Direct Government Provision of Early Childhood Education Needed to Stop Inequity, NZEI Says
If the government is serious about improving education underachievement it needs to directly provide early childhood education to those who need it most, says NZEI.
Early childhood education is arguably the most important education of all, providing the foundation for all future learning, says Frances Nelson, the president of the 45,000 member education union.
Yet a Salvation Army state of the nation report this week says children in low income areas miss out, describing "a large and lingering inequality of access for poor and generally brown children" and big discrepancies between the availability of ECE places in poor urban suburbs and more affluent areas. In 2006, for example, just 33 percent of pre-schoolers in Otara had places, compared with nearly 80 percent in Wellington City.
A planned national network of public early childhood education centres and recruitment of more qualified ECE teachers is needed to ensure every child has access to early childhood education, Frances Nelson says.
"The 20-hours-free policy is a significant milestone in improving affordability and thus participation, but public services are needed to meet the demand this policy creates." Frances Nelson says. "The commercial ECE sector now owns nearly 60 percent of the country's centres. Large corporate investors are spear-heading further expansion, opening centres and accessing public money whenever they see a business opportunity. There is no mechanism to ensure that the communities that most need appropriate services are available. This is a fundamental problem that needs public debate. ”
NZEI also wants more effective strategies to recruit people to ECE teaching. In particular, more men need to be encouraged to consider ECE teaching as a career, Frances Nelson says. NZEI welcomes the recent establishment of the “Men in Early Childhood Network New Zealand”.
NZEI believes quality public early childhood education should be part of a public education service that includes central funding for teachers and other staff, a national employment agreement for teachers, high teacher to child ratios and 100 percent qualified teachers.