Infants of the Productivity Agenda: Learning from Birth or Waiting to Learn?

By Cheeseman, Sandra; Sumsion, Jennifer et al. | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Infants of the Productivity Agenda: Learning from Birth or Waiting to Learn?


Cheeseman, Sandra, Sumsion, Jennifer, Press, Frances, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

The participation of infants in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings has long been conceptualised according to the childcare needs associated with mothers' paid workforce participation. Surrounded by discourses of concern for very young children in non-familial care arrangements, this conceptualisation reinforced the notion of care--characterised by attention to physical safety and emotional attachment (Page, Clare & Nutbrown, 2013; Rockel, 2009; Trevarthen, 2011). The introduction of Australia's National Quality Framework (NQF) heralded a shift to a more contemporary image of infants. Expanding on notions of infants' care needs, there has been an increasing recognition of infants as competent, powerful learners (Expert Advisory Panel on Early Childhood Education and Care, 2009). The release of the Childcare and early childhood learning Draft Report of the Australian Government's Productivity Commission (Productivity Commission, 2014) in July 2014, however, signalled the tenuous nature of images of infants as strong and capable learners, suggesting a possible return to images of infants as in need of little more than custodial care.

This article juxtaposes conceptualisations of infants reflected in current Australian early childhood policy against recommendations put forward in the Childcare and early childhood learning Draft Report (Productivity Commission, 2014). Focusing in particular on the nexus between images of infants and the flow-on to workforce policy recommendations for children under 36 months, we highlight disjunctions between images of infants reflected in current early childhood policy against the draft workforce recommendations flagged by the Productivity Commission. We begin with a brief discussion of ways that infants have historically been reflected in the Australian early childhood policy context. Examining more recent images in the NQF that reflect infants as strong and capable learners from birth, we consider the vision for infants' learning and the associated expectations for those who work with them. By focusing on responsibilities for planning and assessment of learning, we question what skills and knowledge educators require to work with more complex Images of learners from birth. We then contrast this against images of infants reflected In the recent Draft Report of the Productivity Commission and analyse the requirements of educators to work with infants imagined as vulnerable and In need of little more than custodial care. In light of the Productivity Commission's draft recommendation that 'all educators working with children aged birth to 36 months are only required to hold at least a certificate III, or equivalent' (Productivity Commission, 2014, p. 58), we then examine the capacity of the Certificate III credential to adequately equip educators to take responsibility for infants' wellbeing and learning. We conclude with a call for greater attention to infants within early childhood policy, particularly In relation to the qualifications and expectations of the infant-educator workforce. Identifying silences within the rhetoric of workforce policy, this article illuminates what may be a tenuous commitment to the nation's vision for the 'best start in life' (COAG, 2009, p. 4).

Images of infants

According to James and James (2004), images of children reflected In early childhood policy represent a complex interplay between cultural norms, social aspirations and political ideology. Historically, a combination of opinion, commentary and research were responsible for influencing Images of children. In particular, images of infants reflected in early childhood policy can be seen to be imagined and re-imagined to fit with changing expectations and political imperatives. Creating somewhat of a pendulum of policy logic, these shifting images of infants in turn shape and re-shape expectations for their early childhood experience. Australian early childhood policy has long reflected images of infants as physically and emotionally vulnerable and, as a consequence, at some risk in non-familial childcare arrangements (Brennan, 1998). …

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