"I want to stay in early childhood education. But every year we are pushed out."

I love my job. Every day I go to work and see the children in my centre flourishing and developing. I’ve worked in early childhood education and care for eight years, and every day is another amazing opportunity to educate and develop a young mind.

But my colleagues and I are paid as little as $22 per hour. Many of us live on less than half the average national wage. I can’t even imagine buying my own home. Even renting can be a struggle.

My mother inspired me to work in early childhood education and care. She worked as an educator for 26 years. I saw the warm and meaningful connections my mother formed with the children in her centre. But when her marriage broke down, my mum could not support us on the wages in early childhood education and care no matter how hard she worked. To this day, she remains sad and disappointed that she had to leave the sector.

My sister’s story mirrors my mother’s. After the birth of her first child she just couldn’t stay in the sector. Even working full time, the $22 per hour pay was not enough to pay the bills. She constantly tells me how she misses the work and the connections she made with the families and children within her care.

I want early childhood education and care to be my long-term profession. But every year one in three educators leaves the sector. Each and every year. We are pushed out of this sector because you can’t build a life on these wages.

We deserve equal pay. We deserve to be recognised as professionals and respected for the quality education we provide. If the pay for early educators reflected our qualifications and the value of our work my mother, my sister, and thousands of educators would still be in the sector. Doing the jobs they love.

childcare workers strike 2018
Shannon also went to Canberra in August 2018 to talk to politicians about educator wages. Image: Supplied.

There is one way to stop the wages crisis in early childhood: the government must fund equal pay for early childhood educators. The federal government funds wages in all other tiers of education. Early childhood education should not be an exception.

We are professionals. All early childhood educators must be qualified, I hold a diploma. We work hard to educate children during the most important phase of their brain development, from birth right through to five, and we use a national curriculum.

We are dedicated professionals that strive to provide meaningful and quality learning opportunities for all children. Yet men who work in industries with similar qualifications are paid 30 per cent or more than us. Why? Because our work is not properly valued and funded by this government.

Equal pay will go a long way to ending the turnover of educators. This is important because it is hard for everyone when a much-loved educator leaves because of the pay. It hurts our fellow educators, the families and most importantly the children. We are a constant in their busy lives and when an educator leaves that disconnection leaves a hole.

It is time for the government to fund equal pay, so I can keep educating our youngest citizens.

Shannon Lavery is an Adelaide-based, diploma-qualified, early childhood educator who has worked in the sector for eight years.