When Ministry of Education officials were asked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) what policy focus should be taken for a report on quality ECE in NZ, the Ministry selected a focus on curriculum design and implementation.
Perhaps this was so NZ could be shown in the best possible light internationally, Chief Executive of ChildForum Dr Sarah Alexander says.
Te Whāriki is held in high regard as a leading curriculum for ECE, whereas on other policy levers for improving the quality of ECE such as research, regulations for group size and adult child-ratios, and improving qualifications and working conditions, NZ has started to lose pace and is starting to slip behind.
On the other hand, the feedback given by the authors of the just released OECD report on NZ’s curriculum may have been just what NZ officials were hoping for.
“The guidance given by the OECD on our curriculum alone is insightful and could help to revolutionise ECE in NZ if accepted,” Dr Alexander says.
The OECD report is critical that Te Whāriki “is mostly targeted at professionals”. It is not designed to have a positive impact on children’s home learning environment. The NZ ECE curriculum could be more broadly targeted toward parents, families and other community members, according to the OECD. For example “Swedish parents are involved in developing a curriculum specifically for their child and can co-decide (with staff) on the development processes and purposes”.
The Te Whāriki curriculum document is assessed by the OECD to lack an appreciation of “being a child” and does not show a strong recognition of a child’s agency. In British Columbia, Canada, for example, a kindergarten programme addresses both child-initiated and teacher-initiated play with specific examples of how such play can be effective in helping children’s learning.
New Zealand does not prescribe outdoor activities, which the report authors say is strange given that “Te Whāriki aims at belonging to a community and a cultural environment”. Child play in outdoor environments both within the ECE setting and in nature could be explicitly included in the curriculum and would also help to raise ecological and environmental awareness.
An area that NZ falls short on in curriculum implementation is communication with parents. The report authors recommend a specific focus on communication skills be included in teacher education and professional development. More structural/organised training to develop educator communication skills can make it more likely that parents will pick up aspects of the curriculum from the ECE setting to implement at home, and more meaningful interactions with parents can have possible beneficial outcomes for staff/educator and child development.
A second area of implementation suggested for improvement is leadership. The report identifies a need for a specific focus on leadership within the playroom and teaching areas and that this could be addressed in the content of NZ’s curriculum framework. The report cites British Columbia’s Full Day Kindergarten programme curriculum framework which emphasises planning for kindergarten environments, routines and schedules.
The report, published on 2nd August 2012, is titled “Quality Matters in Early Childhood Education: New Zealand” by Miho Taguma, Ineke Litjens, and Kelly Makowiecki.