When you think about Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), you may have visions of finger painting, water play and nap time (all of which are true!), but have you ever stopped to think about the importance that this sector holds in our communities, economy and society as a whole?
ECEC is defined as all forms of education for children under school age. This term is very broad, as that could include time children spend with mum in the garden learning about plants, or with dad in the kitchen learning how to cook, or even time spent in front of the television learning the ABCs and 123s!
For the purpose of this blog, we'll focus on the formal Early Childhood Education and Care provided to children outside the home at centre based day care, and how this not only supports children at a critical stage in development but often provides their parents or carers with the opportunity to go back to work and improve their financial situation.
Early Childhood Education: What the Research Says About the Benefits For Children
Unsurprisingly, children who are exposed to Early Childhood Education and Care outside the home experience many benefits related to health, school readiness, emotional development and socialisation. There are also short and long term economic and employment benefits for the children their families. The research shows that some of these benefits may be even greater for children disadvantaged by poverty.
Let's discuss them further.
Health and Emotional Development Benefits
The CDC reports that Early Childhood Education interventions can improve children's development and provide an element of protection against the future onset of adult disease and disability.
This is because the early developmental opportunities provided to children attending Early Childhood Education and Care can increase brain development; with some research showing that children can achieve 90% of their adult brain volume by age six!
The experiences during this time affect the physical and structural development of the brain and the neurobiological pathways that determine their functional development.
Additionally, positive experiences during this developmental phase have been shown to support children's physical development, with negative experiences having a detrimental effect.
There have been strong associations found between the effects of adverse experiences during early childhood and adult diseases like coronary artery disease, chronic pulmonary disease and cancer.
Children from low-income families are often exposed to more adverse early childhood experiences and environmental conditions. This has been found to delay their development, healthy growth, and school readiness. It is for this reason that Early Childhood Education and Care can be such a benefit for these children.
Further research has found that attending Early Childhood Education and Care is also associated with children having a healthier weight (fewer underweight, overweight or obese children). This may partially be explained by children being encouraged to be more active and being exposed to a wider variety of healthy, unprocessed foods while in care.
Economic and Employment Benefits
There are long and short term economic and employment benefits for the families and the children who attend Early Childhood Education and Care.
The most obvious being that parents and carers can return to work, increasing their employment and income. But there are other indirect ways that children and their families will benefit from attending Early Childhood Education and Care.
- Reductions in crime and welfare dependency
- Savings on health care costs
- Savings on remedial education
- Higher earning potential associated with high school graduation
The Australian Federal Government has made it much more affordable to send children to Early Childhood Education and Care programs, offering the Child Care Subsidy.
To find out if you qualify, click here.
Delivering Quality Early Childhood Services
Making sure Early Childhood Education and Care services meet requirements for the safety and wellbeing of the children is paramount.
National Quality Framework (NQF)
There are legal requirements for child care providers under the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority called the National Quality Framework (NQF). The NQF provides a national approach to regulation, assessment and quality improvement for ECEC and outside school hours care services across Australia.
In 2021, the NQF introduced a new quality standard to improve Early Childhood Education and Care in long day care, family day care, preschool/kindergarten, and outside school hours services.
The NQF operates under the National Law, which sets a national standard for Early Childhood Education and Care Australia.
The National Regulations support the National Law by providing detail on a range of operational requirements for Early Childhood Education and Care service providers. This includes, but is not limited to:
- the National Quality Standard
- application process for provider and service approval
- the process for the rating and assessment of services against the NQF
- staffing arrangements
For more resources on the NQF, view the Guide to the National Quality Framework here.
An Evolving Sector: What Has Changed in ECEC and What This Means For Training Providers
Because Early Childhood Education and Care is such a large, diverse and rapidly growing sector that is integral to our the wellbeing of our children and the growth of the economy, emphasis is placed on the sector's continuous improvement through the implementation of effective self-assessment and quality improvement processes.
Providing quality outcomes for children is essential and is supported through continually enhancing the skills and knowledge of a qualified and well trained workforce now and in the future.
The New Training Package
In recent years, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) released a Strategic Review, Training for Early Childhood Education and Care. This addressed broader areas relating to Early Childhood Education and Care Qualifications and Units of Competency included in the CHC Community Services Training Package.
In recent months, the AISC reviewed the proposed changes to a number of qualifications in the CHC Training Package. Following this review, a number of qualifications have now been approved by the AISC and are awaiting endorsement by the State and Territory Skills Ministers.
Once endorsed, they will be released on training.gov.au.
The ECEC qualifications awaiting endorsement are as follows:
- CHC30121 Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
- CHC50121 Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care
There are some significant changes to note in the update of these qualifications that have so far been received well by training providers and industry.
These changes include:
- The removal of pre-requisites from two new proposed units in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care
- The retention of the proposed entry requirement to the new Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care
The AISC decision can be viewed in more detail here.
Reasons for Change in Early Childhood Education Services
In response to the Strategic Review, new training packages and qualifications have been developed to meet the changing needs of the ECEC sector.
The Strategic Review discusses findings related to the “quality of early childhood education and care training delivered by registered training organisations (RTOs) is highly variable” (ASQA Strategic Review). This is also explored in more detail in this blog.
Senator Simon Birmingham, former Assistant Minister for Education and Training, has stated “Nothing beats well supervised, on the job training and experience, especially when dealing with children, which must be adequate in both duration and quality”.
Employment in the Child Care Services and Preschool Education industry sectors has projected consistent growth leading up to 2024, with Early Childhood Educators being one of the largest occupational group.
In correlation with the measures outlined in the ASQA Strategic Review and the new Training Package, there has been positive changes to the sector in the recent years.
Healthcare is a stand out example of other industries that have reformed for the better. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians watched as the Healthcare system was redefined.
The introduction of Telehealth for essential services helped ease the burden of worker shortages, while up-skilling workers has seen an increase to keep up with demand.
What This Means for Care Services Under the National Quality Framework
Training providers delivering training in the ECEC sector will benefit from keeping a close eye on updates relating to the Training Package. Updates can be found on the national register, training.gov.au.
Training providers will be required to undertake the process of transition in accordance with the Standards, ensuring all training and assessment materials are developed to meet the requirements of the new training package. This will be undertaken in the timeframes outlined in the transition guide from ASQA. Further information can be found here.
AISC has agreed to support training providers by developing resources to undertake recognition of prior learning (RPL) for students with experience in the sector or other education related qualifications who do not meet the entry requirement to the Diploma of Childhood Education.
Furthermore, the AISC have also stated that over the next 18-24 months they will monitor the impact of the Certificate III entry requirement to the Diploma on Diploma enrolment/completions.
The Updates to the CHC Training Package will ensure that training reflects the current demand of a rapidly growing sector. Once the Training Package is endorsed, continued support and resources will be helpful to assist training providers every step of the way.
Change For the Better
Looking at things optimistically, the updates will be for the greater good of Australian communities, society and the economy, ensuring industry thrives and a qualified and highly trained workforce is secured now and in the future.
Students can continue to further their knowledge by up-skilling whilst gaining the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform their role to industry standards. With the continued support of quality training and assessment from training providers, students will remain more engaged which will in turn increase completion rates across the sector.
In conjunction with the proposed changes, the Childcare reform in the Federal Budget 2021, which promises to provide more affordable childcare for families, will assist to ensure more jobs become available to be filled with a skilled workforce.
Skilled workers and a boosted economy will increase opportunities for employment and allow parents to go back to work. It’s important to remember that we must all work together proactively to benefit from a fair, transparent, effective and consistently regulated industry.