The ‘quality’ of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is linked to improved child outcomes with high quality ECEC settings associated with immediate and long-term positive outcomes for children. For children, high quality ECEC environments offer safety and security and nurture their healthy development with ECEC quality defined by how well developmental outcomes for children are enhanced through the physical, social and emotional outcomes that are met in the ECEC setting. For parents, quality is affiliated with their satisfaction with the ECEC setting provided to their children and the extent to which their own needs are met (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011). For educators, quality is linked to their working conditions and financial rewards, along with qualities of the work environment that facilitate satisfaction to be derived from their work leading to higher performance in their job (Carter et al, 2010; Rutyna, 2011; White, 2013).
Aspects of quality encompass:
– Content National Curriculum
– Outcomes, Knowledge, Attitudes, Assessment
– Child Centred Teaching and Learning
– Learning Environment: safety, well-being, policies, practices
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes that structural quality is a government responsibility, which can be defined by legislation and regulations with quality ECEC contributing to increased economic growth and development (OECD 2012). Given high quality ECEC benefits society as a whole, regulation to improve quality is important which is now defined through the National Quality Standard (NQS) comprising principles, quality areas and standards. This provides a benchmark for measuring quality, which is underpinned by regulatory standards. In addition, nationally consistent educator to child ratios and qualification requirements for educators along with requirements for services to deliver a program based on an approved learning framework and engage in ongoing reflection, planning and programming support high quality practice. Such a system also allows families to have confidence in the quality of the ECEC service that their children are attending including that their children are safe and their developmental and educational needs are being optimally met. When families utilize ECEC this contributes to greater parent participation in the workforce
Regulating for quality, through qualified educators, ratios and approved learning frameworks, is integral to realize the individual, and long-term economic and societal benefits of ECEC. (Tayler et al, 2013).
There is currently an emphasis on lifelong learning with an amplifying spotlight on an education and knowledge-based economy. This emphasizes the need for quality, as Moss and Dahlberg noted (2013, p. 2), that we live in an “age of quality” where every service and product ‘must offer quality’ as every consumer wants to have it. What then is quality? There is more focus on upgrading skills of the ECEC workforce to enhance the quality of children’s early experiences with quality defined by Moss and Dahlberg (2013, p. 2), as a ‘search for improvement’, a search to provide the best we can for young children to put children at the forefront to give them the best start in life. It is a search to provide the best we can for young children, hence creating a child focussed practice, improving their experiences and giving them the best start in life. Howe’s (2010) insists that the commitment of early childhood educators towards up-skilling and training is a significant factor to ensuring quality. There is also a target on long term economic benefits of ECEC with services now adopting management practices akin to that of small business to be entrepreneurial with a competitive ECEC domain securing quality because consumers (parents and carers), utilizing ECEC services want the best service that they can for their children (Press, Sumsion & Wong, 2010).
As the ECEC workforce becomes more and more professionalized, unskilled and qualified, quality provision and return for investments tend to be assured (Miller & Cable 2011) with higher qualifications and training fostering effective ‘professional identity’ when educational practitioners seek to comprehend theories and mindsets that ground their experience providing the foundation for understanding what is done and why. Understanding this ‘professional identity’ in outworking the alignment of the NQS in the context of a faith based service care is critical to the body of ECEC research.