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Sonja Davies An Early Childhood Education Pioneer

Media Release June 13, 2005
From NZEI Te Riu Roa For Immediate Use

Sonja Davies An Early Childhood Education Pioneer

The country’s largest education union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, mourns the loss of Sonja Davies and pays tribute to the work she did for women, the trade union movement and in particular in early childhood education.

NZEI has more than 43,000 members working as teachers and principals in primary schools, support staff in primary and secondary schools, special education staff in primary and secondary schools, school advisers based in tertiary institutions and teachers and support staff working in early childhood education centres.

“Sonja Davies worked tirelessly all her life for working people in New Zealand,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

“We pay tribute to the major contribution she made in advancing the rights of women and in building the trade union movement, but we particularly want to acknowledge the pioneering work Sonja did in early childhood education.”

Sonja Davies got involved in early childhood education in the 1950s, at a time when there was huge resistance to anyone but mothers providing childcare. In 1956 she became president of the Nelson Bay Nursery Association, then in 1963 she helped found and was the first president of the NZ Association of Child Care Centres, which became Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa, the New Zealand Childcare Association.

Sonya was president of the Childcare Association for 12 years and lobbied for changes to childcare regulations and the establishment of on the job training for staff in childcare centres. The success of her work is demonstrated by the fact that the Childcare Association is now one of the biggest providers of early childhood teachers in the country. It was registered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority as a Private Training Establishment in 1990 and in 1996 developed a Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood Education.

In 1976 she began a push for better working conditions for early childhood teachers which led to the formation of the Early Childhood Workers’ Union in 1982. Two years later, with the support of the Federation of Labour, the union merged with the Kindergarten Teachers’ Association to form the Combined Early Childhood Workers’ Union of Aotearoa, which then merged with NZEI Te Riu Roa in 1994.

“The pioneering work Sonja did in organising and unionising early childhood teachers laid the foundation for NZEI’s negotiation of pay parity for kindergarten teachers and early childhood teachers working in community owned not-for-profit centres covered by the consenting parties collective agreement.” says Colin Tarr.

“Sonja’s efforts also set the platform for the government policy of providing 20 hours free early childhood education for three and four year olds from 2007.”

“She fought long and hard to provide quality early childhood education for New Zealand’s children and we know she was delighted to see her efforts rewarded with the announcement of this policy.”

“It would be tragic if the advances she achieved, such as this policy, were eroded or undermined.”

“Sonja’s contribution to the development of early child education is huge. It can not be overstated. She was a true pioneer of early childhood education in New Zealand,” says Colin Tarr.


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