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Every Young Child Is Neglected by Labour

Every Young Child Is Neglected by Labour

Saturday 22 Jun 2002 Donna Awatere Huata Press Releases -- Education

Launch of ACT's Early Childhood Education Policy

ACT's education spokesman, Donna Awatere Huata, today launched the party's early childhood education policy to the national Kindergarten meeting in Napier.

Mrs Awatere Huata told the audience that ACT is the only political organisation that has consistently stood up for the early childhood education sector.

"The fact that Mr Mallard is the only other education spokesperson to appear today speaks volumes. The discussion on education has been reduced to a two-horse race between Labour and ACT. Mr Mallard defends the status quo. I put forward ACT's fresh ideas and proposals for change.

"Every young child in New Zealand is being neglected by this Government. The early childhood education sector is starved of funds. Since Mr Mallard was appointed, early childhood education has received less than one-tenth of the cash dished out to the other education sectors. That's not just Mr Mallard's fault - he's merely copying successive governments before him.

"But ACT believes in making changes where they are required. Early childhood education provides a vital start. Kids who get a good grounding today will be the achievers of tomorrow. So my party pledges to you that early childhood education will receive a bigger slice of the cake.

"ACT is not like the two old parties which ignore early childhood education. Those parties have blind faith in intervention when it is far too late.

"We recognise that our country's most destitute kids are missing out completely on any level of early childhood education. Low participation rates for Maori and Pacific Island children correspond to increased suspension, stand-down and drop-out figures later in life.

"So the first, and biggest problem, is to make sure that we reach these families.

"First of all, ACT would increase support for the excellent Family Start parenting programme. It hasn't received a single extra cent under Labour, because it wasn`t a Labour initiative. ACT says that sort of thinking is rubbish. Family Start works, so Family Start should be expanded.

"Further, ACT would lower the financial barrier to early childhood education with child-centred funding combined with tax cuts and economic policies which will improve conditions for every working New Zealander.

"ACT believes children should be ready to learn when they arrive at school. That's why we believe in a child-centred funding model known as School Choice. School Choice already exists in part in preschool education, and it was created by Maori. It's success shows why it needs to be expanded throughout the sector.

"In 1981 few Maori went to preschool. The Kindergarten Association received 95 percent of preschool funds. Then Iri Tawhiwhirangi kickstarted the Kohanga Reo movement. I also had the privilege of being part of that struggle.

"The initial funding for kohanga was a one-off $5,000 establishment grant. The numbers of kohanga steadily rose. Finally, we received a small proportion of the funding given to kindergartens. Over the years, that proportion has risen.

"The amazing feat that Iri achieved was to bring about not only preschool choice, but also individual funding. Iri refused to take government money if the teachers' salaries were taken out first. She negotiated an arrangement whereby kohanga received payment for the number of children and number of hours they attended. Kohanga's establishment and funding spearheaded the way for other preschool providers to come behind.

"Today, instead of only being able to send four-year-olds to kindergarten for a three-hour session, parents have a kaleidoscope of choices.

"The entire increase in participation in early childcare in the last decade was a result of 130 percent more children enrolling in privately-run centres. Enrolments in state-owned centres decreased by seventeen percent.

We must expand the child-centred funding approach. It is the only way to reward innovative, high-quality providers.

"Our funding model would obviously reward quality. There is, after all, a huge difference between true early childhood education organisations offering quality pre-reading and numeracy education, and those offering a mere babysitting service.

"ACT's economic policies reward enterprise and innovation. We oppose ideas such as a moratorium on new centres. We believe in increasing the number of high-quality centres, not creating a false cap that would keep low-quality centres running.

"We recognise that teacher pay negotiations should not be dictated by Government bureaucrats or unions, but decided by individual organisations in individual communities.

"ACT believes in sensible teacher training standards for the early childhood sector. A lack of standards cripples the education of kids who currently make it to kindergartens, kohanga reo and crèches.

"ACT is the only party that has spoken out time and again on early childhood issues. We have worked closely with your sector to discover the real issues and work to address them in our policies. I am proud to address your gathering and launch ACT New Zealand's early education policies. I am proud that ACT recognises how crucial early childhood education is for the future of our nation," Mrs Awatere Huata said.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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