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Let's treasure our tamariki and kaiako in early education

Dr Lynley Tulloch

Let's treasure our tamariki and kaiako in early childhood education

I believe in education. I’ve made it my lifetime passion – particularly early childhood education (ECE). So it troubles me that problems in New Zealand’s ECE sector have been the focus of a lot of media interest and public dialogue recently. Specifically, concern has been raised over the quality of care and education, poor child-teacher ratios, understaffing and lack of qualified teachers.

The Ministry of Education stated in a recent Early Childhood Education (ECE) complaints and incident report that there have been instances of children suffering physical and emotional injuries while in an early childhood service.

If cracks are showing in the early childhood sector we cannot step back and watch them widen. The report substantiates that some children are suffering harm, neglect and stress and this is an urgent matter. If one child is harmed while in an ECE service, then that is one child too many.

Further evidence of stress come from the Child Forum. In October 2015 Child Forum published a report based on a survey of 600 ECE teachers. Some perennial themes emerged including poor child-teacher ratios. In addition, there were negative work conditions where teachers felt that they did not have time to build relationships with children. Given that building relationships is at the heart of good ECE practice this is particularly alarming. Teachers also stated that they had to take their work home due to poor management and insufficient non-contact time for assessment and preparation.

A recent report in 2017 by the Child Forum demonstrates that there are still major issues and that health and safety issues for teachers has increased. 46 % of ECE teachers reported work related physical and mental health issues – 17% up from 2014. This report also indicated bullying and feeling more like a cleaner and babysitter than an educator

One of the core reasons that these issues are arising is that ECE teachers are undervalued and underpaid by society. Many teachers simply do not get the support needed and are working in a stressful environment. Their pay is so much lower than teachers who work in the primary and secondary sector despite equal levels of training and expertise. ECE teachers have worked to get a degree or graduate diploma. This requires 3-4 years of study and an enormous student loan. They do important and professional work, which is often poorly understood.

Recognising and respecting ECE teachers as equals alongside primary and secondary teachers is an important step in valuing the important work they do and giving them the support they need.

Another key step that can be taken by government is to increase early childhood funding and a commitment to work towards 100% qualified staff in teacher-led services. Currently the ratio is only 50 %. There are many passionate and dedicated teachers at risk of leaving because of the stress and poor work conditions.

The new Government needs to step up. And yet the recent budget increase of 1.6 % has been criticised by the Early Childhood Council for being significantly underwhelming. Early Childhood Chief Officer, Peter Reynolds says that the previous Government seriously neglected and underfunding ECE during the last ten years with the result that many centres are operating close to the breadline. In communities where parents cannot afford to pay fees these centres wills struggle even more.

New Zealand has a well-deserved reputation for being a world leader in ECE and we need to live up to it. Professor of ECE, Helen Hedges states that on an international level New Zealand’s ECE curriculum document Te Whāriki is highly regarded for its bicultural, holistic and non-prescriptive nature.

Our children rely on ECE teachers for quality education and care. ECE expert Penny Brownlee sums the importance of teachers up nicely. She says, “We early childhood teachers are trained professionals, not babysitters. We are paid to facilitate children’s highest social, emotional, creative, intellectual and physical unfolding.”

Never a truer word.

Our children are our national taonga (treasures) and they deserve to be treated with respect – and so do teachers.

Dr Lynley Tulloch is a qualified Early Childhood Education (ECE) teacher who works at an ECE centre in Auckland. She has over twenty years experience in the field of education, inlcuidng lecutring on the history and politics of ECE at the University of Waikato.Lynely has also taught foundation level courses in ECE. A strong voice for qulaity ECE, Lynley has served on Waikato chapter of OMEP (an organisation that advocates for children). She has been a public speaker on child poverty.


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