So when do you learn to change nappies?
One of the students in the Early Childhood specialization of this course was recently asked this question. The person was surprised to find that no the student’s course wasn’t just about changing nappies and blowing noses, she was currently studying developmental psychology alongside future primary and secondary school teachers. There are many misconceptions out there about what early childhood education (ECE) is and the most common one is that ECE is a fancy term for babysitting. Which in turn makes it easy to not to pay qualified teachers to staff our early childhood centres. After all isn’t this a job for someone’s granny?
While I don’t want to disrespect the grandmothers out there who are doing a bang-up job of caring for kids, early childhood education matters. Though we like to think that year 0s walk into school on their first day as a blank canvas, in reality the students will have had a range of experiences that will influence their chances for success in school.
Some kids are surrounded by books, movies and music since before they could talk. Others have not. Some kids can count to 10, some to 100. Others can not count at all. Some kids have grown up in an English-speaking environment. Other kids might hear English for the first time from their teacher. Some kids know how to behave in a group situation and how to make friends. Others do not. Some kids might be adept at playing games on their parent’s Iphone. Other kids may never have held a crayon. Some kids will have visited museums, zoos, beaches, art galleries, farms, rode the train, the bus or even taken a plane overseas. Other kids may never have left their neighbourhood.
And the best way to overcome the sometimes massive disadvantage that the ‘other children’ start school with? Early childhood education. But the benefits of early childhood education aren’t just in my head. There have been a bunch of studies that demonstrate the benefits of Early Childhood Education across a number of different measures. And yes while it may cost society in the short-term to fund ECE properly according to research done by Massachusetts Institute of Technology the return on investment for every dollar spent in early childhood education is $13 in long-term costs to society.
Perhaps ECE suffers from its past. The roots of many of our ECE providers had their beginnings in the new social movements of the 1970s and it wasn’t too long ago that the work of educating young children was exclusively the domain of parents, in particular the mother, who was expected to stay home and care for them full-time without pay.
Undoubtedly that’s the reason for the snark (sometimes sadly heard from those working within the education system) that the lower the age group of students, the less important the work of the teacher is. Don’t get me wrong, giving out diplomas, determining who passes and fails, teaching the three Rs, is all important work. But Early Childhood Education teachers are the legs for which our education system stands on and that position demands respect. Teachers in this sector are programming the minds of young children to learn and more importantly teaching our kids how to live in our society. That’s why early childhood education matters.