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One Teacher Per Four Children Under Three Would Be A Significant Step To Ensure Higher Quality Early Childhood Education

The government set the minimum standard for the ratio of teachers to children in Early Childhood Education services in the 1960s and Te Rito Maioha and Childspace are calling for that ratio to be updated. They organised a petition that was signed by 6,253 people and delivered to the Beehive on 25 August 2023, asking for a new ratio of 1 teacher per 4 children aged under three. Today this has now been officially handed over to the petition committee by Green MP Teanau Tuiono.

“I am delighted to be receiving this petition and formally passing it on for consideration, says Green Party Education spokesperson Teanau Tuiono MP. “The education of our rangatahi is vital and this starts in ECE where we need to consider the evidence and look to best practice. That is what this petition is calling for.”

The current ratio is one teacher to 5 children if they are under two years old,” says Toni Christie, the Director of Childspace Early Childhood Institute, “and two teachers to twenty children if they are over two years old.”

“Those outdated ratios are only workable if teachers are fully present with the children, but the reality is that teachers are required to heat bottles, make food, set up environments and change nappies. Often a child will need special additional assistance getting to sleep or just being comforted.”

“Those everyday examples take one teacher out of that ratio, so you could end up with one teacher and 19 children.”

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“What we understand now after decades of research into brain development, is that human beings are infants until they are three years old. Our little people under three are in a critical and sensitive period of development, and what they require are fully attentive teachers, which is one of the many reasons why we need to change this ratio.”

“You cannot create a bond with a child, unless you have quality one-to-one time and attention, this is widely recognised in the educational literature. The educationalist Magda Gerber believed, if you pay full attention just part of the time, then children are happy to go and play, but if you are always paying part-attention, then children are always hungry for more” says Mrs Christie. “Part attention is all you could hope to achieve under current ratios, and part-attention is not good enough for educating our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Lower ratios of children to teachers are widely accepted by educators, ECE providers and the Ministry of Education, as being beneficial for children.

Te Rito Maioha Chief Executive Kathy Wolfe agrees. “Not only do we know more about the development of children than we did when this ratio was created in the 1960s, but these ratios are also having an unwelcome effect on the morale and stress of our teachers.”

“With a shortage of teachers in Aotearoa and staff burnout and retention all major issues, we urge the government to look at the research and make an informed decision on ratios.”

“Our current outdated funding model is based on these old ratios and by not updating them, we are effectively normalising less quality time with teachers, while the number of hours parents are placing their children into ECE providers increases, says Mrs Wolfe. “The government has an opportunity to support the needs of learners at the heart of our education system design. By resourcing and embedding more quality teacher time, they would demonstrate that they too are focused on quality education.”

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand is a leader in early childhood and primary education – growing teachers, leaders, knowledge, and bicultural practice so every child learns and thrives. As a membership organisation we are a strong voice for young children and quality education, advocating for the ECE sector and connecting our members with the latest sector-related issues, policy and professional development. As a specialist tertiary provider with 11 centres, we grow valued teachers, educators, leaders and experts with diploma, degree and postgraduate qualifications in early childhood and primary education.

Childspace Early Childhood Institute is an educational organisation committed to improving Early Childhood Education provision and practices. With four early childhood centres in Wellington, an institute providing professional development, research, and resources to early childhood teachers locally and internationally, and a workshop specialising in children’s playgrounds, furnishings and equipment, Childspace advocates for young children, their families and their teachers. Toni Christie is the founder along with her husband Robin and their organisation has been improving ECE provision for more than 30 years.

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