Monday, 22 June 2009

Early childhood crisis very easy to fix

Nick Smith started it.  Trevor Mallard continued it. And now education minister Anne Tolley appears blithely unaware of what they both started, and what early childhood education centres are now enduring because of them.
The problem created by Smith and Mallard, and by the ministry that captured them both, has finally made the front pages of the Royal New Zealand Herald.  “Preschools face loss of top teachers,” screams their front-page headline. “New qualifications target threatens experienced staff,” says the subheading. And in the body of the piece there is this:
    Early childhood centres will have to sack some of their most experienced teachers next year because they have not completed a specialised course. . .   The qualification move come as the Ministry of Education estimates centres will be short of between 1500 and 2600 teachers next year.
    Early Childhood Council chief executive Sarah Farquhar said the ministry's stifling qualification requirements were exacerbating the chronic teacher shortage.
Sarah Farquhar is dead right.  At a time of increasing demand from parents there is a chronic teacher shortage. And it’s dead easy to deduce the cause:
When you see problems of such a magnitude, you have to suspect a government's involved. And when you witness a crisis that anyone with half a brain could see coming years ago, you'd have to suspecta government might have created it.
And you'd be dead right in your suspicions.
Only a government would want to see experienced teachers with education degrees sacked at a time of shortage’. 
Only a new government minister would be unaware that the shortage was government created.
Only a teachers union would celebrate the shortage.
Only a government ministry would happily shut down schools in which children are thriving and their parents are happy – shut them down because they don’t fit the ministry’s one-size-fits-all model.
And only a teachers union and a ministry combined would celebrate the shortages as bringing “quality” to the business of educating three to six year old children.
The sackings are about to happen because of a “forced retraining” scheme first announced by former National education minister Nick Smith, and finally re-announced by Labour’s education minister Trevor Mallard – a scheme that told early child education teachers that it didn’t matter what experience you had or even what qualifications you held: if you didn’t have the uniquely PC local early childhood degree or diploma, which takes three to four years of head-nodding and indoctrination to “earn,” then after a certain date you couldn’t run a school or (starting in 2010) even work in one.  
Advocates of the sackings insist that all early childhood practitioners having precisely the same degree or diploma -- all of them indoctrinated in the same feelgood mush of wall-to-wall waiatas and the prevailing culture of illiteracy and failure worship -- is supposed to deliver “quality,” instead of a cooky-cutter, one-size-fits-all mediocrity   But as a vigorous opponent of such a culture once said, don’t bother to examine such an obvious folly, just examine what it’s intended to achieve.  What it achieves here is control:
  1. It removes from the profession those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy, increasing the ministry’s power over what was once a healthy and diverse industry but is now so wringing wet and one-size-fits-all that it has no time for genuine diversity and real education, and too much time on Treaty issues and group-think.
  2. There’s no way that a bureaucrat can ever divine the quality of a school in the way a parent can, so the issue of qualifications is being used as a proxy – while destroying the diversity and the quality early-childhood teaching that really did exist not so long ago.
This is not about quality at all – as anyone who has ever seen a graduate of one of these courses could attest.  It’s not about quality, it’s about control – and the ministry is about to achieve complete control over a compliant sector that once among the most innovative in the country. But instead of being innovative, if they had a forelock early childhood sector professionals would now be tugging it. As Sarah Farquhar’s predecessor Sue Thorne said a few years back, early childhood education centres are now  "too bogged down in rules to be innovative."
The rules are not being relaxed, and the entirely predictable collapse of early childhood education is under way. Thousands of good early childhood teachers have already left this profession in the wake of this requirement; dozens of once excellent early childhood centres have either closed or reduced their standards; sectors of the industry such as Montessori and Steiner schools have been ravaged – their growth stalled and their standards shot to pieces --  and the problem is only going to get worse.
I say that the crisis was entirely predictable and I meant it.  I don’t claim any special knowledge – apart from knowledge of the bleeding obvious – but it was clear enough to me at least nine years ago that this wasn’t going to end well.  Here’s what I said in June 2000 in the 72nd issue of The Free Radical, which I post here unchanged:

