Political disrespect for education professionals

Benjamin Franklin said “Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes”. That must have been before politicians started weighing in on matters of education.

Because there’s nothing more certain these days than politicians sinking the boot into teachers, schools and apparently, early education centres.

At a time when media, the public and politicians of all persuasions are lamenting Australia’s apparently lacklustre performance by comparison to other OECD nations, we have this week seen Federal politicians come out swinging against the very people who have direct influence on changing that.

It started with Andrew Laming, Liberal MP for Bowman, with an unprovoked, snide Facebook post asking “Are teachers back at work this week, or are they “lesson planning” at home? Let me know exactly.”

Teachers most certainly did let him know.

The gold star for school education is Finland. We hear it constantly. Their success is in no small part due to the respect that teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals are held. They are well paid, very well educated, and trusted with the important role of teaching our next generation.

Disrespect for our education professionals was further highlighted by Senator David Leyonhjelm who flippantly dismissed early education teachers as nose wipers and peacekeepers.

Senator Leyonhjelm’s concern is the $3 billion childcare reform package, based on the ever increasing costs of childcare, to which he puts the blame on “overqualified” staff and overzealous quality standards.

Shadow Early Childhood Minister Kate Ellis pointed out today that the research shows children who receive quality pre-school education do better when they transition to school itself. That has led to the quality framework the sector is working towards.

The reason fees are escalating is because families simply can’t survive on a single income, and so families are scrambling for childcare placements that are becoming rare as hens’ teeth. It’s basic supply and demand economics. Demand is high, supply is low, so fees go up.

Senator Leyonhjelm seems to think the solution is to let anybody run a centre, increasing supply and thus reduce costs. Who really cares about the quality of care? So long as their noses are wiped, what does it matter?

We should be concerned that wage growth is so slow that families have no choice but to put their children in childcare early and that to make that viable it needs to be cheaper. There seems to be a growing push, beyond the obsession with every Australian working, that every child should go to an early learning centre or be “left behind”.

What children at that stage need is physical, creative play and frequent, responsive oral communication with adults and other children, to build their vocabulary and their confidence in understanding and speaking language. This can be done at home, and traditionally was. But with the need to work, the capacity of many families to do so is reduced.

The goal should be to enable more families to have flexibility to have one or both parents spending time at home fulfilling this vital developmental work.

Then of course there’s the private, for-profit mega chains that dominate the sector. That’s much harder to solve.

Both the early childhood and school education sectors depend on the diligence, professionalism and passion of the educators within. Without those teachers, no amount of funding or public policy will address it.

Until our parliamentarians cease with this disrespect for the people primarily responsible for educating our next generation, there seems little hope of progress.

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