Professor Karen Thorpe is Deputy Director and Group Leader in Early Development, Education and Care at the Institute for Social Science Research, the University of Queensland. Her research examines the effects of children’s early life experiences on social, learning and health trajectories across the lifespan. Her particular interest is early childcare and education environments including family context, parent work, quality of care and education, and the early years workforce.

Karen was Foundation Psychologist on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children at the University of Bristol, UK; led the evaluation of the Preparing School Trial for Queensland Government; led the Queensland team of the E4Kids study of quality in Australian Early Education and Care and; in partnership with Queensland Government, Goodstart Early Learning and the Creche and Kindergarten Association, led a study of the Australian ECEC workforce (ARC Linkage). She is chief investigator on the ARC Centres of Excellence (LCC -The Lifecourse Centre- focussing on disadvantage, and ACDC - Digital Child). In 2013 and again in 2019 Karen was named by the Australian Financial Review as among Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for the impacts of her research on educational and family policy.

Leading for successful recovery post-pandemic: Why early childhood education and care counts

The global pandemic has highlighted the critical role educators play in society and the economy. The experience of home-education has presented a new admiration for the agility and professionalism of the education workforce.

The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector has remained open throughout the pandemic; defined as an essential to enable frontline workers to continue to their work. Missing in the definition of ECEC as essential, however, has been an acknowledgement of the critical role ECEC programs play in founding children’s learning life-course and in redressing educational inequity. Missing also is recognition of those who provide early education programs. In this presentation Karen argues that recognition of the ECEC workforce, not only in words but in remuneration and resource support, is critical for the educational outcomes of children and the social and economic well-being of the nations in the recovery from COVID-19. Karen will present evidence of the significance of the ECEC workforce for education across schooling and beyond assert that COVID-19 presents an opportunity to rethink funding of the ECEC sector and valuing, in remuneration and work conditions, of the ECEC workforce