Early Childhood Education Policy

Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Early Childhood Education Policy


INTRODUCTION

This article provides a Ministry of Education commentary on the policy framework for early childhood education (ECE). It responds to concerns about the policy framework raised in Munford et al.'s "Blending Whanau/Family Development, Parent Support and Early Childhood Education (1) Programme" that the policy framework for ECE places an "emphasis on staff qualifications" and "disadvantages services with high levels of parental involvement".

GOVERNMENT GOALS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Government's vision for early childhood education, articulated in Pathways to the Future: Nga Huarahi Arataki, A 10-Year Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Education, is for all New Zealand children to have the opportunity to participate in "quality ECE", no matter their circumstance. Within the plan are three goals to:

* increase participation in "quality ECE services"

* improve quality of ECE services

* promote collaborative relationships.

This vision is driven and supported by research that shows that participation in high-quality ECE contributes to stronger learning foundations, and particularly for children from disadvantaged families. Research shows that these children receive the greatest gains from high-quality ECE, and that a number of factors influence quality: the quality of interactions between and with children; environments rich in learning opportunities and resources; and collaboration with parents. These factors tend to relate to qualifications and adult-child ratios, so government is investing in these areas to support the provision of high-quality ECE. Information provision programmes (such as Team Up), parent support and development programmes, and other initiatives support collaborative relationships.

As well as supporting quality and participation, the development of ECE funding and regulatory policies have sought to account for the diverse range of ECE providers in New Zealand (education and care centres, home-based services, kindergartens, kohanga reo, playgroups, playcentres). The reviews of funding and regulations, for example, are underpinned by the principles that these systems should, among other objectives, (2) reflect the diversity of ECE services, and recognise the value of ECE services that involve parents, whanau and elders; and reflect the culture, language and aspirations of communities.

ECE policy also aims to facilitate wider government goals. High-quality ECE contributes to the government's Families Young and Old Priorities: Giving our Children the Best Start in Life and Establishing Foundation for Life Long Learning. Access to affordable, high-quality ECE also supports the goals of Choices for Living, Caring, and Working, a 10-year action plan to improve the caring and employment choices available to parents and carers.

PARENT SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT

The government currently funds a range of parent support and development (PSD) programmes, through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development. PSD programmes include a focus on supporting families and whanau to participate in ECE and deliver key messages about the value of ECE and may also link families with ECE services.

Government is piloting PSD from 18 ECE centres (ECE Centre-based PSD) between 2006 and 2010. The ECE Centre-based PSD initiative is part of a package of services supporting the wider Early Invention Programme (3) led by the Ministry of Social Development. It focuses on developing the role of ECE centres as community hubs for provision of parent/whanau support, and is aimed at families at risk of poor health, education and social outcomes and who have children aged 0-3.

International evidence (mainly from Europe and the United States) suggests that programmes that combine parent education/support and ECE can raise child outcomes and can be more effective than solely parent-focused or child-focused programmes. …

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