Over 70 per cent of people agree early years care is just as important as primary or secondary education, according to a new survey by Early Childhood Ireland.
Now in its sixth year, the barometer is an annual opinion poll conducted nationwide by Red C to gauge public attitudes to early-years ears care and education.
The survey found that 79 per cent of people think every child should be guaranteed access to high quality and inclusive Early Years and School Age Care in their community.
A total of 77 per cent agree that similar to primary education in Ireland, early-years education should be available free to all children and 71 per cent agree the education of children under five is as important as the education for over five.
Speaking about the survey, Frances Byrne, director of policy at Early Childhood Ireland said: “What we’ve witnessed over the past six years of Barometer polling is a clear transformational shift in how the Irish public think about Early Years education and care, from a means to facilitate working parents, to something essential to the educational development of young children.
“The education of children under five is now considered as important as the education of those over five. This is something that polls strongly across all age brackets and socio-economic backgrounds, and in the past six years of polling on this statement, we’ve seen a 10 per cent increase in support.”
Year-on-year national polling also found increased public support for free, accessible early-years care; financial support for parents to stay at home during the first 12 months of a child’s life; and for the professionalisation of the sector.
Ms Byrne said: “Three-quarters of those polled agreed that Early Years staff who work directly with children must be as qualified as other professionals such as nurses and teachers, and, that the terms and conditions of their employment contract should reflect this.
“Interestingly, this point is something that polls particularly strongly among those over 65 (83 per cent), and among homemakers (79 per cent), both demographics which plug the ‘care gap’ in this country.
"If those caring for our youngest citizens are telling us that Early Years educators are as important and should be valued as highly as primary or secondary level teachers, we should as a country, be listening and responding to that.”