Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The market as judge: good for baked beans, not so good for childcare

Cross posted

As has been widely discussed, New Zealand's National government decided that one of the best places to save a bit of money was in Early Childhood Education. Childcare centres would no longer be required to 100% qualified staff (with grandparenting provisions for existing staff who were working towards their degrees); instead, only 80% qualified staff would be required, and centres would be funded at that level.

It's a downgrade. And it's a downgrade that means that parents will have less assurance about the quality of care and education that their children are receiving. We all know that good quality early childhood education is critical for children, and all the more so for children who don't come from privileged middle class homes. There are plenty of children who turn up for their first day of primary school, having never held a book in their hands, having never had a book read to them, not even knowing that in European writing systems, we read the left hand page, and then the right, and then turn the right page over. One way to give these kids at least half a chance, to ensure that in our supposedly egalitarian society there is a minimal semblance of equality of opportunity, is to ensure that they get good quality early childhood care. We need to make sure everyone has a chance, that everyone can get a good education, if we want the children who are in childcare right now, to grow up to become citizens, people who are part of our society, people who have a stake in it, people who want to make a contribution, instead of forever feeling that the bosses and the big important people just don't give a damn.



As a society, we should be deeply concerned about the quality and availability of early childhood education. We rely on having expert and well-qualified teachers and carers in our childcare centres and preschools, because we are concerned about the future of our society. On top of that, most parents want to be sure that their children are in good care. So they rely on having expert and well-qualified teachers in childcare centres and preschools.

But the National government has decided that early childhood education just doesn't matter all that much, so that's where "savings" can be made. As for quality assurance, well, Granny Herald has got a solution.

The market will provide!

It is easy to insist little children deserve nothing but the best. And working parents who place their infants in childcare want to be assured on that score. But "the best" at this level might not require professional training. The best could include people with an aptitude for caring but not for academic study and tests. Checks on their performance can be reliably left to a competitive industry that must constantly satisfy observant parents.


Editorial: Preschool Budget cuts right move

Oh good grief! Early childhood education, indeed, any education, is not like a can of baked beans. For starters, it's not as though there is a whole shelf full of childcare centres, from which you can pick one. The supply is limited, especially if you are constrained by other factors, such as needing childcare near your home, or your work, so that you don't spend hours every days commuting between one place and another, with tired children in the back seat. But more importantly, it can take time to work out that a child is not thriving, time to work out that for all its glossy brochures a childcare centre doesn't really have the resources to care for your child, time to work out that some of the staff who looked so lovely don't in fact know how to manage children, and have only taken the job because there is nothing else they can do. One of the great guarantees that comes along with demanding degree qualified staff is that you know they are genuinely committed to early childhood education, committed enough to slog their way through a degree, because this is where they want to be.

But the time you have been able to work this out, your child is six months older. Six months is not such a long time for an adult to endure a poor job, but it could 10% or 20% of your child's life. Time enough for a child to lose out, to slip behind developmental guidelines, to miss out on critical early learning experiences. You buy one can of baked beans and it turns out to be not so good? Well, you can always go buy another brand the very next day. But "buy" the wrong type of childcare, and the consequences could be much more severe than a meal that isn't quite as good as you would like it to be.

I know some fabulous women and men who have worked in childcare - my mother, a cousin who is doing her degree, a former male student who was a qualified nanny, the wonderful, gorgeous, Jackie Clark. What distinguishes these people is their commitment to children, exemplified by the qualifications they have worked hard to get. Those are the kind of people I want to see in early childhood education.

I would like to see the National government think a little harder about what it wants to achieve in education, and why, and how, instead of simply thinking that it can be trimmed and cut without anyone much noticing the difference.

As for where the money is going to come from? I hear there's a cycleway that isn't being built. Perhaps that might be a good thing to trim.

18 comments:

Psycho Milt said...

It's a downgrade.

