Analysis

Don’t tell me we shouldn’t discuss politics in early education

This article is the fourth in a weekly series by Lisa Bryant exploring the 2019 Federal Election and how it will affect services operating under the National Quality Framework.

When I was commissioned to write a weekly piece about early education and care in the five weeks leading up to the election, I suspected I would be struggling for topics to cover. Little did I know that early education (childcare) would become a key battleground.

As a feminist I believe in ‘childcare’. Women can’t work if they retain responsibility for their children 24/7. As a researcher I believe in the value of early education. Children benefit from what happens in our services every day. As a writer who spends her days crafting words I am gifted with time to examine early education and care policy carefully.

So I get very (OK, extremely) aggravated when I read that some people think that politics should not be discussed in early education and care Facebook groups.

I don’t know how much louder I can yell about the impact politics has on every aspect of an educator’s work and especially on children’s access to high quality education.

Some politicians think that educators are babysitters. Some politicians think that early education should be called childcare. Some politicians believe that offering free ‘childcare’ to low income earners is a gateway “communism” and “socialism”. Some believe that access to early education is a form of welfare and support should be targeted to “those who work the most”.

Other politicians believe that we should place priority on the betterment of our children, value those who are educators and reduce the cost of care for low income earners.

This is how what you do on a day-to-day basis is debated. The money that flows into or out of the system affects who can access your service. What quality is expected of your service. What education and training and wages educators will get.

But some of you don’t believe we should talk about politics. Despite the fact that as an educator you have signed up to a Code of Ethics that requires you to “act in the best interests of all children” and to “advocate for my profession and the provision of quality education and care”.

Some of you believe you can just idly sit by and talk about education and care without talking about politics and the election.

I have no right to harangue anyone. Just to assert my opinion. My opinions on this issue are strong because above all, this I know: the children who will benefit the most from early education will have greater access to it under some party’s policies than others.

Some of you that read these words will be working in services with those children. You may be working in a service on community in the Territory. Maybe you work in one of the big city suburbs where generational unemployment is rife. Or in an isolated rural town. A suburb where refugees have been clustered. You might be an educator for an In Home Care service that works with families in challenging circumstances or a mobile service working with families in areas where drought is creating havoc. But you might not be. You could be an educator in a highly advantaged area where money flows freely. Or you may be working in a service in a highly advantaged area with pockets of disadvantage.

But surely, as an educator or as someone else working in this sector, even if you never meet a child facing extreme disadvantage in your work, you can imagine the benefits that early education would bring such a child. Economic disadvantage. Chaotic parenting of the sort that puts children at risk. Parental mental illness or drug use. All these situations and more can leave children in perilous situations. When this happens access to publicly funded institutions whether it be health care, schools or early education plays a huge role in these children’s lives. Whether they can have lives not marred forever by their early years depends on the structures we set up to support them. By their access to quality education and care.

Everything on the election table so far suggests that these children will be better supported by certain parties’ policies than others. Some political parties are offering free or low cost early education to the most disadvantaged children. Some parties are offering reviews of the Activity Test and inquiries into why so many vulnerable children seem to have been locked out of the new system. Some are offering to abolish the Activity Test altogether. Some are offering better wages to educators.

Others are not offering much.    

And that’s why I am haranguing those that work in this sector. Think about these children when you vote. Think about yourselves and your wages increases because these too are important but think about these children. I know educators. You all hate seeing children suffer.

So can I forcibly put my opinion to you about this? Even if you don’t normally vote for the parties that are promising the good stuff for children, do it this one time.

Children don’t have a vote to use to better their lives. You do.

5 comments

  1. Thank you Lisa for caring so much about ECE. From the very beginning ECE in Australia has been inextricably bound to the politics of the day. Next Saturday is an opportunity to be an advocate for children, their families and the profession. It is time to participate in the discussion about moving ECE into the Australian conversation about children, families and community responsibility, not just ours.

    1. Thank you Wendy. You too care so much about children and their early years. If only the whole world did.

  2. Lisa and Wendy

    Our rights and the rights of children have always been tied to the political arena of the day. How important it is for us to advocate for these rights is sadly missed by many in our sector.

    The apathy that is evident in the lack of commitment to unions, and misunderstandings of what has been achieved and fought for by them, and government with socialist ideals, is sad.

    I fear for our future, and the future of the children if others in our sector are not willing to help make change happen.

    Thank you both

    Heather Azzopardi

  3. If you value children and you value the difference you make to their lives every day, you need to read the policies of each political party and vote for the policies that most accord with your own values. Politics and early childhood are inextricably linked because all children still do not have the right to free, universal early childhood education and care despite research that clearly demonstrates the benefits of early childhood education on outcomes for young children (benefits that continue throughout their lives). How can it be that in a privileged country like Australia that 1 in 5 children (2 in 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children) are classified as vulnerable in at least one developmental domain? Some political parties understand early childhood is an investment that reaps many more benefits for our society than the money invested (social, educational and long term financial) whilst others view early childhood as a cost that is justified as a way to “boost productivity” by getting more women into the workforce. I know who I will be voting for next Saturday.

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