Athens v Sparta

“The purposeful, disciplined use of intelligence is the highest achievement possible to man: it is that which makes him human. The higher the skill, the earlier in life its learning should be started�Just as the child is the father of the man, so the nursery school is the father to the university.”
Ayn Rand
    It is our minds that make us distinctly human. It is our very means of survival, & our chief glory; it is the human mind that is responsible for a Beethoven symphony, a Shakespearean sonnet, an Aristotelian treatise (& the glories of dark ale & red wine). As a bird teaches its young to fly, & a lioness her cubs to hunt, so too must we humans teach our infants to think - to use the mind they are born with.
    Teaching is not necessarily schooling, but it is generally to schools that we send our children to learn. Historically, there has always been an uneasy tension between public & private schools, & between authoritarian -- often religious -- schools & others of a more relaxed, or secular outlook.
    This tension was first felt in classical Greece, between the very different societies of Athens & Sparta. Athenians enjoyed schools run as private enterprises, with parents free to choose among available teachers at a price they could afford. That it was successful in producing the first flowering of a truly human civilisation can be judged by the literature, art, science & philosophy that we still enjoy & learn from today.
    The Spartan model was very different; here was big brother in the classroom writ large.    Schools were “educational boot camps” -- with all that implied about the Spartan way of life --their task to produce warriors, automatons, to follow orders & serve the state "as one herd." As one writer notes: “every aspect of child rearing which in Athens was the right & responsibility of parents, was in Sparta the prerogative of the govt." Unlike Athenian culture, we do not today enjoy the cultural outpouring of Sparta for one very simple reason: There was none.
    None, except that is for a culture of authoritarianism & unrelenting state worship.  Democratic Athens was eventually crushed by militarist Sparta, leading Plato for one to praise the brutal “efficiency” of the Spartan system which had trained the mindless herds. He essentially replicated it in the authoritarian society he proposed in The Republic, concluding that "family training cannot be trusted; the god of the state demands public control of the breeding, nursing & training of children."
    The lessons of Sparta & Plato were not lost on authoritarians & collectivists of every hue in nearly every century. State schools in Prussia, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia &; revolutionary France, & religious schools run by English Anglicans, German Lutherans & French Jesuits, all learned from Spartan methods & doctrines. Indeed, the Jesuits, eager to produce youngsters displaying “blind obedience to the Pope” made famous the doctrine: “Give me the child until he is seven, & I will show you the man." They recognised the crucial importance of the early childhood years in forming a child’s mind.
    So too did influential state school advocate James G. Carter in 1830s America, who argued that govt should “seize the reins” of flourishing American tuition-charging schools "for its own self preservation. . .  If the Spartan could mould & transform a nation to suit his taste by means of an early education," he argued, "why may not the same be done at the present day?"
    It is. Today’s battlefield in is in NZ’s early childhood education centres; it has long been over in primary & secondary schools where the combined forces of the Ministry, NZEI, PPTA, & NZQA have gained power by stealth when they could not do so openly. Much of the parental choice that Plato & the Spartans both abhorred so much has long disappeared from these schools. The recent removal of bulk funding is but another step down a road already dark.
    But early childhood education has long been a holdout to this process. It is an industry with 4,000 schools & 8,000 teachers, responsible for nearly 200,000 children. Of these schools, 41% are private fee-paying schools. At present, a de facto voucher system operates which has encouraged a flourishing of diversity. Steiner, Montessori, Playcentre, Kohanga Reo, Froebel, Kindergarten, state maintained schools, private schools, community owned & run schools - all coexist quite happily, & parents take advantage of the diversity & choice on offer. It is this very diversity that is one of the great strengths of early childhood education in this country.
    Sadly, it is because of that diversity that it is now under threat. At a 1999 election meeting Helen Duncan & Liz Gordon (both now on the Education Select Committee) confessed that they regarded the existence of private profit-making early childhood centres “with concern,” but frankly confessed they were “not sure” what to do about it.
    They do now.
    The statists have found a way to storm the early childhood centres, & they are doing it in the name of “Quality”! Instead of seizing the schools, they have instead hit on the idea of seizing the teachers, & forcibly retraining them. Minister Trevor Dullard has mandated that all – all -- persons responsible for an early childhood centre must have a three-year state diploma by 2005, no matter what other qualification they might already hold. This, Dullard says, "will improve the quality of education [that] children attending early childhood services receive."
    The Early Childhood Council (ECC) representing independent centres estimates this will affect 60% of industry professionals, many of them already holding degrees, diplomas, & even doctorates. Many have successfully run schools for years, with happy children & parents to prove it, but they do not hold a three year Early Childhood Diploma. ECC describes the diploma as often "weighted heavily with academic & not practical requirements, providing little information on infant/toddler age range or on management issues & generally poorly matched to the competencies actually needed by supervising teachers in services."
    Challenged at an Auckland public meeting to explain what will happen to a small school whose owner & head teacher must leave to undergo three years of forced re-training -- after twenty years of successful teaching -- Dullard admitted, "I don’t know". I do, & so too did that teacher - so probably do the parents of children at her school, & so do the many others being herded into retraining: It will be a disaster. Many early childhood teachers will simply leave the profession, or will leave the country for saner pastures abroad.
    I predict in two years time that the number of early childhood centres will have markedly diminished, &; those remaining will be struggling to find teachers with significant experience. There will be both a teacher shortage & a school shortage. In a pattern only too familiar to those who watch the growth of the state it will be at precisely this time that we will hear there has been a “market failure” & that the govt must step in & pick up the pieces.
    And Sparta will have won again!
I wrote that back in 2000 about the crisis being so obviously set up. Nothing has changed to avert it. The current crisis is tragic, it was predictable, and yet it is entirely simple to remedy: with the stroke of a pen education minister Anne Tolley can remove the forced retraining requirement, sack the ministry bureaucrats who promoted it, and return schools to the regime that existed prior to its introduction.     
    Ms Tolley doesn’t need “officials to work on options.”  She doesn’t need to blindly follow what Messrs Smith and Mallard so destructively set up.  She can’t just delay the inevitable crisis for a year or two and leave the problem for a successor.  If she had the courage, she could sort it out for good in an afternoon.
    I invite her to do what’s necessary to spike the Spartans’ guns.  Or step down.