No, it's a recognition that not everyone in a childcare centre needs some kind of teaching qualification. The childcare centre my kids went to had some excellent staff who were planning to retire rather than start out on the qualifications bullshit the then govt was imposing on them. An 80% quota would have worked out pretty well for them, the centre and the parents.

We all know that good quality early childhood education is critical for children...

But we don't. I and just about everyone my age never saw an early childhood educator, and yet somehow left school educated. What is critical is that children are looked after by someone who gives a shit about them, something for which educational qualifications, skills training, or even having having given birth to them is no guarantee.

Anonymous said...

Milt, while I agree to some degree with your first paragraph about possible provisions for excellent staff not wishing to get qualified (perhaps through some kind of assessment/recognition of prior experience/learning), I would also point out that the 100% qualified target has been known for several years now and I know of many other excellent staff who ARE studying for qualifications, and some of them are actually enjoying it and improving their teaching because of it.

Secondly, You say "just about everyone my age never saw an early childhood educator, and yet somehow left school educated." Yes, and for a large percentage of those people their mother or grandparents were not working and were able to look after them. Many parents now have no choice about putting their children in care...


Thirdly: You said "What is critical is that children are looked after by someone who gives a shit about them, something for which educational qualifications, skills training, or even having having given birth to them is no guarantee." No it is not a guarantee, but then again there is no such thing as a 100% guarantee. I also think you are rather uncharitable in possibly suggesting that someone who has done a three year degree in teaching doesn't care about kids, given they would have done at least 42 weeks of practicum in that time.Frankly, if you don't care about kids you won't last long in ECE...
Furthermore, if I said to you I would like my 18 year old daughter - who really cares about cars but has no training in fixing them at all - is avaliable to fix your car next time it breaks down...what would your answer be?

To directly respond to the article...Granny Herald's point about the "market" is worth looking at because if the consequences are thought through, one would realise that once again the least well off the shitty end of the stick as they will very likely not be able to afford centres with 100% qualified staff, and may find their children looked after by whomever the centre (or relief teaching agency) accepts off the street.

big bruv said...

Childcare, the ultimate extension of the feminist state.

How about this for a 'crazy' idea, why not stay home and look after the kid/kids yourself instead of demanding that other tax payers fund your "free" 20 hours?

By the way, what ever happend to the feminist demand of 24 hour tax payer funded child care?

Parents are the best ECE, the problem is that you lot treat kids as a fashion accessory.

Carol said...

Milt, things have changed a lot in recent years, both in the economy and with education.

People lead far more education and training to participate in the workforce and society. This came with the shift towards service and white collar work and away from industrial work in developed countries.

There's been an escalation in the level of education required at all levels, from craft level jobs to those that now require a postgraduate qualification and PhDs.

There's also been advances in understanding of how children are best prepared at a young age to learn at higher levels of education, but also to participate fully in all aspects of the complex world we live in.

Sure, most parents are committed to providing the best quality care for their children. But not all do. And middleclass parents more usually provide the models of behaviour and experience in the basic skills that help a child succeed in education later, than do parents from a blue collar background, who had little or no formal education beyond the first few years of secondary school.

And Bruv, thanks for making the association that exposes the fact that when people (usually on the right) say children are better being looked after at home by their "parents", they mean their mothers. And behind that ethos is usually that traditional notion that all women are naturally good with children, and most suited to be childcarers.

And even if that were true, why should they be doing this important work at home for free, when it provides the unbringing that is crucial to the success of the state, employers etc when the child grows older?

But even for those (not all women, and some men) "naturally" good with children, they will do a better job in the early years of education if they get educated in how to provide the best experiences to enable children to be succesful in education and other areas of life as they get older.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that national really has a conscious policy one way or the other here.

I think that the real issue is that the minister for education is so utterly useless that she cannot defend her portfolio's budget from the other members of caucus. Which says something about how dysfunction caucus is.

Psycho Milt said...

