Saturday, August 28, 2010

Imagination is more important than knowledge...

In The Press today (28-8-2010) “Kindergarten teachers say "brutal funding cuts" are threatening to squash their historic service to 26,000 Kiwi families.”

And so the war begins with the first shots fired in what appears to be a battle more about ideology than budgets – no matter how much Tolley harps on about 'unsustainable costs'.
The true agenda straight from the horses mouth: "You have a philosophical point of view and I respect that. But I can't afford to pay for it.”

Indeed. Of all the shit this government throws cash at – namely the rich – investment in early childhood education, which is estimated earns this country $13 for every $1 spent, no longer seems to be a priority. Slicing $419M from the budgets of fully qualified centres means writing off potential gains of $5.5 BILLION - as well as downstream reductions in crime, social welfare, and health costs.

Duh. And that's about it really.

Costs will be passed onto parents, many of whom will  be forced to remove their children from centres. 'Oh please don't do that', says Tolley, use unqualified staff instead. Hmmmm bums on seats and fuck quality? Yep.

Kindergartens represent 15 percent of early childhood education services and cater for around 22 percent of children enrolled in a service - forty percent of four year olds attend a kindergarten. But enrolments are dropping – from around 45,000 for the several years to just below 40,000 for 2010.

Kindergartens have moved philosophically since government funding has turned ECE into a gold-rush for investors. They had to. There are now 30 different models of kindergarten with the traditional two session day all but history. This flexibility is good, it moves Kindergarten out of its middle-class enclave with the privileged mums at home, to better reflecting the working reality of most young families.

Kindergartens are sticking to their guns with qualified staff providing quality education and the waiting lists to enrol (16,000) suggest Kiwi's remain supportive. So what's the next move? Will NZEI grow some balls?

Unfortunately, in the market place of education, Kindergartens are now a minority. Kindergartens provide a free service, are non-profit, operate with 100 per cent qualified staff, are philosophically/politically 'left-wing' and quite rightly consider children to be far more important than profit margins. That's just not on eh?

The neoliberal 'New Zealand Experiment' of the 1980's turned education into a commodity for consumption with 'free-choice' as the carrot: you get what you pay for. Education is now closely tied to the nations economic success (rather than your fluffy idea of success) and the focus is on quality outputs (ie, economic potential) rather than quality inputs like qualified teachers, resources, and a step-up for marginalised groups. This is the battlefield.

Early childhood education is increasingly under 'downward pressure' to better prepare our children to fit more easily into an education system rigidly defined and controlled by this political agenda.

Private ECE providers are to a degree already toeing the line with curriculum content narrowing to met skill-based objectives – they are essentially 'pre-schools'. Kindergarten's are no educational utopia, but essentially they say 'fuck that', let the kids play, let them live in the here-and-now exploring and learning in whatever direction their interests take them. This is why they are under threat, why parents are being forced away from supporting them. It a cynical, nasty move from Government to destroy the last bastion of learner-controlled education.

Sarah Farquhar of the Early Childhood Council who represent the capitalist wing of ECE has called for a review of Te Whāriki, saying it lacks concrete learning outcomes. It doesn't. What she means is that it's not required that children must count or read to a measurable standard – like it matters or something.

Fucking rich white people and their idea of normalcy.

Funding cuts:
·    $295M from abolishing the two highest funding bands for centres, creating a new 80%+ band (funded at a lower level than the previous equivalent) and capping the number of centres that can access this new funding band.
·    $275M from not going ahead with previously Budgeted ratio improvements (reducing the number of children per teacher for some age groups), which were supposed to take effect in July 2009.
·    $43M from reducing support for people to train as early childhood teachers, recruit new teachers, or return to the profession
·    $10M from ending all Ministry-supported professional development in early childhood education.
Total cuts in 2009 & 2010 budgets:  $623M

Funding increases:
·    $92M for targeted initiatives to increase participation, particularly for Maori, Pasifika and low-income families, over the next four years.
·    $20M for including 5 year olds, kohanga reo and playcentres in the 20 Hours funding scheme, which had previously only applied to 3 and 4 year olds and teacher-led services (kohanga reo are sometimes, and playcentres are always parent-led) – to come into effect July 1st 2010, the $70M is spending in 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13.
·    $47M for an inflation-level 2.4% increase to the non-staffing component in the funding rates for many of the funding categories.
·    $35M to cover some services being able to access higher funding because primary-trained teachers will count towards accessing higher funding bans, again over the next four years.  This is a bit of a dubious increase to claim, because many of these services might have been able to access the higher funding bans without the change to include primary-trained teachers, by using early childhood-trained teachers as more people completed their training.
·    $10M in costs for implementing the cuts to funding rates listed above.

