Mia Mia Child and Family Study Centre at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia – www.mq.edu.au/mia-mia – was established 24 years ago to provide a long-day care program for the community. The centre is also the school for the Institute of Early Childhood’s demonstration program and a site of innovative practice.
Reflecting on the final visit of 10 weeks of research, the word that springs to mind most is ‘quality’:
- quality in terms of the homely environment created for the 0 to 5 year olds in their care, with careful thought going in to the furniture, the resources available and what is placed on the walls
- quality of teachers, with a high number of staff qualified to degree level
- quality of interaction between adults and children, with approaches that differentiate for the developmental needs of each age group
- quality of collaboration between staff to provide education and care
- quality in levels of staffing with high staff to children ratios, and permanent staff to cover break times, non-contact time and annual leave – ensuring consistency
- quality of the outside area, with a dedicated teacher being responsible for the space and documenting learning
- quality in the food served, and the dedication of the chef to work with two children each day and document learning
- quality in the way technology is integrated in to learning
- quality in the documentation that is developed on a daily basis by a teacher from each age group, and used as a way of communicating learning with families
- quality in the way the centre works with families, from the admission process, to considering transition, to having easily accessible photos of each child’s family in their room, to the participation of families in the maintenance and development of the built environment
- quality of the leadership in working alongside, supporting and developing staff
In dialoguing with Susan – Mia Mia’s acting director – she highlights how research shows that ‘quality’ within early childhood centres is linked to the level of qualifications of the institution’s leadership and of the teachers, and the ratio of those adult staff members to children. All other influences flow from these two key areas.
In establishing a ‘quality’ school in Durban careful consideration needs to be given to qualifications and ratios. A good number of teachers working within the early years setting in South Africa will be qualified to certificate or diploma level, which means quality will rely on developing structures that support staff to be the very best they can be, and – where appropriate – encouraging further formal study, so that staff within the early childhood centre qualify as teachers with degrees. Further thought is required as to how to provide high adult to child ratios; maybe this will need to include volunteers and / or parent helpers under the guidance of the teacher.