Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Caring Spaces, Learning Places by Jim Greenman (A Book Review)

I have been reading...Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Childrenʼs Environments THAT WORK by Jim Greenman, and wholeheartedly recommend this book to teachers who are keen to continually reflect on and review the caring Space and learning Places they create and build for young children.

Over the past few years I have had many wonder-filled opportunities to visit airports, railway stations, churches, abbeys, museums, art galleries and early childhood settings. So often these have been interesting, awe inspiring and jaw droppingly beautiful. All places and spaces evoked a response in me. Sometimes I felt over-joyed, amazed or overwhelmed. Sometimes I felt like staying a long time and other times I felt like screaming “get me out of here fast”. At all times I had the power and resilience to go or stay.

All of these spaces gave cues to what is valued here and the purpose of the place. The purposes included: serving food, providing curation for precious items, displaying fantastic art, praise and worship, corralling and facilitating the movement of people, caring for and educating small children. All of these places are work spaces for people and colleagues. Some of these places are living, learning and loving spaces for our most precious and most vulnerable human beings. These travel and learning opportunities gives me cause to think about the places and spaces we provide for children in our early childhood care and education settings in New Zealand.

For ideas and reflective prompts I reached for Jim Greenmanʼs book ʻCaring Spaces, Learning Placesʼ. In the foreword to Jimʼs book, Lella Gandini says, “We have all experienced how even a small improvement in a learning space can reverberate in positive ways, but we have also learned that one cannot stop there. It is the value that we attribute to the potentials of children and our respect for their learning as individuals and as groups that can truly create a shift in our teaching, transforming us from being “only” teachers to being true listeners and learners.” (p. vii)

Experiences and time spent in our settings in New Zealand is as diverse as the children and families who use the service. Jim Greenman tells us that if fifteen-week-old Hannah continues in Childcare until elementary school, (NZ 6 year old) she will have spent around 12,000 hours at the centre, more time than she will spend in all of elementary and high school. Her brother Michael attends pre-school a few hours a day, he may spend up to 1,000 hours at the service. (p.54).

In this book Jim Greenman inspires by sharing the stories, insights and poetry of many people as he kindly challenges and supports us in reviewing and re-thinking the lives of children and teachers in our early childhood settings. He provides many good ideas and tools for changing and improving early childhood education environments in early childhood settings. The review, changes and improvements to our early childhood care and education settings can and will transform us teachers into “true listeners and learners”.

I particularly liked the discussion on institutionalized childhoods (p.64) which concludes with a list of reflective questions that would be a very useful review tool to work through as a team of teachers. I recommend this book to those teachers who are “... carrying out one of the most delicate missions in life, namely sustaining the growth and learning of children as individuals and in groups.” (Lella Gandini p.vii)

ISBN 0-942702-33-6

Kathryn Delany

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Taskforce funding proposal will undermine 20 hours ECE

This is now a time for leadership in the early childhood community. The Government will be listening to the wider communities response to the recommendations made in the Taskforce Report. Take time to study this report, you will find a link on the home page of our website. At the heart of this report is the importance of doing what is right, for every child and family in this country. As Margaret Mead so eloquently has said " Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has".

Taskforce funding proposal will undermine 20 hours ECE
Media release: 1 June 2011

Five academics from the Universities of Waikato, Victoria, Canterbury and Otago have said they welcome the strong message of the ECE taskforce about the importance of prioritising early childhood education.
“At the level of principle there is a focus on system quality and many of the recommendations indicate a commitment to continuing along the path of quality improvement which the sector wants”.  Incentives for centres to employ 100% qualified teachers, addressing quality issues in the home-based sector, and provisions to promote innovation are excellent directions to follow.
“We also welcome the focus on encouraging leadership development within the sector- this is a new and long-overdue initiative”.   
However, the academics are united in their opposition to the proposed new funding system. This provides for targeted funding for low income groups, Māori and Pasifika children while retaining fiscal neutrality. This proposal will inevitably undermine the 20 hours ECE policy that provides free or very affordable early childhood education for 3 to 5 year-old children. It will undermine a widely supported principle that all children should be entitled to early childhood education, no matter their circumstances.  Another academic, who was a member of the Taskforce, Professor Anne Smith, has already expressed concerns that if the principle of fiscal neutrality is retained, that it is inevitable that middle-income families will have to pay more for early childhood education, which is likely to lead to lower levels of participation.
The Taskforce states that it will “provide strongly differentiated payments for priority groups – Māori, Pasifika, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds and children with special education needs”. In this system, a universal approach is replaced by one that is much more targeted, with families outside the “priority” groups paying more. A targeted approach would not serve the best interests of “priority” children, and does not address the needs of children who are not deemed to be “priority”. There are issues about how to set criteria for “priority” and assess these, and problems about children outside the designated groups or at the margins who do not meet criteria missing out. There is a danger of ghettoizing “priority” children, when research is clear that children from disadvantaged homes do better in early childhood centres that have more advantaged children in the same group. Universal high quality education helps to diminish gaps in achievement between high and low socioeconomic families.   
Targeted approaches rely on costly and time-consuming administrative processes that can stigmatise eligible families, deterring applications for assistance. The Taskforce recommends that the early childhood service staff would assess whether families fit into “priority” categories. Any such assessment would constitute an intrusion into private family matters and risk spoiling the respectful and positive relationships that need to exist between staff and parents.   
Middle income families with 3 to 5 year olds would lose funding under the Taskforce proposal. Recent New Zealand research by one of the academics (Mitchell) shows the very positive impact on affordability of 20 hours ECE. 20 hours ECE eased family budgets, benefiting family life and children’s learning and socialisation. There are indications that 20 hours ECE has enabled some children to attend who would otherwise have missed out.   
A policy of free early childhood education is in keeping with trends in OECD countries to provide at least two years free provision before children start school.  Internationally, there is advocacy to develop policy framed around the participatory rights of children. Provision of free early childhood education for all children whose parents see they would benefit from the opportunity is consistent with such rights.
For further information contact
Associate Professor Linda Mitchell, University of Waikato, phone 021 0239 1724
Professor Helen May, University of Otago, phone 021 279 3780 
Professor Carmen Dalli, Victoria University of Wellington, phone 021 140 9038
Associate Professor Judith Duncan, University of Canterbury, phone 027-330 4595
Professor Margaret Carr, University of Waikato, phone 021 480 984