Total increases in 2009 & 2010 budgets:  $204M

Thus in the term of this National-led Government they have cut $419M out of early childhood education in just their first two years in power.

Funding statistics courtesy of – thank you :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You don't need a degree to change nappies...

As you well know the National government has cut the requirement for fully qualified teachers in ECE as a way of saving money. They opted to save the hugely popular 20-hrs free policy which although icky leftist interventionist shite, gets neo-liberal results of kids in school and mums into work. So back to 80% it goes with the under-two nursery taking the impact.

How did it work? 80% qualified staff was the minimum set (many years ago) to take effect this year. Most centres were sorted long ago – Kindergartens have been 100% qualified for years now... but the corporate-run centres have dragged their arses to save money despite the bonuses available – they just don't compete against minimum wage Nana's eh.

So we have a huge number of centres operating on this topped up budget that have just taken a huge cut. The bastard politicians have cunningly managed to pass the financial consequences of the funding short-fall onto parents. It's now up to centre's if they want to charge parents more. They'll have to – or fire their qualified teachers... They're the baddies now.

The move is kick in the guts to the professional status of teachers, it panders to the burgeoning  business of pre-school at the expense of pedagogical quality, and reveals a Government agenda that is akin to 'bums on seats' with its 'you don't need a degree to change nappies' crap.

Hot off the news-wire is that Kidicorp is in the poo, a SFO investigation is looking at how they spend our money and hints that something is fishy around the funding bonuses for 80%+ qualified centres...

Which is interesting as it was only three months ago that Kidicorp was throwing its weight in support of this benchmark.
Fiona Hughes (speaking in the New Zealand Herald 27 May 2010), is chief operations officer of Kidicorp, Aotearoa's largest private provider of early childhood education. She nailed her neo-liberal colours to the post and also showed how she doesn't have a fucking clue when it comes to current educational pedagogy:

“Centres don't need a qualified teacher changing nappies, but you do need them to observe children and look at how they might extend their learning.”

Yeah, you hire some Nana on minimum eh?

What bullshit.

Caregiving moments are now identified as key periods in the relationship building process that forms the basis of all further @ko.

Following contemporary Gerber/Pikler philosophies where teachers are trained not to play with infants/toddlers, but to be in a position of 'wants-nothing', that is, there is no adult agenda other than to ensure safety and respond if needed to enhance learning opportunities. This approach is a combination of development theory, 'play as learning' Vygotskian theory, and respect.

Teachers don't interrupt or intervene – as we well know, we learn through mental challenges, we learn through our interests, and through the ups and downs of relationships.

Critical stuff yes, but its success hinges on the fact that a secure emotional base is established for the infant/toddler to allow them to venture into the big world. That attachment is created during caregiving moments of eating, sleeping and nappy-changing.

Hughes' statement says a lot for corporate centres. They have a reputation for clinging to a teacher-directed curriculum with the barest nod to attachment theory. They are about the management of children – the changing of nappies is just a shitty job that gets rotated through the cheap staff.

Yes they care about children, about education... but only if it pays.

Recently I was in a centre that operated like this. No primary care system, interchangeable staff placed where ever there were gaps, compulsory teacher-led activities, blah blah blah.

ERO were surprisingly happy.

Yep. Despite being a decade behind in educational theory, our Government was quite okay with it all.

Hughes also says “give children this chance at education early and then we might need fewer prisoners”.I assume she meant prisons, but whatever, the typo is quite funny in light of the purpose of education being to produce homogenous citizens who think alike and follow orders...

The messages from Govt and big business are clear enough:

While ECE is proven critical to further educational success/indoctrination, it's business as usual, the goals will remain ourgoals for you, we define them, we control them... we control you.

Yeah right.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Is Te Whāriki a tool of neo-liberalism?

