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Early education advocates need to start from scratch

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

You believe in early education, right? You are an advocate for early education, yes?

I’m going to make a presumption that if you have come this far in this series of articles for The Framework, that you believe in early education.

So it appears as if Australia voted against your beliefs last weekend. Your fellow citizens either don’t want 3-year-olds to have access to preschool. They don’t believe educators deserve a pay rise and don’t care if fees for early education and care force women out of the workforce. They don’t see early education and care as a child’s right.

At its best, the election result could be viewed as people caring about other things more than they care about early education. At its worst it could be viewed as showing that people actively oppose early education – or at least taxpayer-funded early education. Or, alternatively that people are very disengaged.  

As someone who is an outspoken advocate for early education I was shocked by three things in the last few days, and immediate aftermath, of the election.

The first was the number of people who were outspoken along the lines of “They are your kids, why should we pay for them?” These people appear to be closely aligned to the people that were very scared that three-year old preschool equated to children going to school early, that it would undermine traditional family structures and would provide a chance for educators to indoctrinate children at an early age.

The second thing that shocked me was when I was in a room of 100 educators at a conference the day before the election. These educators had chosen to come to a session which was a live version of the Early Education Show podcast. As the show is primarily about early education advocacy, they clearly were at least mildly interested in the topic.

When questioned, only 4 or 5 people had ever heard of each of the sector’s major advocacy campaigns, Early Learning: Everyone Benefits, Launch into Learning, the Front Project,  Big Steps, Preschool Funding Now, Smart Start or The Parenthood.

So in a room of 100 people interested in early education advocacy, only 20 had heard of at least one early education advocacy campaign.

The final thing that shocked me was the sheer number of educators on social media that did not believe the ALP would deliver them a pay rise. Many of them were not even close to being across the detail of the proposed wage increases, many distrusted politicians per se, but a large bunch simply parroted the lines from Coalition ads about how Labor’s taxes would hit everyone.

So what do I take from all of this? Primarily that advocates for early education and care need to start anew. We need to convince Australians that early education matters and we need to start by convincing educators that it, and they matter.

So how can we start? I think, and have always said, that it is madness we have so many campaigns to elevate early education. The Every Australian Counts campaign which gave us the National Disability Insurance Campaign was a single campaign by a single alliance of the peak organisations of people with a disability, disability service providers and families and carers of people with a disability. The Equality campaign which gave us same sex marriage was a single campaign.

We need one campaign that we all know about and can all get behind. It can’t be a provider campaign because that smacks too much like self-interest. It needs to be run by a coalition of a provider peak body, the peak organisation for children (Early Childhood Australia), a peak family body and educator organisations (unions).

It needs to be a campaign that starts with educators, then moves to families of young children and then moves to other Australians. It needs to remember that educators themselves are not completely sold on this story. The workforce data is clear that until educator pay is increased we will continue to have our services staffed in part by people who had few career choices and who will not be in the sector for long.

It needs to be a simple campaign for one thing – the right of children to access early education for free. Once we have this, the other things will flow from there.

It needs to be a campaign that is not based on facts because if facts could change people’s minds we would already have access to early education for all children from birth for free.

It needs to be based on the use of powerful advertising techniques and much smarter communication strategies than we have ever used.

It needs to be so much part of the DNA of the sector that every educator learns about it during their training, has the campaign’s poster in their room and it is included in every service’s newsletter to families.

It needs to become as recognisable outside the sector as inside it. Families and the public need to recognise its logo and understand the simple campaign ask.

How do we get there? We start off by joining together. By everyone from every campaign agreeing to dissolve their individual campaigns into one. We start off by committing to a long haul campaign, as long as it takes.

We must all commit to bring our various talents and our various skills and our various contacts to this. We commit to helping convert every educator to a campaigner, every family to a campaigner, every journalist to a campaigner and every politician to a campaigner for early education.

Campaigns like this need money, expert campaigners, expert advertisers and volunteers. Lots of volunteers.

As I said, I am presuming if you are reading this you are already an advocate for early education.

So are you ready to continue the fight? Are you ready to convince the rest of Australia that every child needs access to high quality early education?

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