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Speech On Pacific Island Early Childhood Education

Education Minister Trevor Mallard
Speech To Pacific Island Early Childhood Education Conference

Kia Orana, Ni Sa Bula, Taloha ni, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Halo Olaketa, Ia Orana.
Kia Ora, Talofa Lava, Malo e lelei. Warm Pacific Greetings!

It is an honour and a pleasure to be here today.

I know my colleague Mark Gosche opened your conference yesterday. Mark talked about some of the wider social policies of the new Government. In particular, I know that our policies on housing are very important to your community. I take a particular interest in these issues as well – not only as a local MP for an electorate that has a high Pacific population, but also as the Education Minister.

Good housing is essential to good education. Children cannot learn properly if they are living in overcrowded, damp and cold homes. National's policies were severely lacking in this area. I have great faith in Mark and his ability to guide the policies through to fruition.

However, today I want to talk in more detail about education and in particular early childhood education. I'm also going to give you a preview of some of the items in the Budget that will be read in three weeks and one hours time.

It's going to be a good Budget for Pacific communities. But that's not something that can be celebrated. For the reason that the Budget will have a focus on Pacific communities, among other areas, is that we are extremely concerned about the social and economic gaps that have arisen between Maori and Pacific people and the rest of New Zealand.

In January this year, the Prime Minister Helen Clark established a special Cabinet committee to help us meet the challenges that we face with our 'closing the gaps' objectives. It's been a busy committee and some of that work will be reflected in this year's Budget.

Unfortunately, the rules mean that I can't tell you everything that is contained within the Budget, but I did get special permission from Michael Cullen to talk about some of the early childhood education initiatives.

They are not short-term polyfilla measures. They look at some long-term needs of the sector.

For a start, there will be $60,000 towards an equity funding working party. This is the start of the Government's proposal to introduce some form of equity funding for the early childhood sector.

In the school sector we recognise that the playing field is not even. A child's family background impacts greatly on how well they do in education. The state has a role to make up some of that difference in opportunity through the education system. The school decile system may not be totally appropriate in the early childhood sector. I will be asking the working group to develop a more appropriate model for early childhood.

Another Budget provision is to develop an long-term strategic plan for the early childhood education sector.

I think the early childhood sector has been seriously held back because of an ad hoc approach to policy making over the last decade. There has been no long-term plan for the sector and Ministerial responsibility has been shuffled around. For example, in the last six years there have been five Ministers with responsibility for early childhood education. I want to make sure that that kind of stop and start approach does not continue. That's one of the reasons that I have retained responsibility for the sector within my own office rather than assign it to an associate Minister.

The number of children in early childhood education has grown. That's largely due to the labour market, to growth rates (and that's particularly relevant in your communities) and to an economic climate that forces many parents back into work. There is a desperate need in many parts of the country for quality, affordable early childhood education, but there is no strategy to meet this need.

It is time to reintroduce some coherency to the sector.

That is why the Budget this year will include funding for a long-term strategy for the sector. $100,000 will be set aside in the first year to produce a discussion document, and run a nationwide consultation process. A further $50,000 will be available in next year's Budget for a working group to do further work on the proposed strategic plan.

That working group will work with a reference group of about 30 people from the early childhood sector. Your sector is diverse and that is one of its strengths. It allows you to be responsive to the different needs of children and families in New Zealand.

If that diversity is not encompassed in this process, we will all be the losers.

The strategic plan is a priority for us. The result will provide a focus as all other ECE policy is developed. It will include goals developed by the sector and it will set out how those goals will be achieved.

I hope that your organisation will have a major input into this plan. I believe that with quality early childhood education, your children will be able to achieve later on when they reach the school level and that success will carry on to when they leave school and go on to tertiary education and training, and start working.

But whatever the long term strategy comes up with, it is already clear that we have to do something to increase participation in early childhood education among Pacific families.

Your children are poorly represented in the participation statistics and I don’t want to have to wait for the long-term strategy to be completed before we start to be pro-active

In some communities the lack of a suitable facility has been a major barrier to establishing a licensed early childhood centre. The discretionary grants scheme has provided some capital to help boost communities' chances. The new Government supports this scheme and we want to enhance it.

So I had great pleasure in announcing late last month that there will be an immediate injection of funds to the discretionary grants scheme. It will cater for some of the applicants that passed the eligibility criteria last year but still missed out on funds. New grants will total more than $3 million and are expected to help the establishment of about 20 centres.

Half the funds will be in the Pacific pool and half in the general pool. I know many Pacific communities that have all the will in the world but just don't have the means to raise funds for buildings. There are groups meeting in garages. There are groups meeting in basements. They meet in community halls that they need to vacate when another group books in. What is really frustrating is that many centres have qualified staff who they cannot pay properly because they do not meet funding criteria. I am particularly pleased to be able to offer support to those communities to establish early childhood centres which will meet licensing standards.

I look forward to Pacific communities benefiting from the discretionary grants scheme for years to come.

Improving the quality of early childhood education sits alongside increasing participation. One of the major factors of quality education at all levels is the quality of the teachers. So we have to support teachers getting higher qualifications.

Ultimately the Government would like to see the Diploma of Teaching (ECE) as the benchmark qualification for all early childhood teachers. This is a big task and is likely to take some time.

In the meantime, we're working on requirements for 'persons responsible' in centre-based services to hold at least a Diploma of Teaching (ECE). Co-ordinators in home-based care networks will have the same requirements. This level of qualification reflects the importance of the role that 'persons responsible' play.

They are the leaders in their workplaces. They have to see that the programmes developed by staff are of the highest possible quality.

Let me make it clear here that the transition will recognise prior learning through the licensing points system. Licensing points are gained from a variety of diverse sources. The result of this approach is that 'persons responsible' who have gained 100 licensing points will have areas of real strength but may also have real and important gaps in their knowledge.

Finally, I’d like to thank you all for the work you are doing to increase participation and quality in early childhood education.

All communities in New Zealand must realise that quality early childhood education is vital for their children. It will give them a solid start in life and help them to make the most out of their future educational opportunities.

And society as a whole will gain from increased participation in quality early childhood education.

We will all benefit through better social, educational and economic outcomes. I look forward to working with you to achieve this aim.

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