Early childhood education and care

 

Sir, – Darragh O’Connor’s timely piece “Government needs to properly fund childcare” (Opinion & Analysis, September 3rd) highlights some of well-recognised benefits of high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC), when it is properly funded by the State. This includes addressing issues of gender equality, supporting the labour market, enhancing young children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development and better preparing them to transition to and engage in primary school, to name but a few. Organisations such as the OECD, Unicef, the European Union and, as Darragh O’Connor notes, the World Bank, all recognise these well documented benefits, along with other long-term contributions accruing from high-quality ECEC. In Ireland, we still seem to be debating whether ECEC is the individual responsibility of families, to manage and fund themselves, or whether this represents a common good, worthy of collective investment, due to both short-term and long-term benefits that have been evidenced to more than repay initial funding.

Our European neighbours who have made the shift to viewing ECEC as a common good, allocate funding at multiples of what we provide here in Ireland (0.7 per cent to 1 per cent of GDP compared to our 0.2 per cent of GDP). These states tend to privilege the view of the child as citizen, with a right to enriching early years experiences, alongside later levels of education. They also recognise the wider benefits of a quality system, such as the role of early years settings in supporting parents in the day to day challenges and joys of raising young family, its part in building inclusive communities in local settings, extending social networks, and enhancing the resilience of children and their families.

These are benefits that while evidenced in research, are more difficult to quantify, to monetarise; they may be considered “fringe benefits” of a well-developed ECEC system but they illustrate how children and families are valued by all of society.

The mantra of successive governments that Ireland is the best place to be a child, that families are the foundation of our society, that an equality agenda is driving current policy, can no longer be based on funding levels that have left the Irish early years sector in multiple crises.

If significant funding increases are not forthcoming, expect to hear more about increasing number of parents opting out of the workforce, the shortage of suitable educators and setting closures, all due to unaffordable fees, to poor wages, precarious working conditions, and an insolvent financial model. – Yours, etc,

Dr SHEILA GARRITY,

Lecturer in Early

Childhood Studies,

Unesco Child & Family

Research Centre, and

The Centre for Adult

Learning and Professional

Development,

NUI Galway.