Longer hours have some parents up in arms, but Emily Writes argues that kindergartens are only doing what they have to in order to survive.
My son’s kindergarten is one of my favourite places in the world. My first baby began his learning journey there and it feels like our home away from home.
I know all of the teachers by name, we have community events, we work together to support all of the kids who attend – not just our own.
And I’m acutely aware of the struggles teachers face trying to keep this incredible model afloat. In March, parents received an email from the Taranaki Free Kindergarten Association that outlined proposed increased hours. This is course of action that has been followed time and time again by kindergartens throughout New Zealand.
My son’s kindergarten has extended hours and is open through the holidays – a necessary step due to a funding shortfall that, intentionally or not, is threatening to kill the kindergarten model.
Parents unused to seeing the depressing reality behind the scenes of early childhood education are shocked by the reality of kindergartens having to change. My message to all parents, regardless of what early childhood education centre they attend is this: Get over the shock and get to work supporting your kindergarten.
Years ago, I stood on the grounds of parliament watching as kindergarten teachers begged the government for more resources and support for our children. Their protest was small; kindergarten teachers were with their kids and few parents turned up to support their community.
Obviously, the funding cuts meant the roll-outs parents had been warned about began: hours increased, school holiday shut-downs stopped, fees increased.
Soon after, the Facebook status updates from parents slamming kindergartens started. How dare they extend hours? Don’t they know kindergarten is meant to be short hour days?
Parents began to (quite unbelievably in my opinion) blame other parents for the proposed changes – arguing that only some parents should be able to have their child in kindergarten. All of this was tied into their message that kindergarten was the best environment for their child.
It felt very twilight zone. To have a child in kindergarten is to know how great a place it is for little learning minds. To not want this to be available to everyone – and to by default suggest kindergarten teachers should pay the shortfall instead of extending hours and doing whatever they can to keep their kindy open – is bizarre.
There’s only one reason why kindys are struggling, and that’s funding. Not teachers. Not the model. Not other parents.
One of the reasons that some Kindergarten Associations are trying a range of tactics to find further funding is that ECE funding was cut in 2010 and public early childhood education has been suffering ever since.
The previous government’s decision to freeze core funding means more than $500 per child a year has been lost. This has of course meant some pre-schools have faced higher parent fees, a deterioration of child-to-teacher ratios, and increasing reliance on unqualified staff.
Kindergartens have remained committed to maintaining qualified teachers and operating as part of the whole public education eco-system. In a way, kindys have been hit hardest because of this. To keep qualified teachers and part-days they have to find funding themselves.
This is why so many of your child’s teachers have made strong arguments for planned public provision for early childhood education.
This is why they’ve suggested centrally funding teacher salaries in their submission on the draft ECE strategic plan.
This is why they keep protesting and begging the government to restore per-child funding and commit to 100% qualified teachers in every ECE service.
The Taranaki Kindergarten Association will be like every other kindergarten association – they’ll have been in financial difficulty for several years. This isn’t new, teachers have been struggling since the 2009 funding freeze.
This might be the first time parents have noticed, as it changes their child’s hours or fees – but if they’d just got involved, they’d know very well that kindy associations are at the point of last resort.
Many have had to cut staffing while trying to open longer hours.
Many have had to open during the school holidays or they’ll go under.
I mean, if you think that’s bad – there are kindergartens that have to bring toilet paper from home!
If you don’t want your child in a centre with a high roll, or longer hours, or mixed ages, if you want them home with you during the school holidays, if you want them with 100% qualified teachers – you have to fight for that well before your kindergarten has to face closing.
And your fight is with the government.
Not with teachers.
Not with other parents.
In the lead-up to the general election in 2017, MPs and candidates were asked to sign a pledge promising to work on restoring early childhood.
They promised to ensure every child can get the best Early Childhood Education possible by restoring funding to early childhood education that has been cut over the past six years. They also promised to reduce teacher to child ratios and group sizes, and restore the goal of 100 percent trained teachers in ECE.
Now is the time to protest. Instead of admonishing your kindergarten or other parents, who hold no blame and in fact have tried so hard to do something, anything, to stop this runaway train: Call to account those who have the power to stop this!
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Education Minister Tracey Martin both signed this pledge.
Christopher Bishop, David Clark, Barry Coates, Marama Davidson, Catherine Delahunty, Kris Faafoi, Chris Hipkins, Gareth Hughes, Iain Lees-Galloway, Trevor Mallard, Stuart Nash, Damien O’Connor, Grant Robertson. Denise Roche, Eugenie Sage, James Shaw, Fletcher Tabuteau, Philip Twyford, Louisa Wall, Poto Williams, and Megan Woods did too.
Simon Bridges did not. And make no mistake – The National Government is to blame for our early childhood education being absolutely gutted. This coalition government we have now has a hard job – but they have to do it.
All governments have competing priorities and they follow the lead of citizens as to where resources and funding should be allocated. If you think our children should be a priority – let them know.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.