As has been widely discussed, New Zealand’s National government decided that one of the best places to save a bit of money was in Early Childhood Education. Childcare centres would no longer be required to 100% qualified staff (with grandparenting provisions for existing staff who were working towards their degrees); instead, only 80% qualified staff would be required, and centres would be funded at that level.
It’s a downgrade. And it’s a downgrade that means that parents will have less assurance about the quality of care and education that their children are receiving. We all know that good quality early childhood education is critical for children, and all the more so for children who don’t come from privileged middle class homes. There are plenty of children who turn up for their first day of primary school, having never held a book in their hands, having never had a book read to them, not even knowing that in European writing systems, we read the left hand page, and then the right, and then turn the right page over. One way to give these kids at least half a chance, to ensure that in our supposedly egalitarian society there is a minimal semblance of equality of opportunity, is to ensure that they get good quality early childhood care. We need to make sure everyone has a chance, that everyone can get a good education, if we want the children who are in childcare right now, to grow up to become citizens, people who are part of our society, people who have a stake in it, people who want to make a contribution, instead of forever feeling that the bosses and the big important people just don’t give a damn.
As a society, we should be deeply concerned about the quality and availability of early childhood education. We rely on having expert and well-qualified teachers and carers in our childcare centres and preschools, because we are concerned about the future of our society. On top of that, most parents want to be sure that their children are in good care. So they rely on having expert and well-qualified teachers in childcare centres and preschools.
But the National government has decided that early childhood education just doesn’t matter all that much, so that’s where “savings” can be made. As for quality assurance, well, Granny Herald has got a solution.
The market will provide!
It is easy to insist little children deserve nothing but the best. And working parents who place their infants in childcare want to be assured on that score. But “the best” at this level might not require professional training. The best could include people with an aptitude for caring but not for academic study and tests. Checks on their performance can be reliably left to a competitive industry that must constantly satisfy observant parents.
Oh good grief! Early childhood education, indeed, any education, is not like a can of baked beans. For starters, it’s not as though there is a whole shelf full of childcare centres, from which you can pick one. The supply is limited, especially if you are constrained by other factors, such as needing childcare near your home, or your work, so that you don’t spend hours every days commuting between one place and another, with tired children in the back seat. But more importantly, it can take time to work out that a child is not thriving, time to work out that for all its glossy brochures a childcare centre doesn’t really have the resources to care for your child, time to work out that some of the staff who looked so lovely don’t in fact know how to manage children, and have only taken the job because there is nothing else they can do. One of the great guarantees that comes along with demanding degree qualified staff is that you know they are genuinely committed to early childhood education, committed enough to slog their way through a degree, because this is where they want to be.
But the time you have been able to work this out, your child is six months older. Six months is not such a long time for an adult to endure a poor job, but it could 10% or 20% of your child’s life. Time enough for a child to lose out, to slip behind developmental guidelines, to miss out on critical early learning experiences. You buy one can of baked beans and it turns out to be not so good? Well, you can always go buy another brand the very next day. But “buy” the wrong type of childcare, and the consequences could be much more severe than a meal that isn’t quite as good as you would like it to be.
I know some fabulous women and men who have worked in childcare – my mother, a cousin who is doing her degree, a former male student who was a qualified nanny, the wonderful, gorgeous, Jackie Clark. What distinguishes these people is their commitment to children, exemplified by the qualifications they have worked hard to get. Those are the kind of people I want to see in early childhood education.
I would like to see the National government think a little harder about what it wants to achieve in education, and why, and how, instead of simply thinking that it can be trimmed and cut without anyone much noticing the difference.
As for where the money is going to come from? I hear there’s a cycleway that isn’t being built. Perhaps that might be a good thing to trim.