You say "just about everyone my age never saw an early childhood educator, and yet somehow left school educated." Yes, and for a large percentage of those people their mother or grandparents were not working and were able to look after them.

True. But how many of them were qualified early childhood educators?

I also think you are rather uncharitable in possibly suggesting that someone who has done a three year degree in teaching doesn't care about kids...

Not suggesting that at all, merely pointing out that the most significant qualification for the job can be met by the uneducated as well as the educated.

Furthermore, if I said to you I would like my 18 year old daughter - who really cares about cars but has no training in fixing them at all - is avaliable to fix your car next time it breaks down...what would your answer be?

My qualifications for raising my children are that I care about them but have no training in early childhood education. Am I therefore unfit for purpose?

Don't get the impression I'm arguing some kind of extreme here - that qualifications are unnecessary, for example. I believe it's the post author who's arguing the extreme - that qualifications in early childhood education are 100% necessary for people working in childcare centres. It's simply not true.

There's been an escalation in the level of education required at all levels, from craft level jobs to those that now require a postgraduate qualification and PhDs.

There certainly has. It's called Qualification Creep, and it's affecting my profession as well. When I started out 20 years ago, a postgrad diploma was the professional qualification - now you need a Masters degree and to fork out cash every year for "professional registration." Which all seems to me to have a lot more to do with a desire to raise the social standing and pay scales of the practitioners than with any genuine need for such "improvements." Perhaps things are different in the ECE biz...

A Nonny Moose said...

Is it not possible to have a discussion about childcare without it being derailed by the "woman's place is in the home" BS?

Working women and two income families are a reality, and we really need to move the discussion forward about the future of the children, not the motives of the parents.

For an economy to be a success, everyone needs to be a participant. Women supply vital skills and tax dollar. To pigeonhole them as sole caregivers is simply about controlling male privilege and economic status quo.

The myth that every woman is a suitable child carer is just that - a myth. I'm terrible with children, but you'd expect me to shove one out and raise it competently? Oh no, that's right, you'd expect my uterus to be available for the greater population good and THEN vilify me as a bad mother.

No win feckin' situation. Just like many women as put in.

If you REALLY cared about the greater economic good of the country, you'd support better education. Economic policy is not a quick fix solution - it requires steady encouragement of all participants, from birth, through education, through becoming participants in the workforce.

Vilifying mothers is vilifying children's growth is vilifying the workforce of tomorrow.

Hugh said...

Wait a second, Anonny. You don't want us to 'vilify' mothers, but you also think we need to acknowledge that some women are bad at looking after children? If that's not a vilification, what is?

Psycho Milt said...

How about this for a 'crazy' idea, why not stay home and look after the kid/kids yourself instead of demanding that other tax payers fund your "free" 20 hours?

Because it's wasteful and inefficient. The economy benefits substantially from professional childcare, as do the parents and the children.

Deborah said...

Not good at or doesn't enjoy looking after children =/= bad mother.

I would loathe looking after children as a job, but I would be very angry indeed if you suggested that I am a bad mother.

That's bloody close to looking to stir up trouble and derail a thread by misquoting people, Hugh. Howabout offering some constructive comments, rather than engaging in snide disruption.

Hugh said...

Deborah, at what point did I use the phrase 'bad mother'? I said 'bad at looking after children'. And I think 'not good at looking after children' = 'bad at looking after children' is a statement I'm willing to stand by.

As for 'constructive criticism', I honestly don't know what that is in this context. I saw what seemed to be an inconsistency in somebody's argument and pointed it out. If that's considered snide and disruptive, I think we have to consider the original post similarly snide and disruptive since it's essentially doing the same thing - pointing out an inconsistency in the government's argument.

A Nonny Moose said...

Well Hugh, considering you know absolutely nothing about my genetics, mental health, whether I have disabilities, lifestyle, or even ability to procreate, taking my statement "I'm terrible with children" and turning it into "therefore you will be a bad mother" is derailing.

