The Edge of Early Childhood Education

April 21, 2022

Important takeaways from an early education panel at the 2022 ASU GSV conference

by Christine Hernandez, Content Specialist, Winnie

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust childcare and early education into the spotlight. When most industries shifted to operating remotely, the childcare industry remained open and in-person to care for and educate our youngest and most vulnerable. We saw first-hand how essential child care really is to so many families, and the importance of early education for children’s growth and development.

Innovation in the early childhood industry is overdue, and founders who are solving problems for today’s parents are in a unique position to drive change. At the 2022 ASU GSV Summit, Reach Capital Investment Associate Enzo Cavalie Guillen sat down with Sara Mauskopf (CEO of Winnie), Rod Morris (President of Lovevery), Chris Bennett (CEO of Wonderschool), and Eric Berger (CEO of Common Sense Networks) to discuss the issues parents and providers are facing in this new era of education.

Why is early childhood so underfunded? What stops investors from funding early childhood?

The panelists agreed that some investors without young children may be too far removed from the early childhood industry to feel the weight of the impact it has on working parents. It’s easy to dismiss childcare as a problem unique to parents,, but as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, access to childcare is an economic issue that has huge implications, particularly for working mothers.

There is also the fact that the childcare and early education industry is staffed primarily of women, particularly women of color and it is work that has largely been invisible. As Mauskopf said, “we haven’t assigned a value to this work because we don’t value women’s labor.”

It can be hard for an investor to put themselves in the shoes of a childcare provider. But this is a $136 billion dollar market, and it’s been a huge missed opportunity for venture capitalists.

What are the challenges that new and existing providers are currently facing?

One common refrain throughout the panel was that early educators are not paid enough. The low wages — around $13 per hour — is a major contributing factor to the staffing crisis currently plaguing the industry. However, both Winnie and Wondershool may be positioned to help tackle this issue. “I’ve seen home-based child care programs be sort of an incubator for pretty significant growth within communities in solving the supply issues,” Bennett shared. Helping people start in-home childcare programs may be one of the ways to solve the staffing crisis while earning sustainable wages, and increase the supply of available childcare options for families.

With the rise of remote work, families have been leaving urban centers for the suburbs. Childcare programs have traditionally been clustered around workplaces, but providers will need to be innovative to meet families where they are. Additionally, parents are searching for care outside the traditional 9–5 working day and many providers do not operate during the evenings or weekends.

What is the role of technology in early childhood?

Berger, of Common Sense Media, spoke about ensuring that the time children spend on screens is quality time. Many media platforms, especially those with user-generated content are not always kid-friendly or appropriate, and their time could be better spent elsewhere.

Technology plays an important role in supporting families, but all panelists agreed that it is more suitable for parents than for children. Our earliest learners learn best in a play-based environment with other children. Mauskopf added, “The pandemic was just a huge testament to the power of this industry. It is truly essential. When everything else could move online, we could not move early education online. That had to continue happening in person.”

How are you adapting to meet the needs of Millennial parents, who often want to know and find the best of everything?

Today’s parents are overwhelmed. With so much information at their fingertips, it is often hard to find quality resources on caring for their children. “Some content just makes parents feel worse, increases their stress, and makes them feel judged,” Morris shared.

There was a common thread of “meeting families where they are.” That refers to everything from helping parents engage with their children at home, or pointing them in the direction of high-quality local childcare. At Winnie, we believe the way we can make an impact is through improving access to and affordability of child care and early education.