News National Childcare educator: ‘Stop the omnibus and let me off’

Childcare educator: ‘Stop the omnibus and let me off’

Malcolm Turnbull
The government needs to do more for early childhood education, our writer says. Photo: AAP
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So Conrad Liveris thinks he has the solution to the “childcare nightmare”.

First he wants to make childcare tax deductible. I can get on board with that, but it’s a long shot with a government which believes tampons are a luxury item.

His other suggestions to bring in migrant workers and reduce regulation are a guaranteed formula for the “childcare nightmare” of which he speaks.

As an educator who has worked in the early childhood sector for 25 years, let me tell you why.

Mr Liveris isn’t happy about increasing government subsidies for parents. Yes, government and parents pay for early childhood and education for the benefit of all Australians and the Australian economy, as they should. But others are subsidising early childhood and they are the educators working in the system.

I can assure you I have contributed my fair share. I helped keep fees lower by not demanding more than the minimum wage, even though I was intelligent, articulate, qualified and fabulously talented.

Children deserve the best and that includes a high-quality early childhood system with high-quality, professional educators who don’t subsidise the system through low wages.

Mr Liveris reinforces a misguided perception that we are low-skilled. Let’s be generous and assume this is because of a dichotomy about education versus care and the accompanying feminisation and undervaluation of care work in our society.

To set him straight: every teaching role has a duty of care. For some people when early childhood is mentioned a vision of a soiled nappy must pop into their heads. Well, yes, we clean that up, but that is only one of hundreds of physical and intellectual tasks we do in an integrated way every day.

We teach children valuable skills they need to thrive in this world. We are artists, mathematicians, nurses, social workers, counsellors, librarians, nutritionists and, of course, educators.

Mr Liveris’s other proposal to reduce regulations and cut red tape is a grave mistake considering the decades-long campaign to achieve regulations that reflect the high-quality early education necessary in a developed, modern democracy like ours.

Judging from his final solution to engage “low-skilled migrants” as cheap childcare workers he would dump the regulation that sets staff qualifications and training. This is not simply red tape. Qualified educators mean a high-quality system. Would we accept hiring low-skilled migrants as primary or high school teachers? Education is important regardless of age – whether at three years or seven. Let’s also remember that 90 per cent of brain development occurs between birth and five years.

Last month there were 63 outbreaks of the virus in local childcare centres and nursing homes, affecting more than 800 people.
Childcare workers do a wide range of roles, not just change nappies.

Our role cannot be substituted by low-skilled migrants. Do we undervalue the early education of Australia’s future that much?

Bringing in foreign workers to exploit it will not slow down fee increases. Prices rise because they are set by the market, which charges whatever it thinks it can get from desperate families.

So back to where we began. Yes, we can do it better, if the government took real responsibility to provide high-quality, affordable and accessible early childhood education and care. This would require the government to step up and properly fund early education and care. Australia currently lags far behind the OECD average for investment in this crucial period in our children’s lives.

Instead, we are just limping along, happy to use the early childhood sector as a political football, instead of aiming higher for an internationally renowned early education system that is every Australian child’s right.

Please stop the Omnibus and let me off.

Margaret Carey is a director of a Sydney early childhood centre and member of United Voice, the early childhood union. 

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