A new report from the OECD says that while many countries including New Zealand have upped their spending on early childhood education to increase places and participation, an equal focus has not necessarily been placed on ensuring that the care and education is of high quality.
New Zealand tops the table out of all countries in the OECD for its proportion of children enrolled in private early childhood education and care (ECEC) and no child has a legal entitlement to a place in ECEC, according to the new report “Starting Strong 2017”.
According to the report, as many as 98 percent of children enrolled in early childhood education are in publicly funded private services – a figure that reveals the Ministry of Education does not classify kindergartens as being publicly owned if kindergartens are included. In the United States the proportion of children in private services is 41% and in Sweden 17%.
The OECD report suggests that governments need to look carefully at how public funding for ECE is allocated. NZ is ranked 10th in the OECD on how much it spends on ECEC as a percentage of GDP and is listed as providing unconditional free access to 20 Hours a week of ECE for children between the ages of 3 to 5.
But ChildForum chief executive, Dr Sarah Alexander says that the reality for many families in New Zealand is that they face costs to make use of the 20 Hour publicly funded provision.
“Take for example, the Auckland Kindergarten Association, it has announced it will be extending required enrolment to 7-hour days and many parents will still have to pay fees even if they want to keep their child home with older siblings for term breaks or go on holidays,” says Dr Alexander.
Internationally the OECD notes that the wages of graduates who work in ECEC are below those of other teaching graduates and that free ECEC does not guarantee high quality. The report recommends focusing on improving quality and ensuring that parental engagement is encouraged and supported.
Dr Alexander says that a key message to be taken from the report is that throwing more public money at ECEC to increase children’s participation will have limited effect on quality.
“Early childhood education has a very valuable role to play in supporting families with their child’s care and learning, and the benefits of this early support can carry through life so we need in NZ to become better focused on quality,” says Dr Alexander.
“A focus simply on getting numbers through the door or a learning-only focus that does not include care alongside education is not putting the best interests of the child or the family first”.
Dr Alexander adds that the report showed that getting children from low socioeconomic background into early childhood education can increase their performance later in life.
According to the report, attending an early childhood programme for two years is correlated to student’s higher performance on the international PISA test in science at age 15 years – but the benefit is greater for children from low socio-economic homes.
This is another reason Dr Alexander says early childhood education must be available to all families who wish to use it, not just the ones that could afford the extra costs.