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.