnership amid support professionals and educators. It becomes hard for the two groups to embrace mutually supportive practices.

Strengths and Challenges

Australia is in the process of improving the early childhood profession to ensure that it meets the needs of individual children. In 2009, the Australian government initiated a framework dubbed The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF). According to Waniganayake (2014), the framework is aimed at enabling early childhood professionals to understand what their profession entails. The current early childhood profession identifies shared values and viewpoints and facilitates the achievement of consistent practices across diverse learning environments. Additionally, the job equips early childhood educators with skills to prepare kids for future learning.

The Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations has facilitated the development of a comprehensive set of professional learning strategies to aid in the execution of the EYLF. Currently, early childhood professionals have an opportunity to increase their knowledge through workshops. Waniganayake (2014) posits that there are numerous e-newsletters, which touch on the challenges and opportunities available in early childhood profession. The newsletters help early childhood educators to enhance their skills by sharing experiences and ideas.

A major strength of the early childhood profession in Australia is that it promotes equity and diversity. Today, the Australian population comprises individuals with different values, abilities, languages, socioeconomic status, and religious beliefs. The same applies to the early childhood learning environment. The profession acknowledges that children have different abilities and come from diverse backgrounds. Thus, there is the need to guarantee equity amid all children. Early childhood professionals endeavour to offer quality education and care to all learners. Early childhood educators have skills to identify power inequities and blockades to learning and address them.

Studies show that a high number of early childhood educators are contemplating quitting the job. According to Waniganayake (2014), at least 20% of the early childhood professionals are in the course of changing their careers. Numerous challenges affect the early childhood profession in Australia. One of the challenges is poor remuneration. Australians do not offer worthwhile salaries to early childhood professionals compared to other teachers. Thus, the early childhood profession continues to lose a high number of experienced personnel. Waniganayake (2014) alleges that the early childhood profession is physically, intellectually and emotionally demanding. However, the remuneration does not commensurate the work that professionals in this field undertake.

Wertfein, Spies-Kofler, and Becker-Stoll (2009) argue that early childhood professionals are undervalued in Australia. A majority of individuals who enroll for early childhood profession do it out of passion rather than money. Unfortunately, the Australian community does not acknowledge the role that the professionals play in child development. Many educators claim that the community views them as babysitters. The increase in workload is another challenge that affects early childhood profession. Wertfein et al. (2009) claim, “The sheer volume of paperwork is becoming unmanageable for many educators” (p. 23). The instructors focus their attention on paperwork making it hard for them to fulfill the critical aspect of their profession, which is interacting with children.

Policies that Influence Early Childhood Profession

Numerous policies influence the early childhood profession in Australia. One of the policies is the National Quality Framework established by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2012. The policy seeks to ensure consistency in the provision of early childhood services across the country. The enactment of the National Quality Framework has transformed the early childhood profession significantly. Today, the job offers intensive services to the individual child. Waniganayake (2014) alleges that National Quality Framework has enhanced the staff to child ratio, thus enabling professionals to provide specialised services. Additionally, the policy has introduced new qualification requirements for the profession to guarantee that educators have requisite skills to promote all-round development of the child. Waniganayake (2014) cites Early Years Learning Framework as another policy that impacts early childhood profession in Australia. According to the policy, early childhood development job ought to advocate play-based learning as an important tool for child development. Additionally, the policy stipulates that early childhood professionals have to undertake a four-year university degree program to qualify to handle children.

Current Trends

The demand for provision of quality early childhood services has led to the creation of numerous structures, protocols, agencies and policies aimed at regulating teacher education. In Australia, “the treatment of specialist early childhood teachers within these regulatory frameworks has been inconsistent, leading to widespread ambiguity about the place of early childhood profession within an educational discourse and education system” (Whitehead, 2008, p. 36). For instance, in New South Wales and Queensland, the regulatory organisations have come up with standards for content requirements and early childhood professionals. The standards support “generic school-based teacher identities and either excludes qualified teachers working in the prior-to-school sector or leave little space for the ‘threshold’ knowledge typically associated with early childhood profession” (Whitehead, 2008, p. 39). The community services and welfare portfolios have been given the authority to certify early childhood courses.

Whitehead (2008) holds that rigorous advocacy endeavours in early childhood division have prompted the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to establish specialised high teaching standards for early childhood profession. The rules are aimed at reinforcing the early childhood profession. Australia endeavors to emulate countries like the United States, Singapore, and Canada which have policies that guide the early childhood profession (Whitehead, 2008). For instance, the United States through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) sets guidelines which ensure that early childhood profession embraces shared values. The United States seeks the input of early childhood professionals in the development of policies. AITSL should involve early childhood professionals and other education stakeholders in the establishment of teaching standards.

Movements that influence Early Childhood Profession

In the past, many movements influenced the early childhood profession in Australia. They included the Kindergarten Union of South Wales, the Movement for Publicly Funded Childcare, and the Kindergarten Union of South Australia among others. The movements were based in different regions (Whitehead, 2008). As a result, they championed for reforms in early childhood profession at regional level. Currently, Australia lacks movements that advocate for changes in early childhood profession at the national level. It underlines the reason why the country has a fragmented system of early childhood education. Nevertheless, the legacy of the past movements continues to influence early childhood profession in the country (Whitehead, 2008). For instance, a campaign by the women liberation movement led to the Australian government redefining the roles of early childhood professionals. Australia is different from New Zealand. The latter has over thirty-two movements that manage operations of the early childhood facilities. They ensure that early childhood professionals operate within the established legislations, policies, and state and local bylaws. It underlines the reason early childhood profession is more consistent in New Zealand than in Australia.

Conclusion

The Australian government has done little to streamline the early childhood profession. Currently, individual states have various policies that guide the profession. As a result, it faces numerous challenges. They include poor remuneration and work overload. Currently, the Australian government is in the process of introducing reforms meant to strengthen early childhood profession and to appreciate the role that professionals in this field play. There is the need for the Australian government to come up with a universal curriculum for early childhood profession. It will promote impartiality in early childhood education across the country. The government should also offer attractive salaries to early childhood professionals and look for ways to minimise paperwork associated with the profession.

References

Brennan, D. (2007). The ABC of child care politics. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 42(2), 213-215.

Fenech, M., Giugni, M., & Bown, K. (2012). A critical analysis of the national quality framework: Mobilising for a vision for children beyond minimum standards. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(4), 5-15.

Fennech, S. (2013). Leadership development during times of reform. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(1), 89-94.

Friendly, M. (2008). Building a strong and equal partnership between childcare and early childhood education in Canada. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 2(1), 39-52.

Waniganayake, M. (2014). Being and becoming early childhood leaders: Reflections on leadership studies in early childhood education and the future leadership research agenda. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 3(1), 65-81.

Wertfein, M., Spies-Kofler, A., & Becker-Stoll, F. (2009). Quality curriculum for under threes: The impact of structural standards. Early Years, 29(1), 19-31.

Whitehead, K. (2008). The construction of early childhood teachers’ professional identities, then and now. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33(3), 34-42.