Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Early Childhood

It is very satisfying watching a young child learning to walk and talk. The development is so rapid and so miraculous. Both skills involve trial and error. We learn by making mistakes. Teachers know you dwell on the positive, not the failure.

Infant teachers know, however, the wide division that exists in their new infant classes between those who have extensive stimulation and those whose development has been left to chance and nature. That gap is very hard to close.

Which is why I am so critical of the Key Government’s early childhood policy. During David Lange’s stint as Minister of Education the report 'Before Five' charted a course for early childhood care and education. Those in the sector were enthusiastic. The Cinderella of the education sector was at last getting recognition.

Under the succeeding regime, however, much of that programme was not implemented. Helen Clark’s Government returned to it, improving it and setting definite goals. One of those was to have qualified teachers in the various centres.

Now that goal has been abandoned. Last night, I watched Minister Anne Tolley being interviewed by John Campbell. She is the best non-answerer I’ve seen for a long time. She puts her head down like a rhinoceros and charges with her prepared answer. Her mind is made up.

One of her statements was that you don’t need qualifications to take care of young children. That's the point. The word education goes alongside care. Taking care of is more than wiping noses and bums. It involves encouraging curiosity, seeking language development, improving motor skills.

A qualified teacher is more apt to meet those needs. I am not knocking the hundreds of dedicated people who’ve worked in the early childhood sector. I speak from experience. When I was teaching I took part in an experiment. To cope with an acute shortage of secondary teachers a ‘pressure-cooker’ scheme was devised. Local people with degrees were engaged to work in schools under a master-teacher to learn the trade.

The scheme was enlarged to include graduates from England. I enjoyed the task of training these people as teachers. But when I became an inspector of schools I saw many of them in action. They had learnt a trade but they lacked the theory to underpin their programmes. They taught my style rather than develop their own to meet the needs of the actual students in front of them. They had been trained rather than educated. It was a chastening lesson.

The sad thing about the pulling out of the resource rug from the early childhood sector is that it is an essential component of the knowledge society. Our pre-schoolers need the best opportunity they can get. Not only for their own sake, but for the nation’s.

1 comment:

  1. I think that we *do* confuse childcare with education. Think of the situation in primary schools - all primary schools are required to be staffed with fully trained teachers, because their job is education. Some parents who work long hours may require their children to be cared for out of school hours - those who do say do not have to be fully trained primary teachers.
    Once, we had kindergartens which were essentially there for education, providing this in the amounts supposed good for pre-school children - three afternoon sessions for the younger ones, five morning sessions for the older ones. They had to have fully trained teachers.
    Then , more and more working parents demanded longer hours of childcare for their pre-schoolers, and no distinction has been made between "day care" and "education" - so the day care centres are supposed to get by on 80% trained staff, and the kindergartens are expected to match that. And yet we don't expect state schools to reduce their qualified staff to match the afterschool care centres.
    Now, when my children were at kindergarten, there were two teachers, although I believe that most now have three. By my maths, 80% of two teachers is 1.6 teachers, and as you can't have 1.6 trained teachers, and .4 of a teacher who isn't (Not if they are full time, and small children need reliable familiar people about them) - then the kindergarten will still have to employ 100% trained staff, but will only be funded for 80%. And if they have three teachers, that's still the case, since 2 trained teachers would only be 67%.
    Perhaps Anne Tolley needs to go back to primary school to figure out a few of these things?