Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children


Last week Boston hosted HUBweek, an annual festival of ideas that attracts “innovators from all around the world” who come together to talk about art, education, science, and technology. And this year, early education was on the agenda.

A session titled “Build Baby Build! Finding Solutions for Affordable Childcare,” was a hackathon – a brainstorming session — about how to change negative perceptions of early education and of early educators.

“I opened the session by talking about widespread views of early educators that aren’t necessarily flattering such as thinking of them as babysitters and how this devalues the field overall,” Anne Douglass says. “We then invited participants to break up into smaller groups and think of ways to change this prevailing mindset.”

The participants included early educators, parents, grandparents, librarians, and pediatricians.

Douglass co-hosted the session with fellow University of Massachusetts Boston professor Banu Özkazanç-Pan. Douglass is a professor of early childhood education professor as well as the founder and executive director of UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership. And Özkazanç-Pan is a professor of management and the director of UMass Boston’s Early Educator Innovation Lab.

The session was featured in a Boston Globe article, which cited Douglass as saying that perceptions need to change because “the true experts on the subject — the people who teach young children — often aren’t included in the conversation because they aren’t viewed as skilled, smart leaders who can create change.”

What could that change look like?

Many hackathon participants agreed that early educators are the best messengers for informing the public about the power and impact of their work.

“Those of us in the field know that young children who receive quality early care and education are prepared not just for kindergarten but for success that lasts well into adulthood,” Douglass said. Sharing this knowledge is essential.

Other participants said it would help if employers, local businesses, and other community leaders understood that high-quality early education and care programs help stabilize neighborhoods.

“For example,” Douglass explains, “in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and 3000 children from birth to age 5 receive care from 200 local child care programs. Raising the quality of these programs and strengthening them as small businesses would dramatically improve the resilience of the entire community.”

As awareness of the educational, economic, and social impact of early education grows, participants said, increased public and private investments would follow — and early educators would earn higher salaries that truly reflect the value of their work.

Changing public perceptions is a big job that will require a sustained, long-term effort. But armed with the tools of creativity, resilience, and compassion – which they use everyday – early educators are uniquely suited to do this work.