  1. This is a ridiculous idea, the requirement for re-training of teachers to a degree level in order to be a teacher at pre-school level. The degree is wasted since one can just sit there with the kids and sing Gumbaya, My Lord..., all day.

  2. This is a ridiculous idea, the requirement for re-training of teachers to a degree level in order to be a teacher at pre-school level

    Maybe, but that's not really the point.

    This is yet another example of the damage regulation does to the market. The customer/investor should carry the risk and decide. Some will want centres staffed by teachers with B.Ed or whatever, so they can choose those ones. Others will consider different quals relevant to their child's needs.

    It's the same with financial markets - we don't need more regulation or Weldon and Diplock to pick winners and losers for us, for example. Do your own research.

  3. Liz Gordon? That name rings a bell ...

    Hey, KG! Didn't she abuse your blog a while back? If so, consider it a badge of honour. :)

    These women are witches. The good news is that they *are* aging ... but what a terrible legacy they leave.

  4. A lot of the diploma is psychology/behavioural science related. The EC centres that use qualified staff may sing songs, but it is part of an intelligent learning plan. Only the ignorant would suggest ECEs are fat lazy housewives with nothing better to do than mind groups of children.

  5. " .. but it is part of an intelligent learning plan."

    Isn't it always. Didn't Lange say that sort of thing in support of "Tomorrow's Schools"? Or the bureaucrats who introduced the NCEA?

    That tomorrow is our today.

    Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning made mention of the latest move by British bureaucrats (presumably in the education dept) ... evidently many in the UK today don't know the "i before e" spelling rule, so there's a suggestion to allow any spelling in those words from hereonin ...

    Undoubtedly part of the same "intelligent learning plan".

    Or is that intelegint?

  6. It's all about the head and not about the heart, shut down the centres and encourage mums to stay at home with their pre schoolers, as was common only three decades ago. I won't hold my breath though, there's too much money to be lost.

  7. Or is that intelegint?


  8. Maybe if Falafulu Fisi had a better education s/he would know it is Kumbaya.

    See, education IS useful.

  9. What happens in two years time when the record breaking 65000 born last year want to go of to a center. Gees these Poly's are useless bastards.
    Can't they get anything right.
    Still if something works ok that's not good enough we have to change it.

  10. Anon said...
    Maybe if Falafulu Fisi had a better education

    Anon, you don't need a degree to teach preschoolers ? This is synonymous to a requirement that says, year 10 Maths students must be taught by a Nobel Prize Physicist? Don't you think that it is an over-kill in requiring that a teacher be qualified with degree level in order to teach pre-schoolers ?

    I bet you that I can get all the necessary books that are relevant to teaching pre-schoolers to read and then become knowledgeable to teach pre-schoolers without a need to train/enroll myself for 2 or 3 years (ie, degree or diploma level) at a tertiary institution to get a qualification in order to teach pre-schoolers. Do you see my point here?

    Note that I am not a qualified teacher, but I do frequently coach (in the evening) children of relatives and their friend's childrens in high school Maths/Physics/Science (almost at all levels but mostly on senior high school level). The majority of the students I have helped over the years have gone on from being a definite failure (when they first came to me) to passing the end of year school exams. What's my point? My qualification is in Science, so I am able to teach these low achievers to become achievers at the end of the year school exams. I am able to do this without wasting a single day, retraining for a teaching qualification at a tertiary institution. It would be a waste of my time if I did that.

    The point I am arguing about in my previous message regarding this re-training of experienced teachers (with many years), even with qualified degrees are not necessary. It is definitely a waste of time.

    Look at it in this way. How about if the government requires that you need a PhD in Education to be able to teach pre-schoolers. If not, then why not? It won't be a bad thing if all our pre-school teachers have got PhDs, but that is unnecessary and a waste of time retraining, because teaching pre-schoolers since all you (teacher) need to know is how to sing Kumbaya to them.

  11. My mother-in-law is a victim of this nonesense.

    She would be one of the most qualified Steiner teachers in the country - now she is not allowed to teach there because she is not qualified in the way the government says she must be qualified - It is a tragedy, for her and the children - she was an amazing teacher


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.