In my opinion: New scheme opens up an early education to all
The significance of the Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) scheme, which is under way from this month, must not be underestimated. It is a ground-breaking development in the childcare sector and means that children in Ireland, regardless of their parents' income, are entitled to one year of pre-school education free.
For childcare workers and providers, it recognises the importance of their role in the lives of very young children. For primary school teachers, it is a welcome development as it gets children ready for 'big school'. The ECCE scheme is good as it stands, but with the potential to be great.
So who benefits from the scheme? For this term, children born between February 2, 2005, and June 30, 2006, are entitled to a place, while children born between February 2, 2006, and June 30, 2007, will qualify from September 2010. The sign-up date is extended until today and Minister Andrews has promised flexibility for late applications. We are urging parents who still haven't considered the scheme to phone their local county childcare committee or visit their local pre-school.
Of course, the childcare sector has been experiencing a downturn mainly due to job losses amongst parents, so this scheme should boost the sector.
However, there are issues, not least of which is the price point set by Government. That price, paid directly to pre-schools, of €64.50 for 15 hours per week over 38 weeks, or €48.50 to creches providing 11.5 hours over 50 weeks, is causing financial difficulties for many of our members.
In addition, the take-up rate must continue to be addressed. We'll have an accurate picture of the number of children claiming the new entitlement shortly.
In order to support this scheme, it is essential to develop a dedicated training fund for the sector and we encourage the minister to engage with those working in the sector and to take on board their suggestions with a view to improving the scheme by September 2010 and beyond.
As always we are keen to remind parents, teachers, policy makers and politicians why a good pre-school education really matters.
In fact, parents are often surprised with the pre-school curriculum which supports their child's learning through play and prepares them for primary school; helps them to make friends; to develop life skills such as confidence and creativity; improves their concentration by helping them to listen, take turns and problem-solve in groups. A better start is likely to lead to a better finish.
The status of the ECCE scheme within the context of a broader vision for childcare to the year 2020 is a big feature of our conference on April 17 in Dublin.
It is up to everyone involved, on behalf of our children, to rally together to make this scheme work.
Most people are aware that the future economic well-being and growth of this country rests in very small hands. That is why they deserve the best start in life. By making this investment in children, we are not only enhancing their lives as young children now but we are also ensuring a competitive workforce and economy in the future.
The IPPA represents over 50,000 families around the country through its membership base of creches, playgroups, parent and toddler groups, after-school and out-of- school groups, as well as individual members. See www.ippa.ie