The latest results from the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) show that maths achievement in primary schools has changed little over the last twelve years. The annual NEMP assessment of Year 4 and Year 8 students states that there was only a small improvement in performance for Year 4 students between 1997 and 2009, and no change in the overall performance of Year 8 students.
The NEMP report may send alarm bells through the early childhood education community.
1. If ECE produces better educational outcomes for children why are we not seeing this in the NEMP results?
In 2002 the government's 10 year strategic plan for early childhood education stated "The Government is committed to raising the level of educational achievement of all New Zealand children. As the foundation for ongoing learning, ECE is a critical first step".
The Labour Government brought in the Strategic Plan for ECE and funding for the sector trebled during Labour's term in office. The 20 hours Free ECE funding policy led to an overall increase in the number of hours that 3 and 4 years-old attended ECE, but did not create much new participation. The new National-led government is putting $107 million more into ECE, bringing total public funding for ECE to $1.3 billion. The National government is starting to put in place schemes to target funding to those children more likely to be at the tail end of academic achievement later at school.
2. Is it time to revise and update Te Wharaki, the national early childhood curriculum produced in 1996 to provide the "basis for a consistent high quality curriculum", to give greater emphasis to subject knowledge and maths learning and teaching in particular?
In March 2009 a story ran in the national newspapers that principals were saying that many children were starting school lacking the basics of knowing how to hold a pencil, how to wash their hands, knowing how to read a book from the front to the back and that pictures relate to text.
3. Are the benefits of high 'quality' (as in higher funded and more regulated) ECE being lost in transition to primary education?
A large UK study looking at children's educational outcomes in early childcare and education and at school found that when children attend a less academically effective primary school benefits gained from attending a more effective or a higher quality preschool can wash out (EEPE 3 – 11yrs project, click here to be taken to more information)