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Let’s Be Positive!

By: MAIRE CORBETT

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Technology is wonderful. It gives us instant access to so much information, entertainment and it simplifies work lives and saves money! What’s not to like about it!

Similarly, social media has transformed the way we live. Personally, I am a big fan. Through Facebook, I can maintain easy contact with relations (especially those in faraway places) and friends, I can share photos and I can see what like- minded people are thinking and share Ideas for early years practice. It’s great! However, there is a downside to this… I think social media has made some people very negative and this is a shame. Look at any news website and you will see examples of what I mean. Every story gets mostly negative comments…even good news stories. We are all cynical at times but so many of the comments are nasty, negative and uncalled for.  For example…on one newspaper's Facebook page last week there was a story about a man who won a lot on money on Euromillions and how he was not going to give up work or let it change his life…the top comment? Bores like this fella don't deserve to win! Imagine being stuck on a long haul flight with this exciting creature. Any news item about the plight of refugees being supported by Ireland inevitably draws horrible comments about looking after our own first and such like. In ways, it seems like social media, a tool for connection, dehumanises some people and makes them insular, rather than citizens of the so called ‘Global Village’.

Our own early childhood sector is not immune from this kind of commentary either. We all know that we have a long way to go in relation to funding in this country. Ireland’s investment in childcare falls well short of the 0.8% average investment across the OECD, and the UNICEF international benchmark for ECE sector investment of 1% of GDP, as highlighted in Early Childhood Irelands pre budget submission last year. And there was further confirmation of that just last week when the OECD Education at a Glance 2017 report confirmed that Irelands’ spending on early years’ education is the lowest in the OECD. We lobby and advocate for necessary and vital changes to be made and we understand the unacceptable level of stress that providers face frequently with changed deadlines, lack of communication and increased regulation and inspection regimes.

But, we need to look back 10 years and see how far our sector has come, in terms of becoming professional and being recognised as such:

From a situation where we had no lead Government Department and issues relating to young children were dispersed among numerous Departments, we now have a Senior Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Funding, especially the universal schemes, such as ECCE and the Affordable Childcare schemes, has increased hugely. This certainly has brought increased accountability (surely a good thing?) and frustrating, time consuming paperwork and admin. This aspect needs to be simplified and streamlined, to reduce the time and stress, while ensuring that taxpayers money (i.e. ours!) is spent properly.

And there is no doubt that there has been massively increased investment in early years’ education: we have quality supports such as the Voluntary Childcare Organisations, Better Start and the CCC’s. We have AIM. We have much more Continuing Professional Development opportunities, free to educators (but yes, with a cost in terms of time). We have capital grants. We have Learner Fund programmes. We have the newly announced sensory toy pack. These are all good things! Positive things, that 10 years ago, would be considered incredible!

Training and Qualifications are now mandatory. Again, a hugely positive move in terms of children and our sector taking its place as an important part of the education continuum, rather than just seen as baby sitters, which would have been the case in the past. We, rightly, seek to be seen as a profession. Being in a profession means we can demand to be considered professionals, and be valued and respected. My fear is that when we talk down our sector, with negative, disrespectful comments on social media and very personalized remarks we come across as less professional and this can damage the image we seek to portray of our sector. We can express our opinions, of course, but in a respectful moderate manner.  We have a growing workforce, which in spite of all the challenges we face, is made up of dedicated and committed people I am very proud to work with each and every day.

I think we need to consider the impact constant negative commentary has on ourselves and on others. It can drag people down, increase anxiety and reduce the joy and privilege of working with young children. As we head into Budget 2018, let us welcome the good news that will hopefully come our way and strive to lobby for more improvement as time goes on. We are an evolving, developing sector and we have a lot going for us! In our interactions on Social Media let’s always present a united and professional image. And let’s keep positive!

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