Startling findings about the level of partnership ECE Services have with families are presented in the Education Review Office’s report, Partnership with Whānau Māori in Early Childhood Services, released on 8 May 2012.
ERO looked into the quality of partnerships with whānau Māori at 374 ECE services as part of each service’s regular education review. The services included kindergartens, playcentres, home-based education agencies, and childcare centres - the largest proportion sampled. Services knew ahead of the review that the quality of partnerships with whānau Māori would be a focus for the review.
A good parent/family-ECE educator relationship, a fundamental ingredient of quality ECE, was found to be present in only 78% of the early childhood services reviewed. This finding brings into question the quality of education for Māori children in the remaining 22% of mainstream early education services reviewed. It also sends out alarm bells for what might have been found to be the level of partnership with families from other cultural groups including Pākehā had ERO broadened the cultural focus of its review.
Beyond building good relationships with families, a further step is establishing partnership and a partnership that is responsive to child and family cultures. ERO reports that of the services it evaluated, as many as 90% did not sufficiently demonstrate effective and culturally responsive relationships with Māori families.
When educators have a good relationship and communicate well with parents, caregivers and family members, continuity of care and learning for children along with joint understanding of practices and values is more likely to be assured. ERO reports that many ECE educators they talked to held a view that ‘all children should be treated the same’, a view which ERO believes fails to acknowledge the culture of Māori children.
The evaluation focused on the extent to which the services understood and valued the identity, language and culture of Māori children and their whānau, the relationships between service managers, educators and whānau of Māori children, and how each service worked in partnership with whānau.
The number of children whose families identified as Māori, and from multiple ethnic groups including Māori, attending the reviewed ECE services is not stated in ERO’s report – which is a surprising omission. However, the way in which ERO discusses its findings suggests that regardless of the presence or not of Māori children and the wishes of families in regard to the teaching of te reo Māori and culture, the evaluation was conducted with an expectation that a bicultural programme and ECE educator understanding and appreciation of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi could be expected.
According to ERO’s report “most practices ERO observed reflect a surface level understanding of te reo and tikanga Māori. To demonstrate the special place of te reo Māori educators must speak it throughout the day in the context of children’s learning and play. Services must also promote with whānau the benefits of a programme that positively reflects the language, culture and identity of Māori children”.
ERO concludes that its findings “reflect a lack of understanding in early childhood education about the nature and importance of culturally responsive partnerships”.
The report with a publication date of 1st February and released today on the 8th May only days after the close of submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal on the future of theKōhanga Reo movement, shows that relationships with whānau Māori in mainstream ECE services are perhaps not as they should be and overall a low level of partnership exists.