OECD backs-up investing in quality ECE
“The focus on high quality early childhood education (ECE) is welcome in the latest report from the OECD” said Clare Wells, Chief Executive New Zealand Kindergartens (NZK). The report Starting Strong 2017 – Key OECD indicators on early childhood education and care confirms high quality ECE provides a strong foundation for children’s future learning and development of dispositions and skills that are important for success in later life.
The report states children who have spent two years in a high quality ECE service before starting school are more likely to be socially and academically advantaged at age 15 years than those who have not had that same opportunity,” said Clare Wells. “We are talking about all children here – across all our diverse communities - and the difference ECE can make in their lives. That has got to be a good prospect for our government looking for ways to lift education achievement in New Zealand.”
The report shows significant numbers of parents and caregivers are in the paid workforce. It acknowledges ECE provision meets the needs of working parents, however it positions ECE as being central to children first and foremost. “Engaging in ECE is a right for children and the OECD is now pointing out, the need to ensure it is high quality to give parents and caregivers confidence in their choice of service and to ensure every child experiences high quality early childhood education,” said Clare Wells.
The report sets out a range of factors that need to be in play to ensure equity and optimise the benefits of ECE for every child, their family and whānau and for society. “There is increasing government investment in ECE across the OECD and it is very clear where funding needs to be directed to ensure high quality provision,” said Clare Wells. “Simply providing funding with no requirement as to where the funding should be spent, does not support high quality and will unlikely realise the benefits.”
“The report highlights group size and good ratios of children-to-teachers are critical factors as are teacher qualifications, ongoing professional learning and employment conditions” said Clare Wells. “It is heartening to see the OECD calling on governments to direct their investment to achieving high quality pedagogical goals rather than simply providing more places which has been the primary driver in New Zealand in recent years.”
“Our government has backed off improving these factors in recent years, but the report shows they should be doing the opposite: these must be in the mix to maximise its return on investment in education,” said Clare Wells.
The report notes most countries require degree trained staff, arguing better educated staff with specialised training are more likely to improve cognitive outcomes across the curriculum, and it is their ability to create the appropriate learning environment that makes the difference. “Qualified teachers are a hallmark of kindergarten – our focus is on high quality teaching and learning, that’s what kindergarten is about,” said Clare Wells.
The report notes recent ‘research suggests too few adults [in ECE] have the necessary skills to promote optimal learning and emotional support for young children’s intellectual growth, particularly in the curriculum areas of science, mathematics and numeracy.’
The report has a particular focus on the increasing number of children under three years old attending ECE, noting OECD countries need to do better for those children. “We have been saying the same thing in New Zealand for some years, calling for better ratios and requirements for appropriate group size, qualified teachers for infants and toddlers, and appropriate funding levels to ensure high quality in those services,” said Clare Wells.
“The OECD report gives a clear direction on where our government needs to continue to put its energy and focus. It highlights there is work we need to do to make children’s learning progression visible and the sector is up for that,” said Clare Wells.
“There are steps we can take immediately to ensure children currently attending ECE are benefiting from high quality services,” Clare Wells said. “We should ensure every dollar of public funding is spent on ensuring high quality. We are calling on the government to set a benchmark for 100% qualified teaching workforce in teacher-led services, and to allocate the funding to support the workforce to provide high quality ECE for every child.”ENDS