Many of us are already asking, what lessons can we learn from this time? As you will know one of the main conversations presently taking place in the education sector is, how do we pivot to create at home learning that’s accessible and worthwhile? Another is, how do we provide accessible childcare while social distancing? Especially for the frontline healthcare workers that are taking care of all of us.
It has taken this present situation to clearly show that childcare is an essential service, critical to economic activity and the health of society. Yet even in Canada and the USA the majority of childcare is not publicly funded, is not ready available, and falls on parents’ shoulders to figure it out. Martha Friendly from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit explains the situation well;
“Paradoxically, childcare is an essential service even at the best of times. Parents depend on reliable childcare so they can work. By extension, childcare is also essential for their employers, who depend on them to be at work at the hospital, public transit agency, power plant, medical lab or elementary school. Perhaps most importantly, it is essential for the broader public and the economy, which depend on the labour of parents, including mothers. After all, women are now employed in numbers approaching those of men. If childcare were more available and affordable, the numbers could be more equal, and more equal participation in the paid labour force would strengthen the economy and gender equity.” – Martha Friendly is the executive director and founder of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, an independent policy research institute focused on early childhood education and care.
It is that last part – equity – that I’d like to draw particular attention to, as here is another paradox: Equity of all kinds is a high priority in many K-12 schools, with committed individuals and organisations working very hard to bring about much needed equality within classrooms. But what about early learners? It has been shown time and again through robust research that the first seven, and specifically the first five years of a child’s life are fundamentally important in shaping a child’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement.
“The first years are the most important in the life of every child as they set the basis for overall success in life. They are also very important for every society as this is the best chance to influence future prosperity, inclusiveness and social stability. Early childhood development is considered to be the most powerful tool to address inequities, a chance to provide opportunities to all children to develop their full potential.” – Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative
The reasons why we should be focusing on the youngest among us seem very clear, and yet the importance of childcare in society as a whole has very little recognition within governments. This lack of cognizance has led to a wide disparity of resources and options available, limiting the extent to which early childhood carers and educators can provide their incredible work. Most childcare is privately run and often inaccessible to parents, whether for financial or geographic reasons. How can we then create a society of inclusiveness and equality if we are not giving equal care to all children during their most formative years?
As we examine the lessons to be learned from this pandemic, my hope is that not only do we acknowledge childcare as an essential service, but that the quality of that care is seen as fundamentally important to society if our aim is for every child to be able to develop their full potential while systematically creating a sustainable, inclusive and equitable world for all.