Early Childhood Professionals as Adult Learners

Early childcare providers can be a child’s first teacher. The quality of early childcare depends on the education and skills of the childcare provider. Multiple research studies link positive outcomes for young children with higher levels of teacher education (Garavuso, 2016, p.

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182). A college degree is usually not a requirement to care for young children, yet when childcare providers show evidence of a college degree, the result can be two fold, quality early care for children and higher pay. Higher paid early care teachers will most likely stay longer in the same job and when an early childcare teacher remains in the same job for an extended period, it allows them to continue to form the nurturing relationships with the children that are in their care. This is a healthy outcome for children. When it comes to the demographics of early childcare providers, women make up 97% of this workforce. The median age range for childcare workers is 35-39, while the median age for preschool teachers is 39 years. Caregivers in private households, including family childcare providers are, on average, 43 years of age (Garavuso, 2016, p. 183). Low salaries are a major obstacle that often discourages the early childhood worker from attaining a higher education. Low salaries have been a constant in this field. According to research, Rhodes & Huston (2012) found that average annual salaries for preschool and kindergarten teachers are approximately $31,000, while assistant teachers make an average of $21,000. Other childcare workers average $18,000, while family childcare providers make an average of $14,000 (Garavuso, 2016, p. 182-183).

The National Review of Early Childhood Education Distance Learning report states, Because staff are compensated so poorly, it is not surprising that the workforce is plagued by turnover (Learning, 2007, p. 5). In the Handbook for Early Childhood Teacher Education, it states, approximate that, including support and administrative staff, there are 2.2 million paid early childcare education workers in the U.S. It is additionally estimated that there are 3.2 million unpaid early childcare education workers (Garavuso, 2016, p. 183). When it comes to the educational background of early childhood workers, the Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education noted that, although all 50 states require that kindergarten teachers complete sufficient college coursework to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 13 states require that center-based early childcare education providers have specialized instruction in early childhood education. Consequently, Maroto and Brandon’s 2012 study found that 33 percent of child care center and family childcare providers’ highest level of education is high school. Thirty-nine percent have some college coursework, 12 percent have associate’s degrees, between 13 and 21 percent have bachelor’s degrees, and 4 percent have graduate or professional degrees (Garavuso, 2016, p. 182). As of yet, most states do not require childcare providers to have college degrees and some states are looking for ways to help the early childcare worker further their education. Currently more than a dozen states are implementing quality rating system (QRS), which include a workforce education and training component to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education settings (Learning, 2007, p. 6). This quality rating system in time may require the workforce to have a college degree or early childhood learning credentials in order to stay employed.

The workforce needs a variety of professional development opportunities to meet the rising demand for education and training needs. Providing barrier-free access to education and training, whether it is offered on campus or online, is absolutely vital if the field is to meet new teacher standards (Learning, 2007, p. 6). A recent recommendation from the National Educational Association is that, all teachers working in publically funded preschool programs hold a bachelor’s degree in childhood development and/or early childhood education; all instructional assistants working in publically funded preschool programs hold an Associate’s degree in child development; lead teachers in private child care centers hold a minimum of an associate’s degree in child development; and that all teaching assistants in private child care centers hold a minimum of a Child Development Associate (CDA) or a state issued certificate that meets or exceeds CDA requirements (Garavuso, 2016, p. 183). This is another example that a college degree may be required in the near to attain a position as an early childhood educator. Characteristics of early childcare providers as adult learners are often over the age of 30. They are fulltime employees returning to school for the purpose of career advancement or career requirements. They may have been out of school for some time or have never been to school. They may need to begin with remedial coursework and may lack technology skills. They may need to attend college on a part-time basis. Furthermore, they have many responsibilities outside of work and financial pressures. One example of an initiative helping the early childcare worker is taking place in the city of Philadelphia and is called the Early-Childhood Apprenticeship Initiative.

Most of the efforts to professionalize the early-education workforce have been built around providing workers access to financial aid so they can afford college. Philadelphia’s early-childhood apprenticeship initiative is going one-step further and bringing college into the workplace, allowing participants to work toward their degree during work hours. Attending online classes at night after a long day caring for children, or taking a course or two a semester at a local community or for-profit college, is not the same as learning on the job; the classmates are not coworkers, the teacher is not a supervisor, and the content is often generic. Apprenticeship, at least in theory, allows participants to leverage their everyday experiences on the job to integrate theory and practice (McCarthy, 2017). Early childcare distance learning programs are another option for the nontraditional student. This will allow the early childcare workers to access professional development and education by way of technology. The workforce needs a variety of professional development opportunities to meet the rising demand for education and training needs. Providing barrier-free access to education and training, whether it is offered on campus or online, is absolutely vital if the field is to meet new teacher standards. The potential distance learning provides as a method for addressing this need is promising yet uncertain (Learning, 2007, p. 6).

Distance learning programs is one delivery mechanism that these nontraditional students can benefit from, but can also discourage them from accessing a higher education due to their lack of technology skills. Technology skills are important for all students but as stated in the Exchange Trend Report, Most childcare professionals, unlike the young children in their care, have come to computers as adult learners and can be resistant to using technology when face-to-face interactions and relationships are at the heart of their work (Donohue, 2003 p. 17). Some childcare programs are making good use of computers and digital technology, but few are able to take full advantage of technology as a tool. The computers that some programs use were already obsolete when parents donated those years ago. More and more centers now have high speed connections to the Internet in the office or staff training room, but many others are using slower dial-up connections or have no Internet access at all. And, while the cost of technology has come down over the years, buying a new computer system and software, upgrading it every few years, and paying monthly fees for Internet access can be difficult or even impossible for some child care programs and professionals to afford (Donohue, 2003, p. 18). These issues can be problematic to the childcare worker who may not even own their own personal computer.

The ChildCare Exchange website conducted a survey regarding the use of technology tools for early childhood center management. The findings of the survey found that a few interesting patterns emerged from the responses. When we looked at years of experience, program type, and program size. For example, the more experience people had in the early childhood field, the more likely they were to use computers and other technology tools in their programs. Early childhood professionals who had 10-20 years of experience were more likely to use computers and technology than those who were new to the field, or those who had been in the field over 20 years. Given that the most experience professional have had to learn to use computers as adults, one might have expected the younger and less experience professional who have grown up with computers to be more computer savvy (Donohue, 2003, p. 18). Another state on board to helping early childhood professionals is the state of Arizona. This state has incorporated a program for all early childhood professionals that will also help them to obtain a college degree. First Things First is an Arizona state agency that has funded this initiative.

The intent of this strategy will ensure that more early care and education professionals have access to education and training to achieve degrees, credentials and specialized skills to promote children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Because of higher educational attainment and specialized in-service training, professional compensation will increase and more staff will remain in the field of early care and education (Arizona Workforce Registry, SOP, 2015). Arizona has implemented a Professional Development Workforce Registry, known as The Arizona Early Childhood Workforce Registry, (Registry). This is a web-based portal system for all early childhood professionals across the state to access and register to become a member. It will house all early childhood credentials, offer professional development trainings, keep track of current and past early childhood employment information and offer educational scholarship opportunities to those who meet the qualifications. These scholarship opportunities will allow the early childcare provider to attain a degree by assisting them with all educational expenses to include, tuition, books and fees.

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