Te Whāriki has been the national curriculum for the early childhood education sector in Aotearoa since the late 90's. At the time of its release it was hailed by the sector (and internationally) as a revolutionary approach to bicultural education. And it is, no doubt about it. The authors are all well-respected leaders in early childhood education and with the process occurring during 'The New Zealand Experiment' of neo-liberal reforms, most educators were certain they had managed to  sneak a fluffy left-wing curriculum under the noses of the bastard politicians.

Yes, well that was all just fine and dandy. Then I discovered Dr Iris Duhn's The Making of Global Citizens: traces of cosmopolitanism in the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki, out there in Google-land and I'm left wondering...

Is Te Whāriki a tool of neo-liberalism?

Historically, as a result of colonial paternalism, New Zealand has a deep dependence on authority. The majority of Pakeha have an uncritical attitude towards political power which in conjunction with a high standard of living makes us a nation of sheep. The 'New Zealand Experiment' was a walk in the park - Hitler would have been impressed with the audacity of it all.

 Early childhood education, historically ignored by governments as 'women's work', is suddenly pulled into the education sphere as government recognises the potential of  curricula as “an instrument for producing citizens suited to the demands of a globalised economy” (Duhn). David Lange “articulated the hope that early childhood education, with its emphasis on diversity, its community-based nature, and the retention of close links with the family, could play an important role in what has been publicly defined as 'determining later life chances'” (Duhn).

The goal was to maximise the child's potential from the earliest possible age. 'Life long learning' is considered an essential strategy to counter the problems of an inflexible workforce : quality ECE improves educational outcomes plus childcare enables mothers to up-skill or work! Double whammy!

Thus the commissioning of a unifying curriculum to enforce these goals.

Te Whāriki came into being as “part of an international trend to strengthen connections between the economic success of the nation and education” (May, 2001, cited Duhn). The economy needed multi-skilled, flexible workers who were strongly rooted into their community, but global in their thinking. Yeah!

So, as for sneaking in a 'radical' curriculum, well the politicians did actually give it a very careful going over... they chucked a lot out (a special needs curriculum for example), and they also made some additions - Learning Outcomes to be precise.

'Learning Outcomes', quite the educational buzz-word eh? The authors quite rightly resisted the idea of such a narrowing of education to goals decided on by politicians (Lockward Smith actually), but in they went. I mean they're nice and vague really, for instance under the Strand of Well-Being we're asking that “children develop an increasing ability to determine their own actions and make their own choices”. Self-determination... individualism.... go go go! Hmm...

Duhn's concerns are thus: Te Whāriki was designed to be a curriculum that would be constructed by communities to fit their local context and for that reason it reads as being very 'open' (okay, it's fucking vague) and for this reason was/is considered a very powerful tool for educators. However a lack of critical analysis of Te Whāriki is potentially fatal. Te Whāriki assumes teachers are switched-on political animals, but we know the painful truth!

Duhn argues that the authors of Te Whāriki with their vision of the 'ideal child' unconsciously adopted the rhetoric of neo-liberalism and that this is revealed in the language of the document. Her position is not one of blame, but recognising that the dominant discourses of that period were full of such bullshit – global economies, personal freedom and autonomy, problem solving, flexible, adaptable, multi-lingual, life long learners etc, and it permeated everything. I mean they sound like good, progressive goals to me...

Despite years of professional development in understanding and implementing Te Whāriki, many many teachers still struggle to understand the pedagogical position of the document – let alone the political themes - and take it at face value. They 'do' Te Whāriki. They follow the strands, link them with learning experiences and trot out the learning stories as expected. “With its highly flexible structure... Te Whāriki does not challenge teachers to develop teaching practices from a critical perspective... it assume teachers will address issues … through individual interpretation” (Duhn).

What this skim-read means is that educators unwittingly fall back to a 'default setting' where the rhetoric of neo-liberalism often remains dominant within personal discourses which click nicely with the language of Te Whariki...

 Duhn claims that Te Whāriki is not a product of neo-liberal reforms, but a technology for further neo-liberal reforms. A deep sleeper! They're letting us do the work of indoctrination. So was it carefully constructed to appease a bunch of stroppy left-wing women? To get them onside and rely on Te Whāriki's 'vagueness' with its process of personal interpretation that allows the powerful rhetoric of neo-liberalism in through the back door? Hmmm...

Time for another read – and a very critical one at that!

Full document: