Rising cost to parents are a symptom not the cause of the Early Childhood Education crisis

The recognition by the National Party that early childhood education costs (ECE) are a fundamental issue for young families is welcome, but the funding and provision model can’t be fixed with a band aid.

“We welcome National’s new childcare policy that has the potential to make childcare more affordable for many families,” says Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ chief executive Kathy Wolfe, “but the statistics don’t lie. Despite the 20 and then 30 hours early childhood subsidy, some for-profit-providers raised fees and created conditions that swallowed the subsidy, leaving ECE in New Zealand one of the least affordable in the OECD.”

Christopher Luxon has stated that while the new Family Boost policy was about providing relief to parents, National would deal with the early education cost structure in the future.  

“The acknowledgement that there are fundamental issues that need fixing is welcome,” says Kathy Wolfe. “We need any Prime Minister to be bold and courageous and focus on valuing early childhood education and social skills that ECE provides. 

“While most parents know that ECE is not a baby-sitting service, we need the social outcomes ECE provides to be valued by government. Those early years are among the most important for our tamariki.  Research has continually proven that meaningful investment in the early years provides a return to society in later years.

“It was disturbing to read in a Sunday Star Times article that an increasing proportion of the $2.3b a year in taxpayer funding is collected by for-profit providers, and ultimately passed on to investors while facilities were ignored and shelves were allowed to remain empty of toys. Without careful implementation, this policy has the potential to enrich the for-profit-sector, rather than improve the wellbeing of our children.”

“ECE must be about our tamariki, and let’s be honest about this. When they’re under five, they are unlikely to be able to raise the kind of issues that arise when a profit motive is seen as more important than education. Profit is needed to run a business, but not at the expense of quality education or undervaluing teachers.  

“In practice this means a much-improved funding system to early childhood providers and teachers who are struggling to bounce back from the years of funding freezes despite the small incremental increases from Labour. It is also vital the key significant items within the Early Learning Action Plan are implemented urgently. The sector needs action now to recover from years of under valuing and be the best for our future generations. Tamariki deserve it!

“Te Rito Maioha has a Five Point Plan to tackle the Early Childhood Education Crisis, and we ask the government and opposition parties to urgently consider this simple five step plan,” says Kathy Wolfe. “More assistance for families is welcomed, but it is needed to ensure quality education, not encourage using tamariki as a commodity, so from that perspective, much more is required.

1. Fund ECE services sufficiently to deliver pay parity for kaiako and quality education to tamariki without charging high fees to parents.
2. Urgently replace the outdated, dysfunctional ECE funding model to meet the real needs of today’s working whānau, tamariki and ECE services.
3. Tackle teacher shortages with a meaningful strategic workforce plan to attract, retain and develop a professional, culturally responsive ECE teaching workforce from within Aotearoa New Zealand.
4. Improve child-teacher ratios – currently among the worst in the OECD – so that tamariki can thrive, learn and be safe with quality education and attention from teachers. 
5. Simplify regulations to support quality education delivery without over-burdening ECE services with labour-intensive administration demands from multiple agencies.