Opinion: Time to discuss "quality" early childhood education and define it

06 March 2018

Early childhood education (ECE) matters.

Here, in New Zealand, we have a world-class ECE curriculum to implement, Te Whaariki, and a high uptake of ECE services. We also have a model that offers variety of ECE services and parental choice. Those delivering ECE provide care, dedication, teaching, and community and family connection.

Yet we have what is now described as 'staggering' shortages of people signing up for ECE teacher training, funding shortfalls dating back to 2011, and complex rules and regulations that are not evenly applied across the sector.

We see so many negative views about ECE published, and yet so few stories that demonstrate the difference ECE is making, and the quality ECE that is in action. Because there is great work happening, and good stories to tell. These need to be celebrated more.

I believe how we value our ECE services, and centre owners, ECE governance committees, managers and teachers, directly feeds into the quality learning outcomes for our country's youngest citizens.

Delivering quality ECE is more than just a well-run centre. In other countries, they have looked at how reducing barriers to ECE for all has created better learning outcomes. How ECE is funded is also of significance. Ensuring services are funded to deliver the curriculum, to educate and care for our youngest citizens, has to be part of the equation.

Ensuring rules and regulatory requirements that govern ECE are fairly applied, and tertiary training of ECE teachers is of the highest quality, should be a consideration too.

We know ECE establishes the foundations for a child's future learning pathways, and international research consistently shows its benefits. ECE has gone through many changes in the last 15-years as demand for services grows. Yet here in New Zealand ECE still has a tendency to be been treated slightly apart from the wider education system.

Those working in ECE often have to say - hey, what about us! All too often ECE has found itself missing from the big decisions and discussions at the highest education tables. It is refreshing to see sentiments expressed as part of the proposed education reforms, that there is to be a whole view of the education sector with the child at the centre, and ECE included at the discussion tables from day-one.

But while plans are made to meet and talk about making plans about the future direction of the education sector, the barriers that can make the work of ECE services harder, remain.

For those that manage, own, govern and lead ECE services it is important to build cohesive and effective teaching teams, and provide opportunities for professional development, while navigating a complex regulatory system.

The rules, regulations, and a complex funding system create a highly complicated structure to navigate. There is no such thing as 'free' ECE services, and we have seen steady cuts since 2011 to elements of existing government funding arrangements. Let's not forget, ECE is also looking down the barrel of teacher shortages.

Despite these barriers, how can we implement Te Whaariki to its full benefit? How do we work with our children, our families, and whanau and wider community to deliver quality ECE?

This year's Early Childhood Council conference events will bring together as many as 600 teachers, centre managers and owners, and governance committee members, to discuss these issues, including how we can deliver that promise of quality ECE every day. Attendance is open to anyone working in ECE.

For us at the Early Childhood Council, the annual conference is our biggest event of the year that we offer. It's a chance to come together and meet face-to-face, to listen and take away learnings and messages, to be inspired, so that we can continue to represent the interests of ECE centres, and strive for quality ECE in New Zealand.

ECE matters. Our youngest citizens matter. They deserve the world-class ECE curriculum that connects to the wider education system and sets them up for future opportunities.

So let's keep doing what we do well in ECE, and as well as celebrating the successes, keep striving to deliver quality, even in the face of barriers.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer

Early Childhood Council

The ECC annual conference series is being held in three centres, with the main event 25-26 May 2018 in Auckland. For more details go here: www.ecc.org.nz/events/ecc-conference