By Melissa Dol
Being an early childhood teacher is rewarding work, there is no place in the world that I would rather teach than at home in New Zealand. I have positively impacted the lives of hundreds of children throughout my career, and I am a proud and confident Early Childhood teacher who is exceptional at what I do. If there is one thing that the last ten years has taught me, it’s that New Zealand Early Childhood education is where I belong, it’s where my heart is, it’s my passion. But I find myself living and teaching in Hong Kong.
So why am I in Hong Kong? The answer is pretty simple. Money. I would be lying if I said it was the only reason I moved here, but when I reflect on why I choose to stay, it’s money that keeps me here. I plan to stay for a total of three and a half years, and the amount of money which I can save here in this amount of time, would take me 14 years to save on an Early Childhood teaching salary in New Zealand.
On an early childhood teaching salary in New Zealand, I can’t afford to buy a house, or have children, pay off my student loan, or start my own business. I made the decision to put the career that I am passionate about on hold so that when I return, I can return knowing that I am financially secure in the career that I have chosen, a career that doesn’t offer financial security, in an industry that banks on people like me, making sacrifices that they shouldn’t have to make to stay in the job that they love, because they are passionate about it.
The New Zealand government requires qualified Early Childhood teachers to have a degree, exactly like Primary and Secondary teachers, it takes us the same number of years to complete, and we finish with the same amount of debt as them. However when we finish, we start on a wage that is, and always has been dramatically lower.
I had just graduated when the government first began discussions about raising the minimum wage to $20, at that time it was only $1.70 less than what I was earning as a fully qualified Early Childhood teacher with just under $30,000 of student debt. I remember thinking I’d be better off working at a supermarket in a less pressured environment for almost the same income.
It’s no wonder that there is an Early Childhood teacher shortage in New Zealand. I recently found out that in September last year Minister Hipkins gave $2.176 million of taxpayer money to recruit overseas teachers to work in Early Childhood Education. Randstad was contracted to place 150 of these teachers of which only 29 were successfully placed, I can’t say I’m surprised that this effort failed, after all who would relocate to a country for a job with an appallingly low salary? Why spend money recruiting teachers from overseas instead of investing in the teachers we already have, in order to give them a reason to stay? The stories are always the same, teachers leave because they can’t afford to support their families on their income, the working conditions are unbearable, they feel undervalued by society, and are burnt out.
I live in Hong Kong, during the COVID-19 pandemic, where I can’t play the sport that I love, or come home to visit my friends and family at Christmas. I work here in a job that I am not passionate about, because I cannot deliver a curriculum that I believe in. I live and work here in Hong Kong because I am valued for the job that I do for the future generations of their country.
Why is it not possible for my own country to value me as an early childhood teacher in the same way?
When will the government make sure that we are paid a wage that reflects our training, our qualifications, and the job that we do?
It needs to happen as soon as possible, before more Early Childhood teachers are forced to choose between passion and money, like myself and so many other Early childhood teachers in New Zealand already have.