Investment in employee training pays off for children
Does investment into employee training in an early childhood education and care (ECEC) environment improve the quality of the care and curriculum in specific early learning services?
That’s the subject of a world-first research study, conducted by Early Start at the University of Woollongong.
The Fostering Effective Early Learning (FEEL) study – conducted in 2017 and reported in 2018 – evaluated whether an evidence-based professional learning program could improve the quality of practices among existing ECEC educators and, by extension, children’s developmental outcomes.
Led by researcher Professor Iram Siraj from the University of Oxford, the FEEL study focused on the importance of quality education and how to strengthen it in ECEC settings.
Dr Elisabeth Duursma who was part of the FEEL study team in Wollongong says one of the main purposes of the study was to develop evidence-based professional development that would support and enhance the quality of pre-school educators’ practices, specifically the quality of the experiences (e.g. literacy, numeracy, early scientific concepts) and interactions with children.
“The professional development, Leadership for Learning, focused on areas such as characteristics of quality, children’s self-regulation, literacy, numeracy and leadership over the course of a full year. This involved a mix of face-to-face sessions and online support,” she said.
“In between the face-to-face sessions, educators were encouraged to ‘test out’ new knowledge, adapt it to their centre and discuss these experiences in subsequent sessions.”
Previous research has established that the early years (birth to five) are the most important times for learning and a quality early education has been linked to reduced rates of crime, boosted employability, better jobs and a higher income.
However, this study is one of the first to show evidence that quality in ECEC settings can be improved with our current workforce, and that doing so can have a positive impact on educators, children and their families.
"Educators found that engaging with professionals who were both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about how to achieve high quality environments, experiences and interactions for young children often renewed their sense of purpose, and provided clear guidance and support for how to take their practices even further,” Dr Duursma says.
Most importantly the results show that the improvements were good for children and their development of vital foundational skills.
“Our results showed that this also had a positive impact for children – with improvements that were as much as double what you would normally expect over this period of time.”
The study saw improvements in the quality of educators’ practice, which corresponded to positive growth in children’s language comprehension, numeracy and aspects of social-emotional development.
There was also an increased engagement and desire for learning among the children, with parents reporting improved vocabulary, more questioning and curiosity, and an increased passion for learning.
These findings highlight that professional development, when evidence-based and effective, has tremendous potential to enhance quality in ECEC and lift outcomes for children in a short time frame.