The Association for Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) is the professional association for Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) in Ontario. We support ECEs in their professional practice and advocate for the recognition and appropriate compensation of the profession. Early Childhood Educators are fundamental to high quality early learning and care. Our members work throughout Ontario in programs for young children and their families, including regulated child care, full-day kindergarten, family resource programs and support services for children with disabilities.
The AECEO has recommended that the Government of Ontario develop a comprehensive workforce strategy for ECEs in order to address the systemic issues of low wages, inconsistent working conditions, high turnover, and job dissatisfaction that plague early childhood education and care in Ontario.1 By investing in a workforce strategy for ECEs that has clear goals, targets and sustained funding, Ontario will be working toward the important objective of investing in people’s talents and skills that is noted in the four-part economic plan.
The work performed by ECEs is directly tied to Ontario’s objective of investing in people’s talents and skills in many notable ways. Here are three that we would like to highlight:
1. ECEs care for young children while parents/guardians continue to work or study in order to develop and use their own talents and skills. The essential role that ECEs have in strengthening regional and nation-wide economic prosperity by assisting parents who are combining work, studies, and family responsibilities has been well documented by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their highly regarded, rigorous reviews of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in member nations (including Canada).2
2. ECEs work with young children in a range of early years programs that support a crucial phase of development during which children develop the basic cognitive, social and emotional skills used to thrive in learning and developing their own unique talents and skills. A 2013 accord released by the Association of Canadian Deans of Education highlighted that there has been a shift in Canadians’ understanding of the importance that children’s early learning experiences have in shaping the quality of children’s lives. We are, now more than ever, aware that high quality learning programming is an essential part of all responsible care for children.3
3. ECEs possess unique talents and well-developed skills that are the key to the quality of early childhood education and care programs. It is widely acknowledged that ECEs and their early learning and care activities, interactions, and knowledge have a major impact on children’s well-being and development;4 it is only high quality early childhood education and care delivered by ECEs that truly supports Ontario’s objective of investing in people’s talents and skills.5
ECEs are skilled professionals with a specialization in facilitating young children’s development and learning. The impact of their work extends beyond the child to include the child’s family and their community. The value of this work has been clearly documented in an extraordinary body of evidence highlighting the importance of healthy child development and supports for families with young children6. ECEs have continued to advance their profession through increased levels of professional preparation and on-going professional learning, as well as being regulated by the Ontario College of Early Childhood Educators. ECEs are held accountable to the public through the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. In addition, ECEs continue to face amplified pressure to implement a number of key programs offered by the government under increasingly higher quality standards and frameworks.
It has been well established through research and experience that a trained, professional ECE workforce with professional wages and working conditions is central to providing high quality experiences for the children and families using these programs.7 This is of course significantly important, as we know that in order to achieve the intended benefits of early childhood education and care for children and families programs need to be of the highest quality.
Even with the increasing professionalization of ECEs and the mounting evidence pointing to the immense importance of their work, ECEs have seen a very slow and limited increase in professional recognition through improved compensation and benefits. Low ECE salaries, inconsistent working conditions, and precarious work schedules have resulted in poor morale, job dissatisfaction and high staff turnover. Particularly in regulated child care, early childhood educators are transitioning to full-day kindergarten, or worse, leaving the early childhood field altogether. It is the experience of many child care programs across Ontario that qualified ECEs cannot be recruited to work in these unstable early childhood environments that serve our youngest children. This is having a significant impact on child care staff consistency, program quality, and early childhood education sector stability that promises to endure for years if it is not addressed now.
Even amongst the challenges that still exist for ECEs, the AECEO remains hopeful. There have been positive developments in early years policies that show us that the Ontario government is aware that there are issues that are having an impact on the sector. Important initiatives such as funding for in-service training and Ontario’s Wage Enhancement Strategy (barring implementation difficulties) demonstrate to us that efforts are being made to change elements of the ECEC system.
A piecemeal approach, however, cannot address the systemic undervaluing of ECEs as professionals. Systematic undervaluing of ECEs as professionals will continue to result in low wages and inequitable working conditions across the various programs that ECEs are delivering. Provincial investments in well-developed, more system-focused initiatives in ECEC will ultimately be more effective and more cost-efficient in the long term. Case in point: public resources devoted to post secondary training and in-service supports are shown to be more efficient and effective with concurrent investment in wages and working conditions. Without a comprehensive approach that recognizes the professional status and work of all ECEs we will continue to see qualified and talented ECEs withdraw from the field – public investments in their post-secondary training and professional development will be wasted. The talents, skills and work of ECEs are of great public value and, therefore, deserving of public resources to ensure that this work is compensated appropriately.
The AECEO recommends that the Ontario Government develop and invest in a comprehensive workforce strategy for the ECE profession that includes:
- A provincially established, annually indexed, regional wage scale 8 along with annually indexed base funding for child care and other family resource programs in order to equitably raise the salaries, working conditions and morale of all early childhood educators and child care workers and to strengthen recruitment and retention. A standardized wage rate in the child care and family resource sector will ensure staff with equivalent education and work responsibilities are paid a similar rate of pay no matter where they work. These initiatives would further contribute to higher and more consistent quality across programs. The Government of Manitoba announced a wage scale program on January 12, 2016.
- We support the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care’s call for an immediate $300 million fund (annualized) to begin a process of transformation; and in addition, to begin to address the shortfall of child care spaces, $100 million to increase spaces across the province.
- A provincial mandate and supporting funding arrangement to make the Designated ECE position in full-day kindergarten a full-time, full-year position comparable to that of elementary school teachers.
- Essential ongoing education and professional development for early learning and child care practitioners at all levels.
- Appropriate infrastructure support, including funding to facilities, programming, curriculum development, and early learning and child care organizations.
- A system of data collection and evaluation to monitor the recruitment and retention of trained ECEs across the varying programs currently being delivered to support early childhood education and care.
- The AECEO also recommends that the allocation for the wage enhancement grant for child care staff provide coverage for all hours for which staff is paid, and that eligibility is widened to include ECE staff in family resource and support programs who bring the same specialized training to the families and children who use these services. Furthermore, we ask that the Minister confirm the Province’s commitment to sustaining this funding after 2017.
Finally, we further submit that Ontario’s 2016 budget include necessary supports for the establishment of a shared federal provincial framework for building an early childhood education and care system.