Over the last few months, I have had a challenging experience trying to access educational supports for my child. I have experienced many power blocks; I have not felt supported, and most concerning, the responses to queries have not been needs-based or child-centred. It has made me think. As many children transition from early learning and care settings into primary school settings, it is important to reflect on partnerships with families. Do you believe that children are beings in the here and now? That we must focus our responses and policies on children’s present lives. That the best interest of the child must always be our primary concern? It is what I believe. Therefore, to me, partnerships are critical, and communication is vital.
The education system should work with and meet the needs of all children. By education system, I refer to children within and receiving education from birth through to adulthood. We all have a shared responsibility as a parent(s)/guardian(s), educator, service manager, school principal, policymaker, TDs and Government. We all have a responsibility to advocate for children. We must speak out against a system of resource allocation that is not fit for purpose. There exists an enormous gap between what science tells us, research shows us, and the educational supports children can access in this country. We must highlight and point out limitations within the education system, even if this makes us feel uncomfortable. We must acknowledge that access to the curriculum is more challenging for some children.
I recently wrote in a Scéalta blog on the current redevelopment of the draft primary curriculum framework concerning primary education, highlighting that it places significant value on a healthy mind, body, and spirit. We must put children first, recognise our shared responsibilities, and take well-being seriously as a society. There is so much tokenistic dialogue about well-being and mental health. Many children experience mental health challenges from a young age due to inadequate access to supports; we must listen to the research. Early intervention matters, early intervention works, but it requires accessible resources and appropriate funding.
It is essential to take time to reflect; it is really important that educational settings and educators take the time to ask reflective questions such as:
- How do we see parents? Are parents’/guardians’ children’s primary educators? Are we working with parents/guardians to support the needs of each child?
- Can we do better? Are our doors open or closed (literally and metaphorically)?
- Are we available and willing to advocate for the needs and rights of children?
- If a parent/guardian raises a concern, how do we respond?
- Should a parent stay silent? Is that better for the child?
What an educator observes can be very different from what the parent(s) observes. We must never forget that children do not become part of the education system in isolation; they have a unique history, context, and culture. All children have a right to high-quality learning opportunities, with a commitment to equity in opportunities. I firmly believe children are on a continuum of learning, and we must support them holistically as learners as they transition across and through all stages of learning and development.
It is not just about my child. It is about the needs of all children. We can support and encourage children to understand the importance of advocating for themselves as they grow older. We can continue to learn about what strategies and approaches work best for them. But we can’t keep having to fight for resources alone, which was my recent experience. We must respect our shared knowledge, our experiences and see the benefits of working in partnership. Educators across the continuum of learning have a wealth of expertise, but parents know their children best. We must work together.
With the needs of children across the learning journey, I will say this. I understand resource limitations, and I know the challenges, the barriers, the power struggles. I know that my child is one of many. We must remember that behind every support request is a parent just trying to do their best and for so many having to fight every step of the way. It is exhausting. It should not be this hard. I am just trying to do my best, like many other parents. I am trying to get my child through school with a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Isn’t that want we all want? For children to thrive, to achieve, to be the best they can be.
We must be braver at times, especially when we know children need us to speak up for them and their rights. We must work in partnership; it has such multifaceted and far-reaching benefits for children and families. Above all else, educational settings must put the child first. Their futures are essential, but children are present, and they must have their needs met in the here and now.
Milica Atanackovic is a Research & Professional Learning Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the sector of Early Years is rooted in a passionate interest in Creative Arts and Child Participation. Milica originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia. Considering the training and mentoring as a key element of quality in Early Learning & Care, Milica has worked as an educator, service manager and trainer. She also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines with her work.