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Let’s Talk Language

"It ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it!"

No matter what the topic, using the correct appropriate language matters. If we want to get our message across as it is intended, we must choose our words wisely in order to avoid misinterpretation or misunderstanding. This is also true in relation to early childhood education (ECE). The words we use when discussing the ECE sector will dictate the message that is received and ultimately the perception of the sector as a whole. For example, referring to the sector as childcare or early childhood education. These are not synonymous terms, they are of course interrelated and symbiotic in nature, but they are not the same. Again, childcare worker or early childhood educator are role titles that convey significantly different meanings.

The issue of professionalisation of ECE is at the forefront of current discourse and Government policy at the moment. Therefore, it is important that we consider what it actually means to be a professional working within this sector. In this piece, I discuss themes which are usually associated with a professional status along with suggesting topics for professional ECE practice which I feel can be inadequately covered prior to undergraduate level and which should be addressed as our professional status evolves.

The Meaning of Being "Professional"

Firstly, being a professional usually means that an individual has acquired a specific qualification related to a sector which is unique to that of any other sector. In ECE this is reflected in the current First Five Government strategy for ECE which has set out an objective for a 50% degree led ECE workforce by 2028 as part of the move towards professionalisation. The second theme associated with a profession is that of the unique language and terminology of a particular sector which sets it apart from any other. When role titles within a sector are defined as a result of professional association with a qualification, then it is universally understood that only qualified individuals can hold such a title. For example teacher, doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, when we hear these role titles, we understand what kind of qualification these professionals hold within a highly qualified field.

Professional Language for ECE Students

Language is also very important when it comes to the attainment of education and qualification for students within the ECE sector. For example, are ECE students being exposed to professional language consistently at Level 5 and Level 6? From my own experience, it was not until under-graduate level that certain professional language and terminology began to appear on my radar. Prior to then the majority of terminology revolved around “childcare” as opposed to ECE. However, if the ECE sector is to be 50% degree led, we must not forget about the other 50% who will not hold a degree but also form a valuable and experienced part of this sector. Appropriate professional terminology and language must permeate and be consistently embedded within all levels of ECE qualification. Additionally, there are other important professional terms and concepts which I believe can be inadequately covered prior to undergraduate level, such as:

· Pedagogical leadership

· Quality standards

· Professional practice

· Innovation

· Emergent Interests

· In the moment planning

· Reflective practice

· Participatory rights

Empowered at all Levels

If our sector as a whole is to be recognised and valued as a professional sector, then these important elements of quality ECE professional practice must be appropriately introduced to all ECE students from initial training at Level 5 and built upon throughout the educational continuum. If we are to move forward together as a recognised professional sector, then we must be empowered, at all levels , to walk the walk and talk the talk.

About the Author:

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (, where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

Paula has co-founded a Twitter community of practice page and podcast @ECEQualityIrl – focussing on sharing ideas and knowledge on all things quality, pedagogy and professional practice in ECEC in Ireland.

You can listen to the most recent ECE Quality Ireland podcast here.

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