This is an important paper, released at a critical moment. The current pandemic offers the opportunity to pause and reconsider some of the truths to which we have held, with gradually increasing certainty, for decades.
As this paper suggests, it is time to reconceptualise early childhood educational research. For too long, discussions around the role of children in society have characterised the child as a weak needy subject rather than a powerful citizen with rights.
Do we revert, as quickly as possible, to a pre-COVID period, in which services for children are dominated by the concerns of service providers and the narrowly defined interests of parents rather than the rights of children?
Are the volume and quality of these services informed by the limitations of free markets, or will we insist upon universal access to
a high-quality system of early childhood development?
Will we insist upon a discursive position in which we use economistic language when arguing for human rights to education, from any age?
I will not pretend that I do not struggle, daily, with decisions that compromise my essential belief that, with respect to the role of children in our society, we need a new approach, described in a new language.
The pragmatic approach most likely the shortest path to better public policy, often requires a strategic approach to communication that responds to language of the day. And too often, deploying the language of the day does further damage to our vision of communities, families and children.
This publication, then, is an important reminder of the opportunity and responsibility we all have to make change, both in respect to the systems and contexts in which our children are raised, and in the way in which we talk about children’s rights.
This paper also carries the weight of wisdom and language of people I hold dear.
The following words of Carla Rinaldi referenced in this paper are particularly poignant:
The child is not a citizen of the future; he is a citizen from the very first moment of life and also the most important citizen because he represents and brings the ‘possible’, a statement for me that is without rhetoric.
There are two important points here.
First, citizenship bestows rights, which is at the heart of the places and services which we must provide to allow children to grow and flourish.
Second there is also a beautiful reference to the ‘possible’. Understanding children as capable citizens empowers them and us with possibilities and lifts us all beyond the notion of children as lacking and empty.
Too often, we are told what is not possible, and for the most banal reasons. Fiscal rectitude, competing short-term priorities, a commitment to small rather than large approaches: all of these rob children and society of possibilities.
The greatest joy is watching a child lost in play applying their mind creatively to the challenge in front of them. New possibilities are born from curiosity and wonderment, which is a joy we can all share with children.
Now is the moment in which we can put a full stop alongside a generation of limited possibility, and welcome a new era founded on the rights of every child.
Jay Weatherill AO