Is There a Future for ECEC Graduates in the Sector? – Student Voice
Is There a Future for ECEC Graduates in the Sector?
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to work with preschool children. I was not concerned by the low pay in early childhood education and care (ECEC). I was focused on children, their education, and care. However, while doing my degree, my commitment and passion was negatively affected, knowing that it was not going to be possible for me to move out of my parents home, get a car loan or apply for a mortgage. The average hourly rate of pay for those working in the sector is €12.55 per hour, 84 cent below the living wage for Ireland (Pobal, 2019).
This blog post focuses on the importance of listening to the voices of students who are studying ECEC at degree level, in Ireland today. The majority of available literature focuses on the views of those already working in the ECEC sector. However, with a staff turnover rate of 28.2% (Early Childhood Ireland, 2018), if we do not listen to what students have to say about the sector, this figure will increase.
In 2013 and 2014, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, conducted a Graduate Occupational Profile Survey with 122 Early Childhood Education and Care graduates. The survey focused on the perceptions of graduates, in relation to seeking employment and working in the sector. These graduates described ECEC salaries as “very low” and “terrible.” They felt “underappreciated” and “undervalued” as educators (Moloney, 2015). Moloney (2010) asserted that staff feel they are treated more like babysitters than professionals. It is disheartening to see that very little has changed for those working in the sector in the last ten-years. Of the 33 students in this study who planned on doing further study, 46% indicated they were pursuing a postgraduate study in primary school teaching and a further 27% were pursuing a Masters degree in other disciplines (Moloney, 2015). During the last four years of my ECEC studies, I know that a lot of students today feel the same way. As a result, I believe that it is important to listen to what students have to say, and make the necessary changes needed to retain graduates in the sector.
We must listen to the concerns of ECEC students, who, after they graduate will not remain in the ECEC sector if the issues of low pay and lack of professional recognition are not addressed – as a matter of urgency. A school leaver today, who chooses to do an ECEC degree, will not want to spend four-years of their life, studying to be a ‘babysitter’. The issue of low pay can be addressed if those working in the sector, join a union and apply to the Labour Court for a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO), which sets out minimum rates of pay in a pay scale, according to the level of qualification attained.
It should be acknowledged that the government have done a lot for the sector, including trying to reduce the cost of childcare for parents and families. However, they have forgotten about those who work in the sector. It is great to see the government focus on improving the quality of education and care within the ECEC sector, yet high quality ECEC will never be achieved, unless proper pay is provided and ECEC is recognised as a valued profession.
In my opinion, working with young children is a vocation. I intend to work in the sector, in the hopes that salaries will be increased and the sector will finally get the recognition that it so rightly deserves.
- Early Childhood Ireland. (2018). Summing It Up: The ECI Stats Series 2018. Early Childhood Ireland. Retrieved from https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/work/advocacy/summing-eci-stats-series/
- Moloney, M. (2010). Professional identity in early childhood care and education: perspectives of pre-school and infant teachers. Irish Educational Studies, 29(2), 167-187. doi: 10.1080/03323311003779068
- Moloney, M. (2015). A vocation or a career: the perspectives of BA. ECEC graduates about accessing employment and working in the early years sector in Ireland. Irish Educational Studies, 34(4), 325-339. doi: 10.1080/03323315.2015.1119705
- Pobal. (2019). ‘Early Years Sector Profile Report 2018-2019’. Dublin: Pobal
Emma Webster recently graduated from St Patricks College, Dublin City University, with a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. She also holds a Diploma in Montessori Teaching from Liberties College, Dublin. Emma’s research interests include students’ perceptions on the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector and the need for professionalisation of the sector in Ireland.