Although a necessity, engaging in research and maintaining currency in one’s knowledge base is fast becoming a luxury for tertiary educators with high demands on their time for teaching and shrinking department budgets.
However, early childhood staff at the Manukau Institute of Technology are successfully navigating around the obstacles.
MIT has been represented at every NZ Early Childhood Research Conference since its inception in Auckland in 1997. The MIT early childhood staff come across as a vibrant team with a particular message to convey: they might be perceived as underdogs in the tertiary sector because they are located in Manukau and MIT is not a traditional university but they are reaching high.
At the ChildForum organised research conference held in January in Wellington, twelve staff members attended, four of whom made presentations at the event.
The conference brought together academics from tertiary institutions, including the Manukau Institute of Technology, and officials from the ECE public and private sectors and the Ministry of Education, to discuss and deliberate on research relevant to the effectiveness of teaching, assessment, and early childhood care, health and education in general.
The participants play a big role in contributing to and disseminating research and such conferences help them exchange ideas and information to benefit children, their teachers, and the ECE sector
“It is a quality conference and we would like to see it continued. It’s something we have encouraged staff to attend and we look more favourably on our staff going to NZ-based childhood conferences. We do have staff attending overseas ones but we feel it is really important to support an NZ-based conference,” Dr Lindy Austin, head of MIT’s education school says.
She says the conference programme and presentations are intelligently laid out and MIT staff participate in it and get their work published in the NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal as well.
The MIT’s journey towards teacher education in ECE has been a less traditional route since the early 1990s as it is a polytechnic and thus a vocational institute.
The institute’s School of Education provides education for people to work in early childhood education and care although research was not a big focus in its early years, Ms Lin Howie, principal lecturer, says.
“It was a very practical hands-on approach supporting teachers and over the years we moved into offering a bachelor’s degree in teacher education.
“Once you offer a degree, then the onus is on the institute to support their lecturers to become researchers because the programme itself has to be guided by research.”
Ms Howie says that MIT always had a professional development budget for lecturers but with scarce resources, limits had to be placed on who could actually go to conferences – so preference was given to those who were making presentations.
Ms Howie, who with Dr Bill Hagan, has been to most of the ChildForum conferences sees the events as a collaborative and easy place where “we have got practitioners, where we have got beginning researchers and other people who are more experienced attending”.
She, however, emphasises a particular difference between ChildForum’s conferences and other conferences.
“At this conference a journal comes out of the proceedings and ChildForum is an ongoing activity that people can participate in, find out information or to add in information all through the year. So it is a different type of organisation which makes it far more powerful in lots of ways.”
ChildForum has been in the forefront of disseminating research in early childhood education and care, putting researchers in touch with each other, and very supportive for practitioners seeking specialised and unbiased support, the staff say.
Research has always been at the forefront of any tertiary institution and Dr Bill Hagan (principal lecturer, research) finds the conference a big opportunity to present MIT staff’s work and get them published as well.
Dr Hagan says MIT has its own annual early childhood research symposium, but attending ChildForum conferences help support that research.
“We often support people to attend the conference first and to present their own work and to get them published – it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Sharon Alderson, MITs project manager for professional development says “we are out every day engaging with teachers and services and we need to know the up-to-date research that has been done and coming to a forum like this with a New Zealand-focused research is really relevant to the teachers with whom we are working”.
As part of a contract with the Ministry of Education, Ms Alderson finds it ideal to tap into ChildForum’s online resources, including the weekly newsletter with ECE updates, and continue attending such conferences.
The conference gives an added opportunity for the MIT staff team to debate and reflect and take that information back to the community it is working with.