Otago Daily Times

Early childhood education concerns


DISQUIETIN­G survey comments were aired last week from some teaching staff in early childhood education centres about the quality of the places where they worked.

The online survey, conducted by the Child Forum Office of PrePrimary Education, involved selfselect­ed participan­ts, which might be expected to attract the disgruntle­d more than the content.

But even so, 4000 teaching staff responded (there are about 30,000 teachers working in the sector). The highest percentage (26) was understand­ably from Auckland with 7% of respondent­s from Otago, Southland, and Stewart Island.

One of the shocking results was that about a quarter of the respondent­s would not be happy to enrol their own children at the service where they worked or one of a comparable quality.

The reasons cited for this varied but included poor treatment of children, cutting corners on quality and one respondent describing a centre as being like a ‘‘crazy overfilled zoo of kids''.

There were other concerning issues raised by respondent­s involving the effects of shortstaff­ing and costcuttin­g, cramped conditions, flouting of the child/ adult ratio requiremen­ts, and staff undertakin­g cleaning tasks when they were supposed to be engaging with children.

Nearly a third of respondent­s said they did not have time to form relationsh­ips with the children in their care. This proportion has increased from previous surveys in 2014 and 2017 which, incidental­ly, attracted considerab­ly fewer participan­ts than the latest one.

Some of those commenting on the survey results considered poor conditions at some centres were driving teachers out of the sector.

Poor pay, particular­ly for those who are not working in kindergart­ens, is a major issue, and the Labour Party has promised to spend an extra $600 million over the next four years to boost pay. Some already got a rise in July.

The party fell short of promising to achieve pay parity with kindergart­en teachers within the next term, but Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government would ensure all 17,000 teachers working in education and care centres were paid what they deserve.

Almost all preschoole­rs participat­e in early childhood education at some point, so while the concerns aired in the survey may affect a minority of our more than 5400 early learning services, they should not be ignored.

Another concern raised recently related to the poor oral skills of new entrants in some lowdecile schools in Christchur­ch, with a study showing 60% struggling to express themselves in words.

Too much screentime, timepoor households and poverty were all seen as part of the problem, but it is worth noting that the Education Review Office found three years ago that nearly a third of services had limited or no focus on supporting children's oral language learning.

As the Government's Early Learning Action Plan 20192029 says, ‘‘for all children to benefit, the early learning system must provide high quality experience­s across the range of provision types valued by parents and whanau’’.

As well as improving the consistenc­y and levels of teacher salaries and conditions, the plan includes improving adultchild ratios and moving towards a fully qualified teacher workforce in teacherled centres through incentives and regulation, something which seems to have been a political football for far too long.

In his foreword to the action plan, Mr Hipkins acknowledg­ed there was work to be done to ensure every child could experience highqualit­y learning and that some of the changes would be challengin­g.

Challengin­g or not, we can understand the impatience of those in the sector who have been calling for comprehens­ive improvemen­ts in the services for years.

There is still some way to go before the sector can move from being education's poor relation to truly living up to the promise in the name of the action plan — ‘‘He taonga te tamaiti — every child a taonga''.

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