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Te Ururoa Flavell - Early Childhood Forum

Early Childhood Council Policy Forum, Wellington

Duxton Hotel and Wellington Convention Centre

Te Ururoa Flavell, Education Spokesperson, Maori Party

Friday 2 May 2008; 1.30pm

‘What remains to be done to ensure New Zealand has the best possible early childhood education?’

It hasn’t been a good week for children.

On Monday, the report by the Child Poverty Action Group, Left Behind, told us that disparities in health, education and housing have fed the cycle of child poverty and disadvantage.

Their report says that a group of children have been left behind – the life-chances of 150,000 children compromised by significant or severe hardship.

It tells us that a child growing up in poverty is three times more likely to be sick than their more well-off friends.

We know that Maori and Pasifika children are most at risk of poor health, with the misery of inadequate nutritious food, unequal access to healthcare, substandard housing and insufficient income. National statistics show that around half of New Zealand children under 5 have cavities and decayed teeth.

And those that do make it to early childhood education will face further difficulties due to inadequate incomes of homes. Almost a third of the parents surveyed last year stated they had difficulties in paying fees and donations with low income families most commonly included in this group.

And it will be no surprise to anyone in this hui, that Maori children are more likely than others to live in low-income families and less likely to enrol in pre-school education.

And yet we hear political parties celebrating they are pleased that prison penalties are becoming harsher - so who are they locking up - and who are they planning to lock up in the future - the children currently locked in to poverty? That is a high likelihood.

So now is the right time for considering how to improve the future prospects for our children.

Perhaps the answer is to be found with children’s star, Miley Cyrus, who has just signed a seven-digit deal to write her memoirs, saying she hopes to “inspire kids around the world to live their dreams."
Cyrus – the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, of Achy Breaky Heart fame, has enormous international following for her show Hannah Montana – which ranks first amongst US television shows for children and has 164 million viewers worldwide – no doubt well known within your centres as well.

So what does Hannah Montana offer to inspire New Zealand children to live their dreams?

Now I’m not for one minute saying Hannah Montana has the answers for Aotearoa. But when I look at the fact that only 53% of Maori children aged between 0 and 4 years are in early childhood education The Maori Party is up for any possibilities for creating solutions for change.

And when I think that of that 53%, the majority are in early childhood education settings other than kohanga, I am absolutely determined that every option is canvassed, every strategy explored to ensure they succeed as Maori; they succeed as New Zealanders and they realise their full potential as citizens of Aotearoa.

I want to commend the Early Childhood Council for your initiative, along with the Auckland Kindergarten Association and Kindercare, in bringing out Heather Donoyou and Judy Potts from Pen Green.

Our team was privileged to meet with them and to learn of their experience in working with many of the children and families who have been “left behind”.

The focus of their centres is the belief that parents hold the key to enhancing quality early childhood education; that centres need to do every thing they can to foster centre-parent cooperation, that the over-riding goal must be to involve parents in their children’s learning.

It may be a revelation to the current Government, but the best practice success models being admired internationally in Pen Green are the same best practice models we see here at home with our kohanga reo, with whanau led centres.

And yet the great majority of our kohanga reo – 355 of the 485 kohanga – just under 75% - are missing out on the flagship policy of 20 hours free education for three and four year olds because the Government is paying to promote their policy preference of teacher led centres.

As I was preparing for this conference I came across a letter to the editor from Dick Grace of Hongoeka Bay, which I want to share. The article was headed “NZ kids would best benefit from the early whanau style education model” and he said:

“Educationalists in Aotearoa are hung up on ideas from other countries about improving educational outcomes for students when we have our own indigenous Maori model right under their noses.

This is the whanau organizational model used by small country schools from the early 1820s when the first missionaries set up schools for Maori….there was no need to separate them out into age cohorts because the elders took care of their children and grandchildren by learning alongside and with them”.

So although, it is okay to look at models from the Disney Channel or Northamptonshire for inspiration, we must also ensure that our own indigenous models aren’t left behind or forgotten.

The kohanga reo movement embraces the whanau style education model – they run adult courses in te reo Maori, business and administration and computing – believing that kohanga don’t just enroll children - they enroll a whole whanau.

The inspiration of the whanau style education model has to become even more significant in our future, as we consider the demographics – that currently one in four babies born in Aotearoa are of Maori descent.

What will the best possible early childhood education look like for them?

The first principle of the Desirable Objectives and Practices for early childhood education in New Zealand requires services to work in partnership with parents and whanau to promote and extend the learning and development of every child who attends their service.

What do the whanau of your centres say about their dreams and aspirations? A pilot study undertaken by Huia Tomlins-Jahnke and Arohia Durie,‘Whanau socialisation through everyday talk’ revealed that the values and parenting styles identified in the whanau they studied, showed a remarkable continuity to those observed by European writers as early as 1868.

These writers, such as William Colenso, revealed the great love and attachment demonstrated for children, and not merely their own immediate offspring. What Colenso suggested was that ‘uncles, aunts and cousins claimed and took them’; such was the pattern of collective care.

The whanau study also displayed consistent values such as whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and tautoko evident in the communications with children.

The Maori Party believes that the best possible early childhood education for Aotearoa, must continue to support whanau led models, must continue to support diversity, must continue to invest in resources for kaupapa Maori education, must ensure there are more fluent, trained te reo teachers, must enable tikanga and kaupapa Maori to continue to inspire our families in the care and development of their children, must remove barriers to participate and must take a holistic view to the education of our children and whänau.

It is an interesting time to be considering where children fit in our future. As the nation builds up to the frenzy of the Olympics count down – only 98 days to go – wouldn’t it be great if we had that same national commitment to ensuring that all of our children are well fed, well housed, well clothed and ready to learn.

And so I commend the courage of NZEI President Frances Nelson who spoke out earlier this week, urging a wider social and government commitment to improving the lot of all New Zealand families and communities, reminding us that without urgent work on the social factors which affect student learning, children’s education will suffer.

As a country, we need to commit to that goal – demanding that our early childhood centres, our families, our communities and Government wake up to the crisis of child poverty and demonstrate our determination that no child should ever be left behind.

It would really be great to set a date this year and then like the countdown for the Olympics, start counting down to when this country, a country often referred to as God's Own eliminates poverty, eliminates poverty for the sake of our future.

Why not be bold, why not be brave, why not be socially, economically and politically responsible.

Now what is so difficult about that?

Kia ora tatou.

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