Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Three Professors of Education have their say!

Wendy writes:
I urge all teachers to share this press release with their families and to share their thoughts and concerns about the shifts in policy that are currently taking place in ECE in NZ. We are world leaders, and are considered by the rest of the world to be at the forefront of educational change. Our provision is regarded as one of the most outstanding in the world, we have had an enormous influence of early childhood provision internationally. We need to be talking about these issues with our local MP's. Take time to consider what you might do make visible what is currently happening to early childhood education in NZ.

Families should beware of the erosion of quality in Early Childhood Education, according to three Professors of Education

Families should be concerned about the steps that the government is taking to erode the quality of early childhood education in New Zealand, according to three Professors of Education, Helen May, Margaret Carr and Anne Smith.  The latest indication that cuts will be made to the funding for the Twenty Free Hours in the forthcoming budget, is just a further downward step in a long series of policy changes which are threatening the quality of New Zealand’s highly respected early childhood services.

Currently the discussions in the media are mostly about the cost to families. The cost of services is an important consideration for parents when they decide whether to enrol their children in early childhood education. Professors May, Carr & Smith hope the government will honour its election promise to keep the 20 Hours policy unchanged. They urge families to keep a critical eye on the quality of children’s experiences in centres, as well as on the cost. Government concerns about the 'trebling' in costs for early childhood education is in fact about the cost of policies intended to redress a long tail of: underfunding, low qualification levels, poor quality and high costs to parents. These successes are now under threat.

“Although this government has been keen to raise standards, it runs a great risk of undermining the quality of education in New Zealand by eroding some key aspects of the work in the early childhood sector. Children in quality early childhood do well at school, and this erosion is an example of inconsistent and disconnected policies” said Professor Margaret Carr at the University of Waikato. She added: “I fear that there may be more reduction of quality to come, seriously threatening the ability of the early childhood sector to work with families to provide the foundations for resourceful caring and imaginative citizens who love learning and know how to learn. Early years teachers work with children at an important time for brain development, and their work is highly skilled”.

Since coming to power, the government has removed or lowered expectations in a number of areas which influence quality.  These include:- 
  • the axing of professional development programmes for early childhood teachers to support implementing the early childhood curriculum;
  • cancelling the Centres of Innovation scheme - a project which showcased innovative practice to inspire other centres;
  • reducing to 80%, and extending the time frame, of the 100% goal of qualified  and registered early childhood teachers in all centres; 
  • reducing to 50% the requirement for qualified and registered teachers in provision for under-twos;  rescinding previously agreed improvements in the ratios of teachers to children;
  • reducing the training incentive grants

Centres which have 100% qualified staff, beyond requirements, are hugely concerned that the funding to pay teachers salaries linked to the number of qualified staff will be similarly cut back. Families will be concerned about this too.

“What happens to young children matters a lot, and if children don’t have access to top quality early childhood education during the early years, it is a missed opportunity to have a positive impact on their lifelong learning”, according to Emeritus Professor Anne Smith from the University of Otago. 

Professor Smith says that the evidence is overwhelming that in-depth teacher education is one of the most important elements of quality, which has long-term effects on young children’s learning, and she finds it inexplicable that the government is lowering expectations for early childhood training.  Under twos are particularly vulnerable to poor quality, so it’s just as important for people working with under two year-olds to be qualified as it is for older children.

Professor Helen May, Dean of the University of Otago College of Education reports that, “For some years New Zealand has been internationally regarded as a flagship in creating the necessary infrastructure of early childhood policy around issues of quality, qualifications, access and curriculum. There was still more to do, and the undermining of these policies is dispiriting, and even embarrassing, as there is continuing worldwide interest in our policy initiatives”.

Professors May, Carr and Smith are early childhood researchers who have had a major part in the development of early childhood policies in New Zealand for the last 30 years.

Professor Helen May
Dean University of Otago College of Education.

Emeritus Professor Anne Smith
University of Otago College of Education

Professor Margaret Carr
University of Waikato

1 comment:

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