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Raft of recommendations from early childhood report

This is information posted on and written by Amanda Fisher today 1 June 2011
Taskforce chair Michael Mintrom
An eight-month report into early childhood education by a Government-appointed taskforce has suggested 65 recommendations "for leading change" - one of which would reinstate funding scrapped by National.

Taskforce chair Michael Mintrom said the steps added up to something which was "quite drastically different".

"The Taskforce proposes a bold vision for the future of ECE [early childhood education]. New Zealand's children hold enormous promise and potential but, at the same time, they are incredibly vulnerable. We must all step up to ensure our children receive the best start in life."

The terms of the Taskforce required recommendations to be fiscally neutral; even so, it recommended the  Government consider funding ECE more in the future as "high-quality ECE is one of the strongest investments that can be made in New Zealand's future," Mintrom said.

Recommendations included:

- Reintroducing incentives for services with 100 per cent qualified staff which were scrapped by National

- Regulating a minimum 80 per cent of qualified staff in teacher-led ECE services

- Extra funding for priority groups including Maori, Pasifika, children with special education needs and from low socio-economic backgrounds

- A revamped funding system - based on individual children's needs, not licensed numbers - described as a "per-child-hour-subsidy"

- An evaluation of curriculum implementation

- Mandatory ECE service performance reviews with funding tied to performance

- A review of funding for home-based services, and

- A review of all ECE teacher qualifications.

The review also recommends the new funding mechanism be implemented within four years, while proposing a "cross-government investment strategy" to shift existing Government funds towards high-value investments, such as ECE.

Education Minister Anne Tolley, who established the Taskforce in October, welcomed the report and said it was "heartening" many serious issues had been identified and positive suggestions made.

"The Government was already concerned about the variability across services, the lack of accountability, poor access for many children, and the need for a more targeted funding system."

Some of the recommendations were already being addressed, she said, such as money for increased participation and the Government target of 80 per cent qualified teachers in services by 2012.

Labour Education spokeswoman Sue Moroney said while the taskforce report set out ECE as a top priority, it was compromised by the parameters set by Tolley.

The report recommended wealthy parents contribute more to their services, which would lead to lower quality education for poorer families as the recommended targeted subsidies would not make up the difference.

"From the time that the Minister ordered the Taskforce to stay within current funding but increase the number of children using the service, the Taskforce was in a no-win situation."

- The Dominion Post

20 hours free ECE faces the chop

Sue Moroney has this to say. (Media Release 1 June)
 The benefits of 20 hours free ECE will go and parents will face higher fees if the ECE Taskforce’s funding recommendations are implemented, says Labour’s Education spokesperson Sue Moroney.

Sue Moroney says the report recommends taking the fee controls off 20 hours ECE and argues that parents and employers should pay more of the funding for early childhood education.

“From the time that the Minister ordered the taskforce to stay within current funding but increase the number of children using the service, the taskforce was in a no-win situation,” Sue Moroney said.

“It’s a great shame, because the taskforce report clearly sets out why early childhood education should be a top priority for Government funding and has many excellent features to it.

“However, the National Government’s insistence that they see it as a cost, not an investment, means that the taskforce has ended up recommending some backward measures,” Sue Moroney said.

“This has also been reflected in the taskforce’s desire to fund 100 per cent qualified teachers, although it has ended up recommending only a subsidy towards this.

“This will unfortunately lead to further inequality as the report says ‘wealthier parents’ should be prepared to meet some of the cost of early childhood education, which includes some of the cost of a higher-quality workforce,” Sue Moroney said.

“This means that low and middle-income will get lower-quality education and this won’t fix the problem created by National’s funding cuts to ECE.”