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|News for Early Childhood Education|
A new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (part of The Economist magazine) titled “Starting Well: Benchmarking early education across the world” scores different aspects of early childhood systems in 45 countries and gives overall rankings.
NZ is ranked 9th after Finland, Sweden, Norway, UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands.
Countries ranked as having a worse early childhood education system than NZ include: South Korea, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan. Countries ranked 44th and 45th respectively are Indonesia and India.
The Economist report runs into difficulties because doing such an exercise does not involve simply comparing apples to apples (so to speak). Comparing and scoring early childhood education systems across diverse economies and cultures with widely differing values systems on such issues as the role of women in the labour force, the institutionalisation of young children’s learning versus the role of parents and the importance of family life in child-rearing, and who should pay for childcare – the State, parents, employers, or communities, is a highly complex undertaking. The methodology used in benchmarking early childhood education across different cultures, both in developed and third world countries, means The Economist must necessarily impose its own value system in comparing and ranking the apples with the pears, oranges, peaches, etc.
The report defines early childhood education as education which is school and centre-based for example, primary school, preschools and kindergartens. Licensed home-based education services, which cater for a significant number of children in NZ’s early education system, are excluded. Furthermore, Playcentre and Te Kohanga Reo appear to fall outside of the report’s definition because these services are parent based.
NZ is given the highest score possible on a measure of “at least 98% of pre-schoolers enrolled at age 5/6”. But in reality a very low percentage of 5 to 6 year olds are in early childhood education – with early childhood curricula and early childhood qualified teachers. The number of child enrolments in 2011 for 5 year-olds was small (1,994 children) compared to 4 year-olds (61,819 children). Only 94.7% of year 1 primary school students had previously attended some form of preschool, home-based service, parent-led or other early childhood service. It would be reasonably accurate to assume that around 95 – 98% of all 5 to 6 year olds in NZ are enrolled in primary school education – with school curriculum and school qualified teachers – but for most people in NZ this would not be thought of as early childhood education.
On page 28 of the report a short case study to highlight NZ’s achievements is provided. The case contains the following questionable claims:
- Free early childhood education is available to all 3 and 4 year olds (note that most NZ parents find ECE is not free and the government has removed the word “free” from the 20-Hour funding scheme in recognition of this fact);
- A unified funding system for all early childhood services is in place (note that home-based, parent-led and centre based services receive differentiated funding and sessional kindergarten funding rates are different to other early childhood education centres);
- The government has a target of 80% qualified teachers in early childhood education (note that the minimum stands at 50% qualified teachers even though the 80% target was to be regulated this year in 2012);
- NZ has an inclusive curriculum, Te Whariki, which honours the unique cultures of its indigenous people (however, note that this claim may be disputed by some Maori who do not like the imposition of the curriculum on their kohanga reo).
NZ is ticked off in the report for not giving children a legal right to early childhood education. In countries such as England this legal right comes about due to the age at which free universal education starts. In England children normally start Reception class in a state school from the September after their 4th birthday. State schools in England are non-fee paying and maintained by the Local Authority. Not being able to start primary school until their 5th birthday as in England and not having a system of state provided early childhood education as in Sweden nevertheless do not mean that NZ children are prevented from experiencing early childhood education in a licensed service and perhaps New Zealanders may not want to see 4 year old children in the school system.
Although The Economist report maintains a legal right to early childhood education is a key indicator of the quality of a country’s early childhood education system, it also recognises difficulty with its view of this as an indicator which fits all countries:
“A legal right may not be a sufficient condition to guarantee universal access and quality. Bureaucratic inefficiencies, corruption and regulatory hurdles, among other things, could still deny a child his or her right.
Some countries, such as Japan, have not yet instituted a legal right to preschool education, yet enjoy 100% enrolment. This begs the question about whether there is even a need for legislation. Also, it is worth noting that in some countries, such as the US, there remains some dissent over the desirability of such legislation, especially from parents who oppose the increased institutionalisation of childhood.” (p. 17)
If you would like to take time to read the report it is at this link, click here.
For a Radio NZ news item on NZ Early Childhood System 9th in the World, click here.