REEaChing for quality early childhood education

A ‘guiding light’ for early childhood education has been made possible by a $3.7M gift to the Melbourne Graduate School of Education from the Leaper Foundation – with a further $5.73M committed by the Paul Ramsay Foundation to fund a longitudinal study.

Jenny Leaper
Jenny Leaper

Jenny Leaper has long held a passion for educating young adolescents. She completed a Diploma of Education in 1970 and a Master of Education in 1981, then went on to teach at state and private secondary schools across the country.

Later, when Leaper’s grandchildren were born, interacting with them highlighted that no age is too early to start the teaching and learning process. It was this insight – and the desire dispel the notion of Early Childhood Education (ECE) as just ‘childminding’ – that led her to establish the Research in Effective Education in Early Childhood (REEaCh) Hub in 2019.

Leaper envisioned REEaCh as the ‘guiding light’ in ECE. And today, the Hub is helping young children of all backgrounds reach their full potential. The Hub advances the quality of early learning for all children by uniting leading academics, early-career researchers, post-doctoral fellows, and doctoral students to collaborate and conduct research – and translate research into real-life solutions.

Researching educators' wellbeing

An ongoing research project conducted by REEaCh into the wellbeing of early childhood (EC) educators and young children is showing the extent of COVID-19’s impact.

This research will be used to raise awareness, inform research and advocacy efforts, and help identify practical solutions for professionals to support educators’ and children’s social and emotional wellbeing in the future.

The initial findings of the project were published in the Early Childhood Education Journal in May 2021. Results showed that 85.9 per cent of the surveyed educators reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Head of the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology, Professor Susan Irvine, spoke to the importance of supporting EC educators at the launch of the REEaCh Hub in 2019.

“We’re needing to work towards the vision we’ve been talking about for some time – in terms of a qualified, engaged, and sustainable workforce,” said Professor Irvine.

We know the importance of this because the most significant determinate of effective learning is the interaction that happens between teachers, educators and children.

According to the initial findings of the research, “there  are significant lessons to be learned from COVID-19 regarding the resilience of the workforce, the visibility (or not) of the important work of EC educators, the value society places on the work, the level of government investment in supporting EC educators.”

The project is now in its second phase; a follow-up survey investigating children’s wellbeing in childhood settings was conducted in 2021 with results due in 2022.

Leaving no children behind

President of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Geraldine Atkinson, says we need to make ECE more inclusive and valuable for Indigenous children.

“It’s about making services more acceptable to [Indigenous] families so they will want to send their children to these services, knowing their children will be nurtured and cared for, but also knowing they’re going to receive a really good quality childhood education,” explains Aunty Atkinson.

In response to this need for equitable access to ECE, REEaCh issued a policy brief in November 2021 advocating for the implementation of an evidence-based early learning approach shown to improve the short and long-term academic, language, social-emotional, and health outcomes of Aboriginal children across the Northern Territory.

The road ahead

Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Professor Jim Watterston, is thankful for the Leaper Foundation’s generous support and vision.

The Leaper Foundation’s generosity has given the Melbourne Graduate School of Education significant capacity to develop and lead on better ECE for all. This crucial funding will help address the ongoing challenges faced by this sector.

Thanks to this incredible gift, REEaCh has high hopes of helping all young children reach their full potential. From conducting crucial policy-informing studies to introducing innovative ECE practices across the country, the Hub is guiding the way to a brighter future.

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