(We reproduce the following article first published in 2015 to reiterate that these challenges still persist. Even as you read this there are teachers awaiting the renewal of their contracts, uncertain of what will happen to them.)
AS A MEMBER of Education International (EI), the world governing body for teachers’ unions, TTUTA embraces the fundamental principles of EI’s policy on early childhood education (ECE) as follows:
* ECE should be a public service and an integral part of a country’s education system.
* ECE should be provided free of charge and be available to all children, including those with special needs.
* The same status of pedagogical training should be provided for all teachers, including early childhood teachers.
* Teachers in early childhood education should have the same rights, status and entitlements as teachers in other sectors.
* Both men and women should be recruited and trained as early childhood teachers.
It is within the framework of these fundamental principles, therefore, that we express our concerns about the situation involving early childhood teachers.
It is important for the public to note that because early childhood teachers fall outside of the established teaching service, that is, there are no positions for early childhood teachers in the teaching service, these teachers are not afforded the right of full representation to ensure they receive the best possible terms and conditions as a context for performing their duties.
Their basic rights as employees are often trampled upon and infringed, subject to the whims and fancies of political expediency and the vagaries of contract labour.
While they can become members of TTUTA, they are not afforded the same rights and privileges as members of the teaching service because they are not officially recognised as teachers within the regulations.
Consequently, their compensation package is whatever the decision-makers decide is sufficient, and their employment tenure is only as certain as whatever contractual arrangement is in place.
Why is this an issue?
In the first instance, education is recognised as a fundamental human right, of which early childhood care and education must be an integral part. This is particularly important given studies showing over and over again that the impact of early childhood experiences leaves a lasting impression on an individual and influences his learning and development over his lifespan.
Consequently, the provisions that are afforded children at primary and secondary levels must also be afforded to children at the early childhood level.
An integral component of these provisions is that of teachers and teacher quality. Studies have shown that well-trained and adequately compensated staff are a major component of structural quality in early childhood settings. Additionally, the quality of the interactions between teachers and children is a critical quality factor in realising the expected outcomes of early childhood education.
Under the policy document Standards for Regulating Early Childhood Services, early childhood teachers have been encouraged to improve their qualification and certification. Being recognised as a teacher within this framework required them to possess a Bachelor of Education degree, which many of them pursued and obtained.
Since relationships are the bedrock of quality early childhood experiences, and continuity of care is a critical component of creating enabling learning environments for our young citizens, can we chance continued contract labour in this sector where within any given two to three-year period a child may experience a change in teacher a similar number of times?
Even more importantly, these relationships help to shape the structure of the brain and lay the foundation for later learning. So, can we really afford to not regularise the status of our early childhood educators?
Is universal education simply a case of finding a space for the children that need one?
TTUTA states categorically that this is not the case. Universal education, along with notions of access, also includes dimensions of equity and quality. How can we achieve equity and quality when the minimum quality standards identified and developed into a policy framework previously are not being adhered to or applied?
How can we achieve quality and equity when our teachers operate in an environment of uncertainty where there are no clear rules and guidelines governing their employment, no proper system of performance appraisal and management, no true systems of redress when they have a legitimate grievance against the employer?
How can we achieve quality and equity when our early childhood educators are not even considered teachers?
We beseech you, think carefully on these things because meaningful change in education must begin with early childhood education.