Educators and what they do in early childhood education programs are the essential ingredients that determine how effective the program is and how much children and their families benefit. Educators who have early childhood education credentials or who have acquired a knowledge base about early child development and pedagogy in addition to primary teaching qualifications use curriculum to design effective learning environments.
College of Early Childhood Educators, Ontario
The College of Early Childhood Educators, established by the Ontario Legislature in 2007, is a professional self-regulatory organization for early childhood educators. The college regulates the practice of early childhood education, establishes and maintains qualifications for membership and issues certificates of registration. It is also responsible for enforcing professional and ethical standards, investigating complaints against members, and dealing with issues of discipline. Membership in the college is required for everyone wishing to use the title of early childhood educator and practice early childhood education in the province. An ECE diploma is required for certification.
In March 2011, the College of Early Childhood Educators released a code of ethics and standards of practice for Registered Early Childhood Educators.
Source: College of ECEs. (2011).
The You Bet I Care! study of Canadian child care programs48 concluded that “while safe environments with supportive adults are the norm for child care in Canada, fewer than 1 in 3 preschoolers and 1 in 4 infants are in programs that stimulate the child’s social, language and thinking skills.”49 Stimulating environments were more likely when staff compensation and educational levels were higher, the study found. Reasonable salary and benefits, clear job responsibilities and obligations, and health and safety protections created a positive working climate for educators, which in turn created a quality setting for young children and their families.
The early childhood workforce is divided along the same policy lines that influence access and funding, with the same uneven results. Educators have a range of employers, including non-profit organizations and businesses and public agencies, the latter including local or provincial governments, postsecondary institutions and school boards. About 75 percent of early childhood educators and assistants have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, in contrast to 57 percent of the workers in all occupations.50 Despite their level of formal education, child care staff, particularly those employed by community or commercial child care programs, often earn less than the average provincial wage.
Full-time positions requiring post-secondary qualifications offer $35,000 per year, often without benefits, but there is considerable variation.51 In contrast, teachers in kindergarten programs are public sector employees with working environments established by collective bargaining, and annual salaries around $70,000 plus benefits. The large wage gap among educators is emerging as a major issue as early childhood positions become integrated into schools.52 Privately operated child care programs cannot compete with the wages and working conditions offered by school boards and are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified educators.
Other factors related to compensation affect the workforce. The poor infrastructure surrounding child care provides few resources for educators to support the increasingly complex needs of children and families. The lack of professional development opportunities and potential for advancement, the poor leadership in the sector and the overall lack of societal respect for the importance of what early childhood educators do eats away at the sense of professional worth. Qualified educators leave child care, to be replaced with less-qualified staff, creating a downward spiral of reduced quality and less favourable environments to attract and keep professional educators.
Provincial policies have focused on encouraging graduates to enter and remain in the field. Newfoundland and British Columbia, for example, both provide bursaries if graduates remain in the sector for at least two years. Wage grants are aimed at stabilizing the workforce. Prince Edward Island expects ECEs working in kindergarten programs to upgrade to a teaching degree with an ECE specialty by 2016. It is the only jurisdiction to require enhanced qualifications since Quebec overhauled its educational expectations for the sector in 1999.
Each province and territory has legislation, regulations and standards that govern the operation of regulated child care programs. They identify requirements for staff, which may include:
No jurisdiction requires all staff in licensed child care or preschool centres to have a post-secondary credential in ECE, but all require some qualified staff. Several provinces and territories have minimum “entry level” training requirements for all staff, which vary from 40 to 120 hours of ECE course work. Where child/staff ratios are consistent across the country, the number of ECEs required varies widely. Working in a field dominated by untrained staff becomes another burden for an already over burdened profession.
In addition to the educational requirements, eight provinces and territories require all or some staff to be certified or registered. Registration (in Ontario), certification (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon) and classification (Manitoba and Nova Scotia) are all processes that provide official recognition as an Early Childhood Educator and enable the registrant to work in an early childhood program.
The regulatory body has the authority to set entry requirements and standards of practice; to assess applicants’ qualifications and academic credentials; to certify, register or license qualified applicants and to discipline members of the profession. For example, in British Columbia, an early childhood educator is required to have a government license to be recognized as a qualified staff member in a regulated child care centre or preschool.
Next: 4. Curriculum
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