Today’s the day that government subsidies for early childhood centres are reduced, and all the usual suspects are gnashing their teeth and predicting disaster. This will be bad for the early childhood industry, they say.
It won't be.
It might instead be the day early childhood centres begin to get back their souls.
You see, like Mephistopheles, the state bought the souls of early childhood centre owners with those subsidies. In return for oodles of money the formerly independent sector gave up its independence and embraced the state’s curriculum (who needs choice when you can embrace uniformity?), the state’s regulations (one teacher for every six children, thank you very much and another upstairs to fill in all the state-require paperwork) and the state’s qualifications (all teachers in your classroom will have the state’s qualification, or else!).
Were early childhood centres any better for the deal?
No. Not at all.
Sure, there was an inundation of activity in the sector, with early childhood teachers flying off to countless conferences, endless seminars and studying for questionable qualifications—all paid for out of the windfall from the state. Not to mention the proliferation of sundry tertiary institutions set up simply to deliver all the new graduates in the state’s dubious qualification that the state was all-of-a-sudden demanding.
Because without having a classroom jam-packed with teachers holding all those newly-minted, one-size-fits-all qualifications (we don’t want experience or variety in our classrooms, thank you very much, we insist on uniformity and mediocrity!)—and with a teacher registration system demanding those teachers be constantly jetting off to all those indoctrinational bunfests—centres were unable to draw down the real big bucks from the government.
The results of the early childhood subsidies were as predictable as the results of Muldoon’s ill-begotten agricultural subsidies. What was once a burgeoning upwelling of diversity—with parents able to choose between low-cost schools offering Steiner, Montessori, Playcentre, Kohanga Reo, and Froebel philosophies, delivered across the country in Kindergartens, state-maintained schools, private schools, and community owned & run schools—all coexisting quite happily, with parents taking easy advantage of the diversity & choice on offer—is today a stale grey wasteland of uniformity and mediocrity, with mega chains like KidiCorp offering dumbed-down edutainment programmes for the masses, and smaller centres competing with the mega chains for a slice of the subsidy dollars.
It has been a delight for the owners of the mega chains, who have hoovered up schools and centres in order to farm as many of the subsidies as they can. It has been a disaster for the early childhood education of children.
Every centre, despite the philosophy on the signboard (whether Montessori or Steiner, Frobel or Kohanga Reo) delivers substantially the same sub-standard programme (by decree). Every centre, despite the philosophy on the signboard (whether Montessori or Steiner, Frobel or Kohanga Reo) has teachers inside fresh out of
their indoctrination centres teachers college all with substantially the same qualification, meaning the signboard (whatever it says is being offered inside) is virtually meaningless.
It has made of the once diverse sector a cooky-cutter deliver of one-size-fits-all uniformity.
Such, indeed, was the stated intention of the last two governments, who declared (in the name of “quality,” believe it or not) that they wanted to stamp out the diversity of the sector with both carrot and stick.
The stick was the forced retraining of teachers, the ejection from the profession of those who refused to retrain, and the infusion of newly indoctrinated young teachers to take their place. It was a stick that mandated that everything from shopping centre creches to the homes of home-schooling Montessori parents must have the decreed number of staff on those premises bearing the state’s newly-minted qualification or else.
The carrot was the subsidy scheme, whereby centre owners were gently persuaded by means of a rising tide of emoluments that their best interests lay in giving up and giving in, and doing just exactly as they were told.
And so they did, receiving a virtual flood tide of dosh, of which even Minister Tolley admits,
We are now at the stage where the taxpayer is subsidising early childhood centres at an average of $7600 per child per year.
This compares to an average of $5528 for a primary school student, and $6733 for a student at secondary school.
Time, in other words—now that the hook has been taken—for the bribe to be reduced somewhat.
That centre owners are now complaining that the windfall they came to enjoy is now sinking from flood tide down to king tide is no surprise. It’s what happens, at some stage, to everyone who allows themselves to come rely on the blandishments of government. Because just like the recipients of Muldoon’s agricultural subsidies, both they and the sellers of early childhood materials and programmes were getting used to the flood tide of taxpayer cash awash in the sector, and they’re now going to find it harder to return to the way things were. If, indeed, they can.
But like those farmers (who, unlike the owners of early childhood centres, were required to go cold turkey) as they quietly begin to wean themselves off the state teat and begin to reflect on what they’ve given away in recent years in order to farm these subsidies from the state, they might slowly realise that this diminution of subsidies will actually enable them to get back their souls they’d so readily given away, and to begin once more being real educational professionals instead of remotely-controlled automations of the state.
To begin again employing people who know what they’re doing, not because they know how to tick boxes.
To start over seeking out teachers with real, high-quality, internationally-recognised qualifications instead of simply employing the lowest-common-denominator holders of the state’s low-rent spoon-fed diplomas while gleefully hoovering up the truckload of subsidies that came with the employment of these no-hopers.
It’s not bad news at all then for children. It’s good news.
If, that is, it’s not already far too late.