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Coming of Age

By: MAIRE CORBETT

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Last Tuesday night, October 20 Professor Anne Looney, Dean of Education at Dublin City University launched the Proceedings of the Early Childhood Ireland National Research Conference, held in Dublin in April 2019. The launch of this publication came during Early Childhood Ireland’s very first online Research Symposium, which was due to be held last April, but like so much this year, had to move from the real space to the virtual space!

As she launched the publication, Anne said that it marks a coming of age for the sector, when a publication such as this is compiled and available to researchers, students and academics. In the days since, that idea of the Early Learning and Care sector coming of age has been swirling around in my head. What does ‘coming of age’ mean? What privileges does it bestow, what responsibilities does it bring?

When I celebrated my 21st birthday many years ago, there was a real coming of age thing going on... Being old enough to be trusted with adult things such as the key to the house. But that key to the house depicted on a birthday card was much more about the key to the next stage of life, the next steps along the road of adult life.

So as a sector, if publishing a compilation of the fascinating research presented at last year’s research conference and having great attendance at 3 nights of current cutting edge research at under-graduate, Masters and Doctoral level in Ireland marks a start of the next step of our journey, what should that next step be?

As an increasingly graduate led sector, and with a wonderful pool of experienced educators at all levels, I think we need to continuously strive to keep our sector visible and recognised as part of the education continuum, in a positive way. Many people, both within and outside the education sector still have a perception that Junior Infants is the first step on a child’s education journey. We have all seen the commentary in the media about the work done by teachers since schools reopened in September. It is, of course, undeniable that trojan work has been done and huge credit is due to all who have done that work. BUT the education sector actually began reopening in June, when many Early Learning and School Age Childcare settings led the way and reopened, bringing some much-needed normality for children and families all over the country.  This fact is so often overlooked. When we try to correct this and point this out, we need to state our case in a positive, respectful way, as befits one who has come of age! We need to remind the ‘grown-ups’, so to speak, that the sector has come of age, that we support children’s learning and education in a caring, loving, professional way and we deserve to be seen as and recognised as educators and teachers of our youngest citizens.

And listening to the marvellous research papers presented online last week it is no exaggeration that we are a vibrant, caring and vital sector. We heard about research into transitions and school readiness, professional identity, educators as researchers, storytelling and ‘professional love’. It was refreshing and invigorating to see the thought, reflection and study that went into each and every piece of research presented.

This sector is all grown up and in good professional hands. And we need to remind people of that every opportunity we get.

And the publication of the proceedings from last year's National Research Conference can be read here.

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