Degrees Explained: Early childhood education
There are many pathways to a career educating children. Source: Shutterstock

Degrees Explained is an on-going series by Study International News to help university applicants make sense of the increasingly complex world of higher education. Degrees on offer today are seemingly endless in scope and form. From STEM to engineering to The Beatles, this series will explore them all. Check out this handy list explaining what all the terms mean, the different types of undergraduate degrees available and how long it will take to earn a bachelor’s degree. Want to know more about a particular degree? Write to us at 

Early childhood education (ECE) simply doesn’t get enough spotlight on it. Overshadowed by its more popular cousin, the general Bachelor of Education, it’s seen as a course exclusively for girls where the only career pathway is to either be nannies or preschool teachers.

It’s a shame because one, there are several factual inaccuracies with that assumption – ECE graduates have many more job opportunities than that (more explanation on that below) and men can thrive just as well or even better than women in this field.

And two, it can’t be said enough how immensely important early childhood education is. A recent Australian government report found that having qualified teachers to nurture children during this crucial phase of development makes a “significant contribution” to achieving educational excellence in schools. Growing evidence also shows how it can lead to higher NAPLAN results and PISA scores. This, in turn, can lead to higher levels of employment, better health and reduced crime.

One of Unesco’s target by 2030 is to ensure “all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”.

Early childhood is the most important period for a child’s cognitive development. Source: Pan Xiaozhen on Unsplash

The sad truth now, however, is there aren’t enough qualified professionals in this field. Currently, only 10 percent of all 142,200 early childhood workers in Australia hold a Bachelor’s degree. In America, a majority of preschool teachers are low-income women of color with no more than a high-school diploma.

They aren’t paid enough either. American preschool teachers are paid as little as US$28,500 a year on average, well below K-12 teachers earn roughly US$53,100 a year.

To take up an ECE degree then would be nothing short of fulfilling – you’re filling in the necessary gaps and making a big difference in children’s lives.

But what is an ECE and what does a degree in it entail?

Early childhood is usually defined as the time from birth to eight years old. At this stage, children experience remarkable growth and brain development is at its peak, according to Unesco. The environment and people surrounding children of this age group are highly influential.

ECE thus is a branch of education which relates to the teaching of young children within this age group. What this means for university students is they should receive knowledge about, learn how to plan for and implement effective teaching, as well as train to assess children and communicate these to parents and communities.

New Zealand Tertiary College (NZTC) is one of the institutions specialising in this area. All qualifications, from introductory level certificate through to masters, are accredited by the New Zealand Qualifications Agency.

In terms of undergraduate degrees, there are two options available: the Bachelor of Education (ECE) and Bachelor of Teaching (ECE). The major difference is the Bachelor of Teaching include 20 weeks of assessed practical experience to be undertaken in New Zealand over a three year study period, whereas the Bachelor of Education does not.

“The Bachelor of Teaching (ECE) is the standard degree program for students, without a prior degree, to attain teacher registration,” a spokesperson explained, adding that there is also a 13 month Graduate Diploma in Teaching (ECE) qualification for other degree graduates who wish to become eligible for teacher registration in New Zealand.

“Throughout these placements, students work full-time in an early childhood centre and are supervised and guided by their Associate Teacher in the centre,” the spokesperson explained.

At the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), a similar course to ECE is offered, ie. the BA in Childhood Studies.

According to Professor Donald Gillies, the Dean of the School of Education, there probably isn’t much different from an ECE degree. He explains:

“However, it may be that Childhood Studies looks more at the wider sociology, psychology of childhood as well as at education. It takes a holistic view of childhood, and the factors surrounding childhood( family, inclusion, poverty, well-being, health) as well as developing learning (social, emotional, cognitive, creativity, language) and related pedagogy.”

Wokr placements may be part of your ECE degree. Source: Shutterstock

“The course also looks at leadership, management, and integrated working. From the outset, it integrates research skills,  concluding in a final-year dissertation. It is a work-related degree, bringing practice and theory together to change action.”

Note that it isn’t a nursery or primary teaching qualification and therefore does not provide registration with Scottish Social Services Council as a Lead Practitioner.

Other institutions offering similar ECE undergraduate degrees include:

Interested students can also opt for part-time study at institutions like the University of New England or even online study at the Open University.


Early childcare is an industry that is central to the functioning of a society, though sorely underrated and underpaid in many countries. Careers in this field will serve a huge social purpose given the importance of early childhood intervention as many academic studies had found – it is certainly more than just “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.

Apart from the usual pathway taken to be preschool teachers or nannies, ECE graduates would also find themselves qualified to take on the roles of child life specialist, consultants, social workers, advocates or childcare centre directors, among others.

Other jobs where an ECE degree would also be useful are child psychotherapist, children’s nurse, community development worker, counsellor, educational psychologist or speech and language therapist.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

New Zealand teams up with Malaysia for Early Childhood Education degree

University degrees explained: How long does it take to earn a bachelor’s degree?