I am a George Brown College Student in the Early Childhood Education diploma program, and I have done my third field placement at The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO). The field placement at AECEO was entirely different from my first two placements in two ways. Firstly, instead of working in an Early Childhood setting with the children, I was working in an office environment. Secondly, the focus of my work was representing registered early childhood educators (RECEs). I chose this alternative placement to gain more in-depth knowledge about the field of ECE, the issues currently being faced by the sector and the role and importance of advocacy in the ECE sector. At the beginning of my placement, I was very nervous and overwhelmed. But, as the time passed and with the support and guidance of team AECEO, I started to understand the different tasks and activities, the AECEO is a part of and lead.
The AECEO is a membership-based professional association for RECEs and early years staff in Ontario for 68 years. The AECEO advocates for respect, recognition and appropriate wages and working conditions for RECEs and early years staff. Aligned with this purpose, the AECEO is leading the Professional Pay and Decent Work Campaign. Through this blog, I would like to share the knowledge I gained about one of the primary campaign of AECEO; the Professional Pay and Decent Work Campaign. The campaign started in 2013, and the AECEO works alongside the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC), the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development and Olivia Chow with the Institute of Change Leaders. Through this campaign, the AECEO addresses the issues related to the inadequate working conditions and compensation in the early childhood profession in Ontario.
I chose Early Childhood Education as I wanted to pursue my passion, I have always loved working with children. As a recent immigrant from India, I knew that I had to upgrade my studies to work in the field of early childhood. But as the early education system in India is different from Canada, I wanted to first see how I fit in the system. I volunteered in a school in Kindergarten class for 6 months. My volunteer experience helped me to understand that I can create a special bond with children and can contribute towards their development. Then I made the decision to study full time. While I was in the field as a volunteer and during my two field placement through George Brown College, I found out that there are certainly challenges that I have to face if I want to continue with the Early Childhood profession. It was heartbreaking to know about the issues the Early Childhood profession was facing, despite the strengths they strongly possess.
Along with professional pay, the AECEO is also fighting for decent working conditions for RECEs and early years staff across Ontario. ECEs are still undervalued. They don’t all receive fair compensation, full time and stable jobs, health benefits, pension, public recognition, supportive environment, paid preparation time and lunch breaks, equitable access to ongoing professional learning and growth opportunities, adequate representation and power in the process of change in the sector. It is so hard to believe that early years professionals are deprived of such essential amenities. But sadly, this is the truth. I was shaken after knowing about the issues our profession is currently facing, and soon I am going to face these issues too.
RECEs and early years staff are not rewarded with the pay they deserve. Some of the professionals work two jobs to put food at the table. The AECEO has started a social media campaign called Humans of ECE to let RECEs and early years staff share their short stories about strengths they have and yet the challenges they have to face. For example, RECEs plan creative play-based curriculum to supports social, emotional, cognitive, physical and communication, language and literacy of children, but sadly some ECEs are not paid for it despite it is a part of their work responsibility. Early years professionals are inclusive, diverse, equitable and respectful to children, families and communities, but they don’t get the respect and recognition they deserve from society, government and decision makers. Early years professionals are expected to follow a code of ethics and standards of practices set by the College of ECE but there are no standards or benchmarks that support or define decent working conditions for RECEs. The expectations and responsibilities from the profession are increasing rapidly, but the increase in wages and compensation is not proportional to high demands on the workforce. There is a considerable professionalization gap. The pay that RECEs and early years staff receive does not reflect their specialized training, the valuable work they do and their continuous professional learning. While looking into all these issues, I strongly feel that early years staff should understand the importance of AECEO and the kind of work they do for ECEs in Ontario. The more members they have, the stronger the association is.
Since I began my placement at the AECEO, I have been discussing all these issues with my peers. Like me, they were also unaware of the reality of the sector, and they didn’t know that the AECEO was advocating for us. They wanted to know more about the association and become a part of it to bring the change in the sector. We were wondering why we are not educated about AECEO during our first year. This is a very critical element for students. We must know what is happening in our field and the issues our professionals are currently facing. Before going into the field, we should be aware of what our future looks like. We should be able to embrace our strength and to stand up for challenges we might face. Students should be encouraged to get involved with AECEO during their course itself so that by the time, they graduate; they understand the importance of advocacy for their field. There are about 52000 RECEs in Ontario, and the number increases every year. But unfortunately, AECEO has only about 2500 members. Imagine the strength of the association and the change it can bring if all RECEs and early years staff could be members. Together, we are stronger.
I would encourage the readers to become a part of the collective voice. The AECEO does not expect you to give 100 percent of your time to it. Advocacy does not always mean standing up with megaphones and protesting for the rights. Having conversations with someone and making them aware of what we do is an element of advocacy too. Taking such small steps will lead towards our bigger goal of building a strong community of early years staff that can get involved for the cause. Readers can also contribute by becoming members of the AECEO. Also, there are 5 Decent Work Communities of Practice (CoP) across Ontario. They are in Halton, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Waterloo. The CoPs operates at the local level in coordination with the head office. Sign the pledge cards online and mark ‘Y’ in to be contacted section. If you mark yes, the local CoPs of the AECEO will approach you. Follow AECEO on social media for the latest updates about the campaign and profession information in general. AECEO is your professional association. Be a part of it and contribute towards the change you want to see in your profession. Your voice matters, SPEAK UP!