OECD on Child Care and Early Learning

The following is from Roland Schneider of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD. We live in curious times when the impeccably neo liberal OECD is positioned well to the left of the federal government on this issue.

It goes without saying that trade unions across the OECD have been campaigning for accessible, affordable and high quality childcare in order to assure that children get the best start in life that society can offer. Young parents are an essential part of the workforce, but their ability to work full time is to a great extend determined by the support they get in caring for their children. They often face difficulties in balancing their work and family commitments; many of them still find it particularly hard to access the support they need in order to care for their children. Their difficulties reflect in part significantly modified family and child-rearing patterns across industrialized countries. It is against that background that I would like to draw your attention to the publication of a further OECD review on early childhood education and care (ECEC) in a number of its member countries, describing the social, economic, and conceptual factors as well as research that influence early childhood policy. The review, “Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care”, outlines not only the progress made by some OECD countries in responding to key challenges of ECEC policy as outlined in a previous review. It offers also many examples of new policy initiatives adopted in the ECEC field.

In their conclusion, the authors identify ten policy areas for further critical attention from governments. They reveal that beside the objectives of increasing women’s labour market participation and to reconcile work and family responsibilities on a basis more equitable for women, also the need to address issues of child poverty and educational disadvantage are key factors turning governmental attention to ECEC. That, however, has not translated into sufficient public spending on ECEC services yet. With the notable exception of the Nordic countries, OECD countries are under-spending on early childhood education and care services.

Inappropriate public funding of ECEC services is reflected in a mixed picture regarding working conditions and training opportunities for ECEC staff. The report found that because of under-funding, many of the ECEC institutions “are unable to provide regular in-service training and/or non-contract time for staff to improve their pedagogical practice.” Moreover, it was also found that child care staff in many countries are paid around minimum wage levels and that in turn, “not surprisingly, staff turnover in the child care sector is high.” The story that emerges from the data is that the position of ECEC in the labor market has changed for the worse in recent decades. A similar finding has been revealed by a recent US Study on “Losing Ground in Early Childhood Education. Declining Workforce Qualifications in an Expanding Industry, 1979-2004”, published by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based Think Tank with close ties to the labour movement. (A summary of the US study has been posted at the related EPI web site: http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/study_ece_summary ). Both studies sound the alarm on the pressing need for governments to take action in order to improve the quality of ECEC services. To improve working conditions and to reverse the fall in the qualifications of ECEC staff must become major goals in government action. Governments must enable childhood education and care services to attract and hold onto well-educated teachers required for the provision of high-quality services. Spending on ECEC pays off; it improves long-term educational outcomes for children and delivers benefits to the society that far outweigh the costs (lower costs for subsequent education, increased taxes paid once children mature and enter the workforce, reduced social costs)

To read more about the OECD report, go to the OECD website: http://www.oecd.org/document/63/0,2340,en_2649_34511_37416703_1_1_1_1,00.html

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