The theme for this year’s Children’s Day on March 2 is “Treasure our Children”. With quality early education central to that theme, NZEI Te Riu Roa is highlighting the importance of qualified teachers for the under fives. We have been targeting community newspapers with articles about local ECE centres and the difference qualified teachers make to children’s learning, as well as launching a series of videos and blogs looking at what great early childhood teaching is all about.
Making sure teachers are qualified and registered is the most commonly accepted way of boosting quality. However, despite its own rhetoric, the government only requires 50 per cent of teachers in ECE service to be qualified. High quality early childhood education is the foundation for good social and communication skills, emotional well-being and a love of learning which children need throughout their lives. Unfortunately, government policy in recent years is making it difficult for centres to employ 100 per cent qualified teachers because it will fund only up to 80 per cent qualified staff.
NZEI President Judith Nowotarski said the institute wanted to see more investment in this vital area of education so that young children start their learning in a warm and welcoming environment, with small group sizes, improved adult-child ratios and 100 per cent qualified teaching staff.
Here is what some ECE head teachers had to say about quality education for the under-fives:
Jo McMillan, Colenso Early Childhood Centre, Napier:
“Our goal is to help children succeed in learning and in life, but we also work with the young mums [attending the adjacent Hawke’s Bay Teen Parent Unit at William Colenso College] to empower them to be the best parents they can be. The parents are on the same site and are available at any time to meet the needs of their children.”
“Our relationships with parents really focus on connections. We see the mothers grow as parents, guided and supported by teachers.”
“Qualified teachers have a greater understanding of children’s developmental needs which are based on nurturing relationships and building on the children’s strengths and interests.”
Kelly Mua, Barnardos Early Learning Centre, Hastings:
“Qualified teachers bring professionalism, an understanding of child development and knowledge of Te Whariki [the ECE curriculum] and relevant legislation. Qualified teachers are intentional teachers. Learning is child led and child directed, but every interaction is deliberately guided to maximise learning.”
Barnardos ELC has a magical outdoor environment, with chickens, lots of fruit trees, gardens, an orchard, stream, living willow huts, fruit vines and trees for climbing.
“It’s like a little haven. I wish more people knew the importance of nature play. The children here are immersed in the wonder of the natural world and it has a lot of benefit for them. They only get one childhood.”
“All children would benefit directly from access to quality centres and qualified teachers. It would lead to increased learning outcomes for children and the best start in life.”
Alyssa Inu, Karori Childcare Centre, Wellington:
“The small number of children and the nature of our mixed age environment, having siblings and cousins together allow the relationships to be authentic. We truly know our children and whanau and this results in us being able to focus on the genuine strengths and interests of each child.”
“We believe in the not-for-profit sector of early childhood education. It is vitally important that parents understand that in quality early childhood centres, children direct their own learning, with the facilitation of qualified teachers.”
Julie Crawley, Cottle Kindergarten, Upper Hutt:
“Qualified teachers have an awareness of how children learn, they understand the need to take the time. You need to ask the right questions and be thinking about how to further children’s knowledge without jumping in and just telling them.”
“Government funding for 100 per cent qualified teachers would make a huge amount of difference for children. It’s fantastic that New Zealand Kindergartens are committed to having 100 per cent qualified staff, but incredibly sad that we’re not recognised at a government level. We’re not seen as professionals.”
Christina Loye, Tui Early Learners, Palmerston North:
“Qualified teachers know how to maximise the child’s interests and challenge them to increase their skills in a way that encourages them to extend themselves and feel successful and positive about learning.”
“Having worked in primary school as well, you can see the children who have had quality pre-school education. They are ready to learn and race ahead in their education.”
Christina said it would be “amazing” to have funding for 100 per cent qualified staff. At the moment, some of their staff are students studying towards their ECE teaching degree. When they become qualified, the centre is not always able to keep them on staff if there isn’t a qualified teaching position available.
“If we could keep qualified staff, it would be better for children and parents. It offers the children a richer learning experience.”