Why improving qualifications is so important

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The National Quality Framework (NQF) sets out minimum qualification requirements for educators working in children’s education and care services. One of ACECQA’s key roles is to determine approved qualifications for educators and to assess applications for equivalence from individual educators. Following the recent publication of our online qualifications checker, this post looks at why improving qualifications across the sector is such an important element of the National Quality Framework.

Educator qualifications and educator-to-child ratios are key dimensions of quality in early childhood education and care.

Evidence on drivers of quality in early education and care shows that higher qualified educators have a greater understanding of child development, health and safety issues and lead activities that inspire and engage children, which improves learning and development outcomes.

According to the OECD (2012) Starting Strong III: Early Childhood Education and Care, positive social interactions between a child and educator, and a safe and engaging environment are crucial to learning outcomes. Educators with higher qualifications and standards of training are better able to engage children, and use strategies to extend and support learning, which will provide improved learning environments and sensitive care.

Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Australian Catholic University and Director of Early Learning and Research at Goodstart Early Learning Professor Deborah Harcourt supports additional research that demonstrates a correlation between staff qualifications and children’s pre-reading progress and social development.[1]

“All the evidence tells us that children who attend high quality learning programs, characterised by qualified and engaged educators, achieve better outcomes in terms of their cognitive, social and behavioural learning and development by the time they transition to primary school,” she said.

Implementation of the new early childhood educator qualification requirements, which came into effect through the National Quality Framework (NQF), was a major milestone in quality reform and while challenging for some services, has established a new benchmark for quality.

Children now have access to more highly qualified educators in early childhood education and care services and more children will have access to early childhood teachers.

As a minimum, all educators who count towards ratio requirements in long day care centres and pre-schools must have, or be studying towards, an approved certificate III qualification. In addition, at least fifty per cent of educators in these services must have, or be studying towards an approved early childhood diploma or degree qualification.

ACECQA National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone said the importance of qualifications and further professional development for educators was recognized during the development of the National Quality Standard.

“Drawing on my experience as an educator and director of early childhood services, I know that not one day in the life of an early childhood service is the same and I recognise it’s necessary to have a strong body of knowledge to inform curriculum decision making and our work with children and families,” she said.

“While having qualifications is not the only contributor to the effective delivery of programs, it provides educators with a strong foundation from which to make curriculum decisions and support children and families.”

Other key factors also influence quality education and care, including the ability of the educator to structure an environment that promotes engagement for children; understanding of curriculum; and knowledge of how children learn and develop.[2] This is an important reminder for providers to consider the knowledge, skills, attributes and commitment to quality improvement as well as qualifications when employing educators.

Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page said while there were some educators resistant to the new qualification requirements, those who have pursued formal recognition of their skills and knowledge, such as through recognition of prior learning, felt more confident now that they held a qualification that acknowledged their experience as educators.

“We can’t rely on luck on whether an educator is skilled or not and you can’t base it on the length of time someone has been teaching. Someone may have 30 years experience but may not be doing a good job, compared to someone with five years experience,” she said.

“Children are going into care earlier and earlier and for longer periods – we can’t afford to do nothing.

“The qualification requirements improve the quality of service delivered to children and provide a professional identity for educators.”

Improving the effectiveness of early childhood education and care will take time and for some services may be challenging. It requires a range of initiatives including increasing the number of qualified educators and continuing professional development opportunities, but in time the sector can achieve better outcomes for children by improving overall quality.

Resources

  • Visit the ACECQA website and try the new online qualifications checker to see if you hold a recognised qualification under the NQF.
  • Watch these videos to hear from experienced educators who have gained their first formal qualification in early childhood education.
  • Read more about qualification requirements on ACECQA’s website.

[1] National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care.

[2] Australian Council for Educational Research, Early Childhood Education, Pathways to quality and equity for all children, Australian Education Review, Volume 50, 2006.

This article was originally published in Australian Childcare Alliance’s magazine Belonging Volume 3 Number 2 2014.

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