The Education Ministry is speaking out in public to defend private industry in early childhood education, but an official's statement may irritate the Finance Minister and leave the ECE sector wondering about its capacity to provide informed advice and analysis to Government.
In the Ministry's Early Learning Bulletin sent to every early childhood operator in the country an official wrote:
A couple of weeks back the New Zealand Herald ran a series of articles about early childhood education (ECE). Not all of what they wrote was accurate. Peter Hughes, the Secretary for Education, wrote to the Herald to provide some facts. You can read his piece here. I wanted to use this issue of He Pānui Kōhungahunga to let you know what I think about early learning in New Zealand.
First of all, as you know, quality ECE can make a real difference to a child’s life. The New Zealand-based Competent Children, Competent Learners study found that the positive effects from ECE continued at ages 14 and 16, while economist James Heckman has found an economic rate of return of around 7-10% for government investment in ECE. The research clearly shows that children who are involved in some form of early learning do better in their later education – and in life
The Ministry appears to be relying once again on this one study for 'proof' when it was pointed out to it as far back as 2005 that it should be careful not to overgeneralise the research findings beyond that warranted by the data.
- See comments by Bill English at: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0504/S00570.htm and http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0506/S00030.htm
- View a critique published in the Teachers' Work journal: http://www.teacherswork.ac.nz/journal/volume2_issue1/croad.pdf
The actual justification for government investment in ECE is an economic one. By investing in ECE Government is helping to reduce a barrier for parents to engage in paid work or study and provide jobs for a mainly female workforce by increasing the size of the early childhood education industry.
Labour market research is therefore perhaps more relevant than American James Heckman's productivity arguments on providing early intervention programmes involving parents for disadvantaged children likely to engage in crime later in life and have poor educational outcomes as adults. NZ ECE services are not the same as the early intervention programmes referred to and our population and social policies are different.
- The case put forward by James J. Heckman and Dimitriy V. Masterov http://jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/papers/Heckman_final_all_wp_2007-03-22c_jsb.pdf
For articles on the Competent Children research and the findings of other NZ, Australian and overseas studies on the effects of participation in ECE on children click here.