The following was published in the Sunday News
Hundreds marched up Auckland's Queen St yesterday to protest against government cuts to early childhood education.
The election year protest dubbed the "Big Push" by organisers was to have gone the full length of Queen Street from Queen Elizabeth Square in downtown to Aotea Square, but instead diverted to the Pioneer Women's Hall in Freyberg Square to avoid stormy weather. There, a few hundred-strong crowd of teachers and parents with pushchairs, buggies, and children in tow, saw a petition with more than 60,000 signatures presented.
Hayley Whitaker, an executive member of teacher's union NZEI Te Riu Roa, said funding had been cut to more than 2000 services as part of government plans to cut costs by abandoning the target of having early childhood centres staffed fully by qualified teachers. The petition calls for the government to commit to a plan to invest 1% of GDP on early childhood education as recommended by Unicef.
Primary teacher and vice-president of NZEI Frances Guy said the march yesterday helped raise the profile of early childhood education. "The government needs to reinstate funding that is so vital to children coming into primary school."
Clayton Park Primary school teacher Jackson Voot agreed on the importance of early childhood education. "I see kids who have had no early childhood education and it makes a huge difference. Those who don't get it are at a massive disadvantage. We know who the kids are who have not had the benefit of their right to early education."
The importance of having fully qualified early childhood educators was obvious, according to Voot. "You wouldn't put 80% qualified nurses in hospitals." Voot says "the government disincentivising early childhood education is disgusting".
Guy also said if both parents worked, it increased the importance of ensuring parents could leave their children with fully qualified professional educators. Parents at the march agreed changes were needed to early childhood education funding. Matt, who wished only to be known as a parent from Mt Albert, said funding cuts affected access to services for parents.