“A crisis looming,” is what Saemone Fraser says about the current Early Childhood Education (ECE) funding model, as she supports fellow colleagues who are participating in strike action on November 8 for the first time ever.
Fraser is the centre manager at Otatara Children’s Centre, Napier and the centre is party to the Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement.
Fraser told BayBuzz the centre had asked for a strike exemption and was not striking.
“We have only just returned to Taradale after being displaced by Cyclone Gabrielle in February. Our families have been through so much and we are only just back to normality.
“We do however, 100% support our colleagues who are also trying to address some major problems with the current ECE funding model. Although we are not striking, we are doing what we can to raise awareness of what is becoming a very serious problem for the sector. We are talking to our parents to raise awareness of the issues, displaying information posters and flyers, and asking our centre parents to show their support by signing a petition which we plan to send to our local MP.”
She said there were some real issues which needed to be addressed.
“I have been working in ECE for 13 years. Teachers need to be paid enough to want to do this challenging work,” she said.
“It is much, much more than glorified babysitting, we are shaping the next generation of learners and citizens.
“Many ECE teachers feel undervalued and leave the sector. At the moment, teachers are leaving the sector in record numbers, and we are not attracting nearly enough new teachers to replace the ones leaving. It’s no wonder though when they can make almost the same starting rate at a supermarket or fast-food restaurant – without the 3 years of challenging study.”
She said the lack of funding for ECE teachers could have a tangible impact on families.
“It sounds extreme, but a crisis really is looming. Lots of great centres are being forced to close because they can’t afford the associated running costs. There is also a major teacher shortage in NZ which is largely due to people not wanting to train to become ECE teachers. It’s just not an attractive profession anymore because the pay isn’t great and the work is stressful.”
The centre has 45 children each day and try to run at a 1:3 ratio for under two’s and 1:7 for two – five-year-olds, she said.
“It is the only way you can realistically run a quality centre. If teachers are too stretched, there’s no way that they can possibly attend to each child properly. Providing our current ratios comes at a cost though.”
She said the current government funding only allowed for ratios of 1:5 for under two’s and 1:10 for two- to five-year-olds.
“This means that you have to spread what little money you have around very thinly and for us that means not paying our teachers as much as they might get elsewhere.”
She said child to teacher ratios needed to be addressed.
“I’ve been to centres that run at the legal requirement and it’s terrible. It becomes crowd management where every day is merely about survival,” she said.
“It is well-known that the first 1,000 days are the most important in a child’s life. You don’t get another opportunity for a do-over. We need to value our youngest tamariki a lot more and make sure that that every child is experiencing high quality childcare, not just the children whose parents can afford to pay for it.”
Kaiako and kaimahi from around 100 early childhood education centres across the motu took strike action on November 8 after voting last month to take industrial action.
The teachers who are part of the collective agreement said their negotiations had reached an impasse.
NZEI Te Riu Roa ECE representative Megan White, manager at Capital Kids cooperative childcare centre, said the current system was broken.
“The Government’s current ECE funding arrangement is a ‘one size fits all’ model, set to the minimum teacher:child ratios. Funding rates do not reflect many of these community services that provide better than minimum ratios, and more experienced qualified kaiako.”
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