Teaching in capitalist times

Happy staff give you happy children, happy children give you happy families and happy families pay you money happily, giving you happy shareholders.

When many of our older early childhood teachers in NSW graduated their workplace was probably a small community based service, or one managed by Kindergarten Union or Sydney Day Nursey Schools Association. In 2019 our world looks different, with corporate and for-profit services dominating. How does this impact teachers? What is a teacher’s role when early education becomes a product? As children become widgets has the act of teaching changed?

As advocates in the sector, and the voices behind the Early Education Show podcast, this is an issue of ongoing concern to us. Almost half of the entire education and care sector are now for-profit services and in some parts of the sector such as long day care, the proportion is as high as 70%.

We believe that the changing composition of the sector impacts on the day to day work of teachers. In this article we examine four key ways we see that impact playing out.

Push to keep customers (ie families) happy to maintain occupancy rates

In late August/early September our largest corporate provider of early education and care, G8, lost $152 million in market value when their interim profit fell because they couldn’t get their occupancy rate above 71.3%.

What will be the impact of this on G8 teachers directly and on all teachers indirectly?

Curriculum will be affected. Risqué topics that might upset families will be halted. Things that families want rather than what children need (eg early reading and writing) will be prioritised. Teachers will be urged to become actual creators of products (the hallmark of capitalism) for families, eg Mother’s and Father’s Day presents.

Teachers will be co-opted into marketing the service. Documentation will be about pretty pictures and engaging stories.

Pressure will be placed on teachers to do those things that will assure high ratings. NQF will become more about the way of doing things ‘the right way’ to achieve high ratings.

The role of the teacher will be undermined. Corporate providers will have to create a narrative that teachers are not that important to ensure that exemptions for teachers remain in place under the regulations. We saw this in the IEUA wage case where the Australian Childcare Alliance were arguing that the NQF and EYLF have made it easier for teachers. As if!

Teachers who are directors will be under immense pressure re numbers. The focus of their work will be ensuring occupancy.

Teachers at not-for-profits will have to work to retain parents under sustained marketing of for-profit services.

Competition between services rather than co-operation will become the norm. This means teachers will not be able to grow professionally by learning from each other.

Impact of VET training becoming a commodity

Training is now a product like everything else. Educators obtaining Diplomas and Certificate IIIs are choosing courses based on the lowest cost, the fastest study options. The quality of VET courses do not matter to for-profit training companies plus they market to everybody. People that perhaps shouldn’t be educators will obtain qualifications – this will impact on teachers’ day to day work.

The influence of capitalism on innovation and risk taking

The capitalism story has many friends. Those friends are customer satisfaction, never a default in the payment of fees, a blemish free compliance record and a healthy cohort of indentured slaves to do the important work of keeping everyone happy. But where does risk and innovation fit into that story? People love innovation... it brings them new products, new ways of doing things that frees up their lives and makes every day more interesting. Risk creates opportunity for innovation, for trying out new things or taking a different, perhaps unpopular view, except in early childhood education.

In early childhood education we may be beset with an unreasonable fear that risk and innovation may adversely affect children or offend customers. This could result in changing sentiment among families (customers) who may refuse to pay fees or could take their ‘business’ elsewhere.

Regulation is one of the greatest attributes of our ECEC system. We believe regulation and the setting of standards has a most important role to play for children’s wellbeing and safety but the implementation of those regulations could be capitalism’s greatest friend and the enemy of risk and innovation. Try something new? Is it possible you could be hit with a punitive compliance notice? How do you explain that to parents. Will they tell you you have violated the terms of your agreement to keep them happy at all times? Share a different view on social issues that conflicts with local community views? No need to tolerate difference – there’s a centre down the road talking their talk and walking their walk.

Innovation and risk could affect your utilisation and therefore your very existence

Marketing every little bit of the sector. One of the fundamental principles of capitalism is that everything has a price. Do you manage the email inbox for your service? You might have noticed over the last decade or so an alarming increase in the amount of things that are being marketed to you.

Need a guaranteed 5% lift in occupancy? Our innovative waiting list platform can make it happen?

Want to save time and make that pesky documentation easy? Our children’s learning software will make parents so happy!

Worried about Assessment and Rating? Our templates and checklist will make an Exceeding rating a sure thing!

It seems like these days there’s no part of the sector that can’t be separated out, ‘innovated’ or ‘made simple’ and then sold back to us at a tidy profit.

The marketing goes outwards as well. High quality early education services are a thing of the past – now they have to be ‘boutique’. Learning programs for children aren’t clear and child focused – they’re ‘dynamic’ and ‘innovative’. Services aren’t part of a sector of professionals anymore – they’re ‘unique’ and ‘exceptional’.

This kind of marketing does more than just divert our time and resources and devalue the work teachers do. It breaks us apart and sets us against each other, fighting for a precious few percentage points of occupancy. If that happened in services, it wouldn’t meet the National Quality Standard. Why have we let it happen to the sector as a whole?

This article is based on an episode of the Early Education Show podcast by Lisa Bryant, Leanne Gibbs and Liam McNicholas which was recorded at the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Early Childhood Education Conference on 7 September. Details: https://www.earlyeducationshow.com/about