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More than 270 early childhood education and care professionals will this week start an innovative new program that enables them to gain a degree in two years instead of four – and improve children’s outcomes at the same time.

The NSW Department of Education partnered with the University of Wollongong (UOW) and the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) to establish the Bachelor of Education – The Early Years (Accelerated Pathway Program), which will allow diploma-qualified educators to upskill and receive mentoring while continuing to work.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning, Prue Car, said the evidence-informed program will help meet sector demand for highly skilled teachers as a key commitment to addressing current workforce pressures.

“This program has been designed to meet the needs of experienced educators already working in our system who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families,” Deputy Premier Car said.

“By recognising work experience and prior learning through a credit-point system, we can support great educators to take the next step in their careers and become qualified teachers in just two years.

“Educators will be able to translate what they’re studying in real time into their daily practice, working with children to improve their education and learning outcomes.”

UOW Academic Director of the Early Years Associate Professor Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett said the support and interest from the sector has been “incredible”.

She said UOW has received more than 320 applications from educators and more than 140 expressions of interest from mentors in the four months since the program was announced.

“In developing this program, we have actively engaged and responded to the needs of the sector while continuing to prioritise quality practice and ensure educator success,” she said.

ELACCA chief executive officer Elizabeth Death said the program was unique.

“There is no other program that has been designed like this in Australia,” Ms Death said.

“This is a genuine partnership and a program that is ground-breaking for the sector, that considers the realities of working day-to-day in early learning and care and how the organisations and the university will genuinely support and empower these scholars to achieve and to build their careers.”

In the accelerated pathway program, students complete 12 weeks of a professional experience program across two years, but there is flexibility around the timing and length of placements.

Associate Professor Neilsen-Hewett said the subjects will be offered online and can be studied at times that suit educators best to support continuity for the services they work in.

“We’ve designed our assessments to continually support the elevation of quality practice across the organisations in which educators are currently working,” she said.

“We’re exposing them to practices that will make a difference for the children and the families and the communities in which they’re embedded.”

Deputy Premier Car said teachers and educators are the beating heart of the early learning sector.

 “That’s why our number one priority is making sure we have a strong, valued and respected workforce that is ready to meet the rising demand for high quality early childhood education and care across New South Wales,” she said.