The question ‘is early childhood education in Ireland in demand?’ has become quite popular and this article will walk you through the answer.
Early childhood education (ECEC) is a priority area for Ireland, a country that values the first years of a child’s life. New reforms in this area are an important step in a long-term policy plan. However, the COVID pandemic is putting extra strain on early childhood education systems.
In Ireland, ECEC workers are in high demand. In general, the perception of ECEC workers is positive, but it has been hampered by the many constraints on pursuing further education and development, including the high cost of courses, limited opportunities for advancement, and low remuneration for credentials. However, recent government policy is beginning to address these concerns and ensure that ECEC workers are paid competitively and receive the best training possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of ECEC services highlighted the need for reform. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of reform has turned into a race to the bottom. Yet, the ECEC workers themselves are being under-remunerated, and the workers do not have representation in the political realm.
ECEC workers’ gendered and classed subjectivities
Recent literature focuses on the gendered and classed subjectivities of ECEC workers and the ways they navigate gendered practices in the early childhood education (ECEC) field. These gendered and classed subjectivities are reflected in the organisation of the classroom, the way children and adults are taught, and the roles and responsibilities of male and female practitioners. This article takes a comparative approach to these issues.
ECEC workers’ gendered and ‘classed’ subjectivities were examined through ethnographic participant observations, in which the first author immersed himself for a week in an ECEC classroom. Although his fieldwork did not qualify him as a traditional ethnographer, his observations were informed by some of the characteristics of both classic and emerging ethnographic studies in comparative ECEC. The focus of ethnographic studies is to examine how gendered activities are performed in diverse cultural contexts and to ask ‘cultural insiders’ to explain how they perceive these gendered interactions.
ECEC workers’ political concerns
The SIPTU, the trade union for the early childhood education sector in Ireland, represents more than 6000 ECEC workers. Its members are concerned with the lack of proper remuneration, inadequate recognition and limited opportunities for further education and training. ECEC workers also face a lack of entitlements and collective bargaining rights.
This lack of equality is primarily due to the geographical inequalities of ECEC places. Single parents and those in precarious work situations may find themselves on a waiting list. This may push legislators to privatise ECEC to reduce the lack of available places.
ECEC workers’ pedagogical and political concerns
The ECEC sector in Ireland is important in several ways. The recent COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent closures of services have highlighted the need for reform in this sector. However, the rhetoric around reforms has been characterised as a race to the bottom. ECEC workers’ status is low, and this has an intellectual and social cost. Furthermore, the low status carries implications for other countries.
The critical feminist perspective used in this study was grounded in the political and classed subjectivities of ECEC workers. It examined the contradictions between policy texts and the perspectives of ECEC workers. It also theorised the complexity of democratic relations with young children.
ECEC workers’ professionalisation
ECEC workers have long expressed positive attitudes towards professionalisation, but the barriers to professional development were numerous: lack of remuneration, cost of courses and the fear of losing income. Despite this, professionalisation has become increasingly popular in Ireland. This study aims to explore how ECEC workers can benefit from professionalisation.
The findings of the study also showed that the role of the state in the ECEC sector is not well-defined and over-relied. Instead, the state is often seen as a central command post, lacking accountability and public interest values. As a result, ECEC workers in Ireland often have part-time, precarious jobs and have little professional status. These factors have implications not just for professionalisation, but for meeting the needs of young children.