1 February 2024

New women's support program aims to remove barriers to early childhood education studies

| Claire Fenwicke
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young woman with child at daycare centre

Aimee Hedgecoe plans on building her career in the early childhood sector. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Women either entering the early childhood education workforce for the first time or just starting out can now take advantage of a new program to support them both financially and emotionally.

The $2.125 million Early Learning Connection Program will help up to 260 women with relevant study – be it a Certificate III, Diploma or Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education – in Canberra.

Bronwyn Maher was part of the program’s pilot in 2023.

She already had 16 years of experience in the sector but wanted to expand her knowledge.

Bronwyn previously tried to study with an online university but found the experience “incredibly overwhelming”.

“I had barriers around placements, financial stress, balancing parenting, work and study,” she said.

“Joining the Early Learning Connection Program made me feel confident, empowered me and provided me with the support I needed in order to be successful in my studies.”

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Participants receive financial assistance and help with facilitating employment opportunities in early childhood centres while studying. They also have access to their own educator coach to help them balance work, study, life commitments and wellbeing.

For participants with children under five years, their educator coach can help with enrolling the kids at a centre while their mother works and studies.

The program will be facilitated by Baringa, in partnership with the University of Canberra, Canberra Institute of Technology, Australian Institute of Management and early learning centres across the ACT.

Both Leanne Niven and Aimee Hedgecoe have been accepted into the program, using it to study a bachelor’s degree.

Leanne has more than 12 years experience in the sector, but hadn’t been able to study further due to financial difficulties.

She said gaining her degree would not only give her more opportunities in the sector, but also improve how she educates children.

“I do have a lot of experience but … I just want to have a better understanding of child development and keep learning so I can help them learn and develop,” she said.

“[For example], the importance of play, that’s one of the modules that I’ll be starting at the University of Canberra … that’s how things have changed and I’m really looking forward to studying and developing more knowledge.”

Recent high school graduate Aimee Hedgecoe is especially reassured by having access to a mentor to help her juggle part-time study and work.

“I did struggle a bit with the work [in Year 12], so it’s going to be amazing to have someone … who I can actually go to for help,” she said.

“I’m really hoping I can follow this career and do it forever.”

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The program is only available to women, which Education Minister Yvette Berry said was by design.

“In a workforce that is female-dominated, this is a really important initiative because it does give them the chance to study with the financial pressure alleviated,” she said.

“We know it is challenging for female workers in the early childhood sector, particularly those who have young people in their care, because they need to have that wraparound support.”

There’s no caveat to be part of the program, meaning participants can come from anywhere in the country and decide to take up a job outside of the ACT once their studies are complete.

But Ms Berry is confident the connections they’ll make while studying in Canberra will keep them here.

“There’s nothing stopping anyone from leaving the ACT – I can’t understand why [they’d want to] – but this is about investing in what we know is an issue within the ACT community,” she said.

“We want to make sure we have the best and most highly qualified workforce, but we can’t do that without providing funding and those important wraparound supports.”

The program is particularly important to the ACT Government’s vision for its universal free three-year-old preschool, where 300 hours of free education are provided to eligible families by a degree-qualified early childhood teacher.

The program has been welcomed by those in the sector, including the Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five campaign.

However spokesperson Jay Wetherill said more needed to be done by all governments to also encourage men into the sector.

“One of the key things we are calling for is a national strategy to attract men to train and work as early childhood educators, because children benefit from engaging with caring, positive male role models at home, at childcare and at preschool,” he said.

Men currently make up two per cent of the early childhood education workforce.

Find out more online or by emailing connect@baringa.org.au.

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davidmaywald3:32 pm 02 Feb 24

There are far more barriers and challenges for men to work in early childhood education than there are for women. So it’s weird to see men deliberately excluded from this program (supported by the Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister)… Norway has four times as many men in early education and care… The Dad’s Action Plan endorsed by 18 organisations (including Minderoo and Thrive by Five) has five points, including this: “A national early childhood workforce strategy that encourages male participation.”

What do you see as the barriers and challenges to men working in early childhood? I’m curious.

Why is this program limited to women only. Sounds completely sexist to me.

One of the main problems for people entering or re-entering the childcare workforce, or even upskilling, is the curriculum material. The textbook is written by academics using academic-speak, which is far removed from the actual work that is required.

There are word salads, arcane language, and made up or misappropraited words and phrases that appear deliberately designed to flummox those from a lower educational or ESL background.

For example, using “provocation” instead of activities, “scaffolding” instead of support, “pedagogy” instead of teaching or learning. The textbook is just a big academic wank, with large sections almost incomprehensible even to the well-educated.

Until someone with real-life experience and able to speak plain English, and get rid of the superfluous verbosity, rewrites the curriculum material, there will be a huge comprehension barrier for many of those seeking a career in childcare education.

davidmaywald4:03 pm 02 Feb 24

Great feedback… Now who is listening, to make this communication clearer and more effective?

No-one will listen or take heed, unfortunately, as the childcare industry leadership is a closed shop, with “no entry” for those who actually do the work. The textbook is just a big academic wank, as I said above, which is protected by the industry gatekeepers.

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