A new survey of nearly 4,000 current and former preschool educators paints a dire picture of the future of early childhood education and care in Australia. The report of the Union of United Workers, Exhausted, Undervalued, and Dropping Out: The Crisis of Preschool Education, indicates that nearly three-quarters (73%) of the roughly 4,000 educators surveyed plan to leave the sector within the next three years due to excessive workload and low pay.
Three quarters of the workforce. Within three years.
More than a quarter of current educators have indicated that they plan to leave the industry within the next twelve months, and among educators who plan to stay, 46% think they are leaving “all the time” or “most of the time” .
“The message from early childhood educators across the country is clear: They are at the breaking point,” says Helen Gibbons, Director of Early Childhood Education at UWU. “There is no early childhood sector without early childhood educators, and they just can’t afford to stay and hang around anymore.
This is a crisis whose ramifications extend far beyond educators, providers, parents and children. It is no exaggeration to say that the way we approach this crisis has the potential to make – or break – Australia’s future.
It is assumed in Australia that formal education does not begin, or does not matter, until a child reaches the age of 5 and begins school. The hypothesis is not only arbitrary, it is wrong and misinformed. The years between 0 and 5 years are richer in training for the development and education of children than any other period of their life. Children’s access to learning opportunities from birth is essential for their healthy development.
Children with access to high quality early learning and care are life changing. Literally. It improves health, education, social and economic outcomes throughout a child’s life. For disadvantaged children, the benefits increase exponentially.
Children who attend high-quality preschool education and care in the year before school are considerably less likely to arrive in school developmentally vulnerable. Currently, one in five children in Australia arrives in school developmentally vulnerable and they rarely have – if ever – catch up.
The evidence that universal access to high quality early childhood education and care prepares children for success is compelling. It is, without a doubt, a silver bullet to increase national productivity and ensure Australia’s prosperity.
This is why a crisis among early childhood education personnel of the magnitude illustrated by the UWU report is a national crisis that Australia cannot afford. It is a crisis that cannot be ignored.
No early childhood educators means no early childhood education services. No sane nation can endure a mass exodus of essential professionals who fulfill the invaluable role of educating, supporting and caring for children. Especially not when projections show the industry needs an additional 40,000 employees by 2023 to meet the growing demand for early learning services. (It is also close to immorality to consider this really essential cohort of workers, who are heavily relied upon to work on the frontlines of a pandemic to ensure that other essential workers are able to do the jobs our communities depend on, are underpaid and overworked.)
While there is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated the problem, early educators have been underpaid and undervalued for too long. Jobs are now set to double from pre-COVID levels. Few in the industry describe this as anything but new.
“A high workload due to an increased staff shortage is pushing more and more educators out of the sector,” says Gibbons. “Services are already signaling that they need to cap new registrations. Without urgent action, this crisis will get out of hand and children and families will miss it, losing access to crucial early learning services. “
The good news is that there is consensus on the solution.
“Across the industry, educators, families and service providers agree: the only way to solve this crisis is to set the salaries and conditions of educators,” Gibbons said. “The federal government is currently considering a workforce strategy for preschool education. This is an opportunity for the government to provide a real solution for the sector: by proposing a workforce strategy that provides targeted funding to improve wages.
It is time for the federal government to commit to taking urgent action to ensure that early childhood educators are valued, supported and paid appropriately.
- An alarming snapshot
- 70% of educators surveyed said they “always” or “often” worry about their financial situation.
- 81% of center directors say they have had difficulty attracting and recruiting staff.
- 92% of educators told us that “under the roof” ratios compromise the safety and well-being of children.
- 65% of educators say their departments are already understaffed, and providers say they have to cap new enrollments because they can’t find enough staff.
- 82% of current educators say that in the past month, they “always” or “often” rushed when performing key care and / or education tasks.
- Over 75% of educators strongly agree that turnover has a negative impact on the way children learn and develop as well as their overall emotional well-being.
- Almost half of the educators surveyed would not recommend ECEC as a career.
Early childhood education and care need urgent reform. This new UWU survey of educators proves it. The Covid crisis and the current lockdowns prove it.
Providers and educators affected by the long lockdown in Greater Sydney currently deserve the same support parents and educators in Melbourne received last year. Containment services and educators do not deserve to be left with the burden of figuring out how to keep their centers afloat or the impact on workers’ family budgets when income support is not adequate.
Unsurprisingly, the UWU report found that educators have been subjected to a more stressful and anxious work environment since the start of the pandemic. In addition, almost half (49%) of educators said they needed more time to deal with children’s anxiety and more than half (53%) said they needed more time to deal with the anxiety. parental anxiety.
Close and ongoing relationships between children and their educators are vital for young children’s learning and emotional development. The federal government must do all it can to alleviate the pressure of inadequate support for educators and high turnover now.