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Why early child educators are going on strike in Australia this week

Dr Tamara Cumming, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, looks at what is driving this week’s strike by early childhood educators, and what needs to change.

Poor pay, a lack of government support, too much responsibility, and the age-old perception that early childhood education is “women’s work” have contributed to the workforce crisis in the early childhood education sector.

“People see someone sitting on the floor playing with children and think that because it looks easy it is,” says Dr Tamara Cumming, Senior Lecturer in Macquarie University’s School of Education. “But it is much more complex work than that.

“The reality is that this work requires a high degree of skill, knowledge and physical effort. It’s intellectually demanding and relationally complex work, and the quality of educators’ work is key to supporting children’s learning.”

On September 7, many of the 200,000 educators who each week educate and care for 900,000 Australian children, aged between birth and five, will go on strike. The United Workers Union Big Steps campaign has issued three demands: a pay increase; the placing of greater value on the early learning sector; and “putting children before profit”.

Minimum salaries are not in keeping with the skill, knowledge and responsibility required of early childhood educators’ jobs, says Cumming.

“Teachers working in early childhood settings are likely to earn around $15,000 a year less than those working in school settings – even when they have the same four-year degree.”

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