By the time a child turns 6 years old, they will have 80-90% of their brain capacity developed; yet the employees educating our children are facing poor working conditions that could potentially impact our children’s wellbeing and growth.
Considering the importance of their roles, it would be assumed early childhood educators would be valued and comfortable in their positions; however, the 2018 strikes, high staff turnover, and increase in burnout suggests otherwise.
In early 2018, Australian childcare workers walked off the job in yet another attempt to increase their minimum wage of $21 an hour. On average, a single educator could be responsible for seven children at a time, which means they are being paid $3 per child per hour. In comparison, babysitters earn around $20 an hour for maybe two or three children, which equates to $7-$10 per child per hour.
Every single educator will say they are not babysitters. They are not just supervising children and providing fun activities; they are educating the children in their care through carefully planned learning experiences that promote healthy brain development and emotional intelligence.
Couple the responsibility to educate and care for children in their formative years with low wages and what you have is an industry full of workers experiencing financial stress and emotional and physical burnout.
This leads to a high turnover rate, with one in five educators indicating they are planning to quit within the next 12 months, which leaves the industry continually training and educating new workers and children with little stability.
There are a plethora of resources proving that how the brain grows is influenced by the child’s environment and their social interactions; yet, like most science, this is irrelevant for the Australian Government when allocating funding to the early education and care sector.
Early childhood educators hold a relevant qualification, follow a National Quality Framework, and have an established code of ethics, all of which are the prerequisites to be recognised as a profession; however, they are yet to receive wages that reflect this as a professional position that requires a high level of education.
Educators have faced consistent undervaluing due to the misconception that they are doing a “woman’s job” of looking after children while their parents work. This historical sexism will no doubt continue to drown the industry and in turn impact the stability and quality of education and care our children receive.
The only viable option to increase wages is for the government to be who forks out the money. The Australian Labor Party have promised to do so if elected; however, with the Liberal Party currently in Office, this leaves the problem exacerbating.
Studies have shown that if all children received quality education and care in their early years, there could be a nationwide economic benefit of $10 billion by 2050.
So why is the Liberal Government still hesitating when the early childhood sector is so clearly a long-term investment?