Making the Connection: Why Policy Should Matter to Students

In my work as an intern at the Association for Early Childhood Educators Ontario, I've discovered one thing; there seems to be a disconnection between students and policy. This disconnection, and apparent lack of interest between students and policy is noticeable to the professionals in the field. One professor I spoke to admitted that they can see how students don’t pay attention or put the effort in during class when it comes to topics involving politics and community responsibility, and how frustrating it is because the students don’t seem to realise how it all connects. Through speaking with my peers, and asking them about their opinions on this topic, many of them said the same thing: they don't care, and they don't see why they should. They're not going into government work.

Truthfully, I was in the same position when I was younger. I had no interest in the government, politics or policy. Policy always felt particularly tedious. Anytime one of my friends would start talking about an election or politics, I tuned them out. It wasn’t until I began to understand just how these things were affecting me that I really took notice as to what was happening. My interest started when the government run volunteer program Katimavik, that I had been a part of was shut down. I wanted to know why, so I researched and found that a government official thought it was unnecessary and it had been part of suggested, and then implemented, budgets cuts. It confused me because as a participant I could see how influential and necessary the program was. Facebook groups for Katimavik that I had previously joined were banding together to protest the decision and the idea of this community coming together to create change really impacted me. It was a small step but we were trying to change something that meant something to us. That’s what mattered.

But my interest in policy didn’t fully spark until I was in school for Early Childhood Studies. Reports on the deaths of children in unregulated childcare homes angered me, especially as I learned more about child development and how to deal with difficult situations that could arise when taking care of children. I knew that there are ways that we could avoid these incidents. By understanding politics, policy and regulations and the relationship they have to each other and to the field of ECE, I could see how things needed to change so that we can create environments that can not only support children and families but also the educators working there. It made me want to learn more and find out what I could do about it.

Policy and government can be intimidating and overwhelming. There are also many people out there that may tell you that taking action will not change anything. But if no one takes action, how will anything change? I’ve realized that policy has an impact on my life, that I need to pay attention to what decisions are being made at the policy level and that I have to work to understand it. But it leaves me with the question of what am I going to do about it? My first step to taking action is to learn more. Aside from my own research, I enrolled myself into classes that focus on policy and government. I chose an internship at the AECEO to build my knowledge about ECEs and policy and how they relate to each other. Knowing that I can impact change that will have positive influences on society and essentially help people’s lives makes me want to work towards a future that I know can be better.

The most important thing out of all of this is for you to research what matters to you. It’s hard to care about something when you don’t see how it will affect you. If you’re going into school, or continuing, consider taking a course in politics, just to give you a basic understanding about how the system works. Even if it seems irrelevant now, take the time and look up the issues that you care about. It may surprise you how much information is out there and what action, if any, is being taken. After all, if we don’t strive for change, who will?

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  • Chelsea Dault
    commented 2016-03-15 13:40:52 -0400
    I strongly feel that politics/policy is extremely under-represented throughout many Early Childhood programs, especially diploma programs. To gain an understanding of it and the importance of it is not easy. I believe that one must be taken by the hand of someone more experienced and shown how the dots connect to in-classroom practice. I feel that part of the problem is so many ECEs in practice are overwhelmed by policy as well – and have probably already executed some form of advocacy with little to nothing having come from it. In this field, we still have great strides to take to get a child care system we need and to better our working conditions. The change required is tremendous and that in and of itself can be so intimidating and overwhelming, making so many ask “how could I possibly make a difference anyways?” Policy and advocacy should be focused on to a much greater extent in ECE programs, and advocacy is something that I strongly feel needs to be experienced. I found that any advocacy I had learned focused on advocating for children or families on a much smaller scale, and had little connection to policy, governance, and working conditions. It is long overdue that post-secondary institutions connect those things: advocacy and policy. It is arguably one of the most important pieces of becoming an Early Childhood Educator, to keep oneself informed and to be an advocate.