Lesson Learned from COVID-19: The Importance for Early Childcare Development
"A spirited, unruly student is preferable. It’s much easier to direct passion than to try and inspire it."
~ Joan Desmond
COVID-19 is shining a harsh spotlight on just how essential child care and early learning is. The pandemic has shown that we need to, amongst many other things, rethink the ways we educate young children and support families during a crisis like this.
There have been many challenges within this environment. Not least of which the facts that child care providers, who operate on razor-thin margins already, are struggling to stay in business, have to stay open for long hours to serve essential workers with young children, and find adequate cleaning and sanitization supplies.
Many early childhood educators, working with children birth-to-five, who, on average, earn poor wages in the best of times, are out of work. Others are working to find creative ways to educate young children at home. And parents are struggling to combine work and childcare. Policymakers, who in many countries have underinvested in child care and education for decades, have yet to commit to providing sufficient funds to shore up coronavirus relief packages.
Depending on which country you live in, the challenges may be somewhat different, but challenges they are. But in every situation of adversity, there are always some lessons to be learned. Some businesses can afford to relearn the same lessons several times before they eventually stick. The early childcare sector has no such luxury…
The following are some of the most important lessons learned during the past nine months:
- Flexibility. First off, it has been a nasty experience. But it will make us stronger and has assisted in exposing many vulnerabilities within our respective schools and within the sector in general. The new normal will be characterised by flexibility. Always have a contingency plan in place for any eventuality. This goes hand-in-hand with strategy and strategic planning.
- Strategic planning. There needs to be planning capability. All principals, at least, need to be formally trained in strategic planning methodologies. And they also need to embrace scenario-based planning, knowing that scenarios may change overnight. And be prepared to completely rethink strategies and tactical plans or change them as things develop. Risk-based thinking is the new name of the game.
- Risk assessments. We must expect the unexpected and be as ready and prepared for it as possible. It means that risk assessments, although a pain for most teachers, are necessary and important. Now is the time to dust them off, and if you need expert advice, get it.
- New business models. Current business models simply might not be relevant any longer. Consider new ways of teaching and interacting with parents. All preschools now need formal curricula, because this is the only way in which you can track development of learners when learning is so often interrupted. They all need some sort of App to connect teachers, admin staff, and parents. Apps like Parent App.
- Communication. There should be lots of talking, all the time and with everyone – the management team, staff and volunteer team, parents and children. This not only helps people feel acknowledged and involved, but it also helps us to think through implications from all perspectives and identify useful ideas. Here mobile Apps can also play a big role in ensuring that everyone’s situational awareness is enhanced.
- Leadership. Principals and teachers need to embrace the concepts of leadership and management to a much greater extent. They need to understand that they are looked up to help address fears and to introduce solutions that people endorse and feel a part of. This has been especially useful for health and safety, PPE, and new fee structures for example.
- Financial resilience. We need financial resilience to make it through. Financial reserves should be built up over time to represent at least three month’s operating costs. Reconsider the traditional approach to fee structures. Consider moving away from fixed-price models to time- and attendance-based approaches.
- Emotional and physical resilience. We need emotional and physical resilience too. We should invest in wellbeing, notice the effects of stress and pressure (in ourselves and our teachers and assistants) and adopt good self-care practices routinely for the benefit of all in the school.
- New skills. We need skills to identify the need for change, to lead the process, and be able to make it happen effectively, bringing the team and the business along with us. Teachers need new management and leadership skills. It might include becoming smaller in the short-term so that sustainability is protected, and the business has the capacity and capability to grow again, or to change and adapt to new opportunities.
- Networking. It is important to establish networks with other schools and like-minded individuals to talk about the challenges facing each other and to consider joint solutions. This is the time for co-opetition, not competition.
- Health and safety. The importance of cleanliness and sanitizing has been highlighted. Preschools, in general, have always had high standards of cleanliness, but as the pandemic has shown – it can always be improved upon. Sticking to these levels of hygiene, even past the pandemic, will just be good common sense.
Despite the difficulty that the early childcare sector has had to face over the past nine months, we are not out of the woods yet. But the lessons learned till now should stand us all in good stead to weather the storm to still come for the next six months or so. Remember – flexibility…
Hempsall, J. Nursery management in COVID-19 – 10 lessons learned for managing childcare businesses now and in the future. 2020. https://www.teachearlyyears. com/enabling-environments/view/nursery-management-in-covid-19-10-lessons-learned-for-managing-childcare-businesses-now-and-in-the-future.
Mbuvi, M. Image of girl in mask.
New America. Strengthening Child Care and Early Education: Learning from COVID-19. 2020. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/collections/early-care-and-education-stories-during-covid-19/.