The last three months has seen early childhood services, teachers and educators put under immense pressure and stress.
COVID-19 saw services scrambling to develop and implement new policies and procedures in response to an ever-changing health environment. Funded services received little or no help from the department to develop and implement these, yet they were required to keep operating with little thought for the health and well being of those working in early childhood. They were considered essential services who were supporting essential services. They were not treated as such.
Teachers have come away from this feeling extremely undervalued and used. Despite this they continued to provide safe and educationally sound programs as well as developing remote learning packages for children who did not attend. They juggled staff and funding in order to mitigate health and financial stress. They spent hours cleaning and disinfecting and trying to maintain physical distancing. They were subjected to over the phone compliance 'visits' and had to provide proof of policies and procedures relating to COVID-19 but were given no support.
As we moved through this health crisis we had the big announcement. For the first time in my experience early education was to be “free”. Everyone breathed out. It was a short breath. Funding packages from the government turned out to be beneficial to some service types but not others who were forced to operate with only 50 percent of their funding.
Many of these services may not survive this. Some teachers and educators were eligible for JobKeeper and others were not. Short term casuals and those on visas were left out. Also those who were employed by large organisations. Family daycare and in-home care services were especially hard hit. For many, free childcare for families has been funded by educators and services, not the government.
Through this the IEU has continued to advocate strongly and support early childhood teachers. Other peaks also stepped into the breach. The Federal Government’s announcement on the June long weekend, announcing the cessation of its concept of “free childcare” on 12 July, was disappointing, lacking foresight and understanding of the industry and the Australian community.
So where to now? What have we learnt as we emerge post COVID? There is a very strong call for a total restructure of early education funding and a revamp of the whole early childhood system.