My placement at the AECEO has given me a taste of the real world. Each week I come into the office and I decide how my day will play out. I plan my day based on specific goals I’ve set to achieve in my placement and administrative work to support the organization. In addition to working on my administrative duties, I attend meetings across the city with my field educator and other members of the AECEO. Each meeting I have attended has opened my eyes and my mind to the various powerful roles that exist in the early years sector and the field of early childhood education. I have had numerous opportunities to attend meetings as a learner and observer as well as a contributor to the important discussions that take place; I have had the opportunity to join the collective voice for ECEs across the province.
On September 28th, I had the opportunity to attend the OCBCC (Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care) “Big Tent Meeting” with members across Ontario. There were approximately 30 professionals present at the meeting, ranging from early childhood educators to researchers to retired professionals who continue to advocate for early childhood educators and child care workers across the country. At first, it was quite overwhelming to be in a room with such an inspiring group of individuals and I was not quite sure how I fit in. The first half hour I found it a little challenging to follow along with the discussion as the vocabulary was quite advanced. However, as the meeting progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly connected to the topics and I felt a surge of passion for the field of early childhood education. I was able to see the struggles that all these professionals were fighting to overcome, such as devalued work, low wages, and a lack of stability in the workplace due to a lack of government funding.
At one point, the leader of the discussion raised the topic of collaboration. I hesitantly raised my hand and proceeded to discuss my opinion on the importance of collaborating with students in the field of early childhood studies as I believe it is essential for us to be aware of the prevalent issues in the sector. After all, we are the future of the profession. I can barely remember what else I said due to my significantly increased heart rate from the adrenaline of speaking out loud to a group of highly intelligent and inspiring individuals; but I felt very relieved that I stepped out of my comfort zone. I received some intrigued glances by various members and throughout our lunch break, at least six members approached me to discuss my input. They expressed their pride in me as a young advocate and gave me advice for my upcoming pop-up event at Ryerson. I made connections with various professionals and felt very accomplished at the end of the day.
In addition to attending meetings across the city, I have engaged in advocacy for ECEs on my own, conducting a pop-up event at Ryerson University. Using fact sheets and trivia games I was able to reach out to students and professionals at Ryerson from various programs to spread awareness of the issues facing ECEs in the early years sector. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single person was shocked when they read the statistics of the wages of ECEs: 45% of ECEs make less than $20/hour. ECE wages do not reflect the value they contribute to the lives of children. The profession of early childhood education lacks stability in terms of support and resources due to insufficient funding from the government.
In coding qualitative research questions from a consultation survey that was conducted by the AECEO, I have learned a lot about ECEs perspectives of the early years sector. Based on the responses, I was able to gain a clearer understanding of the current challenges ECEs face. ECEs struggle financially on a daily basis due to the considerably low wages that they are faced with, despite the high-quality care that they provide for children. The term ‘ECE’ is misinterpreted by many people in our society; I have had individuals ask me if my program teaches me to become a ‘professional mom’. The hard work of ECEs is often undermined and devalued at a societal level which makes it difficult to grasp the attention of the government to make change. The importance of not-for-profit childcare seems to be either dismissed or misunderstood by the PC government. The collaboration of ECE professionals, child care advocates, and parents is essential to continue to build the powerful collective voice for children and ECEs.
Throughout my time at the AECEO, I have gained a clearer understanding of the roles of government at the federal, provincial and municipal levels and the impact each level has on the early years in Ontario. It was very interesting to be an intern at the AECEO in between two important elections (provincial in June and municipal in October) as I was able to see the impact of the drastic changes in the child care sector and the approaches that various organizations are taking to overcome the challenges that continue to significantly affect ECEs. Walking away from this placement, I feel well-educated and confident in communicating the knowledge I have gained and advocating for the rights and respect that ECEs deserve. As a fifth year student in the Early Childhood Studies program at Ryerson University and a newly certified ballet teacher for young children, I am able to apply what I have learnt at the AECEO through my various perspectives to advocate for children and my fellow educators.
Submitted by: Esra Leia, 5th year, Early Childhood Studies Ryerson University