IF for an inconceivable (badoom shh) reason I DID have children, I know I would find ways to cope and I know that I would probably be an OK mother. Not a GREAT mother, which is what you expect all women to be, therefore I would be vilified if I ever asked for help to cope because of mental/physical/lifestyle restrictions or limitations. Bringing it back round to the original topic, that "asking for help" would include being able to send my child to ECE. Restricting access/funding to ECE is restricting a persons ability to parent at their full potential.

As for calling me snide, I really don't see how asking for a woman to have a choice on how she parents can be construed as some outlandish request of our government.

And since you've effectively derailed the conversation, and I originally pointed out (Is it not possible to have a discussion about childcare without it being derailed by the "woman's place is in the home" BS?) congratulations, you win the Internet Olympics.

Now, can we please talk about the issue, not societal's outdated notions of a woman's autonomy and agency?

Hugh said...

Jesus christ. Look, A Nonny, I don't think you're a bad mother, I don't think I have any right to judge whether or not you're a bad mother, and if you can point to the part of of either of my two posts here, or, indeed, anywhere, where you feel I've said that you're a bad mother, or, indeed, anything about you as a person, I would be really interested to see it.

I also don't actually think you're being snide - I was referring to Deborah's post, not your comment, whent talking about the 'original post'. I was actually trying to use it to show that I'm -not- being snide.

OK, having got that out of the way - hopefully - what I was saying is, you've said you want to explode the notion that every woman is a suitable child carer. Fair enough, and I agree, because the idea that women are somehow 'natural' child carers is gender essentialism at its most flagrant and underpins all sorts of messy thinking.

You've then said we need to avoid being in a situation where we don't 'vilify' mothers. I can't reconcile these two statements, unless you feel that a woman who has a child is always a good child carer - or that describing a woman as not being a good child carer doesn't constitute villifying her.

A Nonny Moose said...

I'm sorry Hugh, but you've so thoroughly taken the conversation off the tracks, I'm not sure what you're even asking or want of me. Are you asking for permission to bitch out bad mothers if they are proven under some code of society to be as such? What would the criteria be.

*head shake* I don't know. You've lost me. I'd rather go back to, as I asked before, to the original intent of the posting - making sure parents have the tools (ECE) to BE better parents.

Julie said...

Thanks so much for posting about this Deborah. I'm not sure I can say much more than that right now, because it is so close to my work (and taking up a lot of my paid employment hours) so probably best to steer clear beyond providing info, which I'll come back and do it I get a chance.

One thing that has bugged me about the whole debate, here and elsewhere, is a broad stereotype about teachers (not just in early childhood education) that once you have a teaching qualification you somehow stop caring. Have a BEd (Teach) or a Dip Teach doesn't mean you somehow jettisoned the caring which drove you to that course of study in the first place.

Ok, better stop there.

Violet said...

I don't think Anne Tolley's trying to make any kind of statement about the worth of ECE, ECE qualifications or mothers - as far as I can tell she's just looking to cut corners anywhere she can. ECE is just one place to do it, Adult Community Education was another. And we all know universities are now under pressure to increase the proportion of their full fee-paying international students (probably at the expense of local students).

Giarne said...

There is research that points to qualified staff in ECE having a huge impact on quality educational outcomes. Here's just one of them that I can find at the moment - there is another really good one by Helen May and others but I can't seem to track it down.

http://www.teacherswork.ac.nz/journal/volume3_issue1/tarr.pdf

Imogen said...

Interesting Post, as an early childhood teacher (2nd generation my mother has been teaching for years as well)this issue is very important to me and I agree with a lot that you said however I don't agree with a statement you made.
"if we want the children who are in childcare right now, to grow up to become citizens" Children are already citizens, this is part of the problem. The national government and many people perceive that children aren't complete people, with rights. They are simply future adults. This view is something I have to battle against everyday.