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Early Childhood Council warns of teacher shortages

Sunday 4 May 2008

Early Childhood Council warns of teacher shortages

Early Childhood Council CEO Sue Thorne has today warned that workforce pressures – particularly teacher shortages – are the biggest challenge facing the early childhood sector.

In her keynote address to the 685 delegates at the country’s largest annual conference for early childhood professionals, Mrs Thorne said that “how we deal with this challenge will determine the future of early childhood education in this election year and beyond. New Zealand has to address the workforce issues in our sector as a matter of urgency. If we don’t, educational quality and participation will suffer.”

“The number of children engaging in early childhood education is increasing and this automatically requires more teachers. On top of that, we have growing numbers of younger children and at-risk children, which both require more teacher attention. This is adding to the pressure,” Mrs Thorne told the 2008 Early Childhood Council Conference in Wellington.

“At the moment, it is clear we do not have the numbers coming through the training institutions to meet these demands. The position has been complicated because one part of the Government says that all teachers must be qualified while another part of the Government says that qualified training numbers need to be capped,” Mrs Thorne said.

“It is impossible to see how capped teacher enrolments will ever produce the required number of graduates and that is not good for children and families or for services. If we cannot produce enough graduates now, why do we think we can do it when numbers are going to be capped or even reduced?”

Sue Thorne also suggested that there was a pressing need to re-assess the content of many early childhood teaching qualifications to make them more relevant and useful in the centre.

“There has been a shift in the focus of the course content from a practical qualification to a more research-laden qualification. The academic side of teaching is important but there perhaps needs to be a better balance. The focus on ticking all the required academic boxes means the vocational and emotional skills drop away. As a result, there are some graduates entering the profession who are ill prepared for the reality of the workplace,” she said.

To address the perennial issues of staff recruitment and retention, Sue Thorne said the profession had to become more attractive to men and women. “Appropriate support and guidance for beginning teachers would be a positive step. Additionally, a proactive approach by the sector to promote early childhood teaching as a career choice through schools would be useful,” said Mrs Thorne.

“To ensure the next generation gets the early childhood education sector it deserves, we will all have to step up to the workforce challenge,” she concluded.

ENDS

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