Early childhood sector sounds a warning for schools

The early childhood education and care sector experienced disruptions in the first weeks of January – after only a brief Christmas break – due to pandemic-related staff shortages. Such shortages presage what could happen as the school year progresses.

Teachers in the early childhood sector have been on the frontlines since the pandemic began, with no option to work from home or socially distance from their young charges. They feel abandoned by a government that has failed to plan for their vital industry.

On 12 January, the IEU released a statement to the media acknowledging the frustrations of early childhood teachers, and calling for consultation and clear, consistent communications from government and employers.

Here’s what our members had to say on social media.

The children’s health, our personal health and the health of our families don’t matter [to the government] obviously. As long as parents get to work. Today alone I had two babies cough in my face (I was wearing my mask but no eye protection), had countless babies pull off my mask and had one baby who recently sucked their hand stick it in my mouth (after they’d just pulled off my mask for the umpteenth time). Nothing wrong with this plan at all.

It seems that the only solution this government wants is one that maintains parents’ productivity in the workforce! No concern for the good of children, their education and the worries of parents and teachers. We have come to expect this attitude in early childhood education, as we are not valued by this government for our contribution to children’s education but to provide care for children so their parents can be productive cogs in the economic wheel. It has been made clear that this is also this government’s view of school teachers as well, sadly.

How many other professions are as physically exposed to covid as teachers in childcare: in a room six hours or more a day with 30, 60 or in some cases 90-plus children, in extremely close proximity with clientele wearing no masks or PPE and limited ventilation. It’s going to spread like wildfire.

Early childhood centres have experienced the full force of this pandemic. I feel for these educators and the children in their care. My daughter’s early childhood centre has only opened this week and has already been exposed to covid – it’s day two of the new year.

I feel very sorry for the position that the constantly shifting goal posts has placed the early childhood sector in. What is happening in this sector will absolutely happen in ours [schools] too. I think we need to be prepared to take action to show governments that we cannot be used as political and economic footballs. It is our lives and the lives of countless children that they are gambling with.

The government’s solution to short staffing is to exempt early learning and teaching staff from isolating if they’re close contacts. Why are they taking more ground and creating greater risk? As both a teacher and a mother with young children in day care who are too little to be vaccinated, I am so nervous about what this year might have in store.