Ordinarily being right is something of a relief. Not now. Being right has never felt worse.
In recent days, in my capacity running a campaign for The Parenthood to ensure the longterm sustainability of early childhood education and care, I’ve been attempting to sound an alarm about the very real threat of a collapse in ECEC.
News announced by the University of New South Wales on Tuesday that it would close Kanga’s House, the long-running ECEC service on campus, and outsource three other centres, confirms the risk of services having to close their doors is real.
It’s proof that radical intervention is required, and that saying early education in Australia is on the brink of collapse is not merely hyperbole. It’s a disaster already upon us.
The impact of even a single service closing at this point is disastrous: for the educators who will lose their job despite being professionals with invaluable critical skills, for the children whose lives will be disrupted, for the families who will now face the impossible task of finding an alternative arrangement to ensure their children can be appropriately cared for and educated while they work.
Many families will struggle to find or create suitable alternatives. Some will have to reduce their work as a result at a point in history where as a nation we literally cannot afford any additional job losses.
Dr Caroline Ford, an associate professor at UNSW and one of Australia’s leading researchers on ovarian cancer, tweeted on Tuesday evening in response to the devastating development. She captured the scale of the problem for UNSW staff and students.
As a scientist and mother of two young children I have always been incredibly proud to work at UNSW and have frequently boasted to others about our on-campus childcare. The existence of these centres has been a key enabler of progress for women staff, particularly those in STEMM.— A/Prof Caroline Ford (@DrCFord) May 26, 2020
A key point about the centres being owned and operated by UNSW has been the retention, expertise and loyalty of the early childhood educators themselves. Many of the incredible staff that have taught my two children at Kanga’s have been there for >20 years.— A/Prof Caroline Ford (@DrCFord) May 26, 2020
In making the decision UNSW explained that even prior to COVID19 the early education services were operating at a financial loss. Given the revenue loss being experienced because of coronavirus the university has determined it was no longer feasible to operate the centres. Kanga’s House will close at the end of the year and the other services will be put to tender.
Women fought for services like Kanga’s House so they could participate in further education and employment. The return on that investment, in what it predominantly enables women to achieve and what it delivers children is not captured in the operating costs.
It is short-sighted to limit the value of ECEC to an individual calendar year. These closures represent an unmitigated disaster and indicates how urgently a new solution is required.