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?


  1. Thank you Lisa, It is astounding that Australia, our politicians, and even our educators are not able to see early education as a child’s right and also a strategy for investment in a more cohesive society. A united effort with a consistent message is a where to from here.

  2. Thanks Lisa for your tireless analysis and research. It is hard not to feel despondent that we had a dialogue with the nation about status, remuneration and the importance of the early years and it has not really even featured in the post election conversation as a labor policy platform that deserves further attention. Poof ….we’ve disappeared.
    There is a deeper problem here, the creeping normalisation of our sector as a market function, not only for female workforce participation but as a viable business proposition for many corporates and a great business opportunity for those in for “a quick buck”. (I think that is how Peter Dutton described his business opportunities.) We are the second richest nation per capita in the world after Switzerland and yet ECA has released a statement today congratulating Scott Morrison and asking him to attend to the astonishing numbers of children in poverty or the 1 in 5 children who start school behind in at least one developmental domain which doubles in number for First Peoples children.
    We are fatigued…and up against it. Yet we have science on our side, especially neuroscience. Families love us. We are trustworthy and hard working….even economists see the sense on investing in early education for the manifold economic benefits to society of quality early childhood experiences , quality teachers and environments.

    But we are politically ignorant too. Knowledge is power. Without this power, politics works against us. We need to know more about everything political. What is the cost to our nation of corporate profiteering in ECE? What percentage goes overseas? Would it be possible to end the private public partnership and replace profits with better wages that stay in Australia and strengthen the professionalism of the sector?

    Now I’ll wear my hear on my sleeve, it is the philosophy of neo liberalism that Australia is steeped in that is totally corrosive for so many areas of our lives, health, welfare, education, the NDIS, our equality and equity, the environment and for our most vulnerable. The victims of climate change , those that will feel it the most will be our youngest children. Who is researching the outcomes for children in child care from one of the 158 plus services exempted from the provision of an outdoor space? Who is counting the true cost of those left behind, those vulnerable children whose parents fail the activity test? The loss of great teachers avoiding a job in early childhood because of the inequity of wages, status and working conditions?
    I thought, like so many others that the pendulum was swinging our way, now it has swung back before we could even taste a sweetener as a worker in early childhood.
    We need your voice Lisa. Your voice joined with our collective voice. X

  3. I would have voted for Labour’s child care changes and pay rises as it would have been better for us financially but there were other Labour policies that we did not feel comfortable with such as franking credits and no negative gearing. We would like to see the Liberals push for more child care benefits in any event.

    1. Paul. I thought the funding of Labors child care changes was being paid for by the scrapping of franking credits and negative gearing. You can’t have both. The franking credits amounts to gift giving of 3x the public school budget. or 10x the Federal Police budget. We need to prioritise of where the money is being spent. Private bank accounts or public services such as early childhood education.

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