Education International
Education International

New Zealand: The Case for Early Childhood Teachers

published 4 July 2005 updated 4 July 2005

A thousand teachers working in more than 170 early childhood education centres throughout New Zealand took a step towards obtaining pay parity with primary and secondary teachers on 1 July. They belong to EI affiliate, NZEI Te Riu Roa, which last year negotiated a collective employment agreement delivering a four step pay rise that will see them obtain pay parity with teachers working in schools and kindergartens by July 2008. On 1 July, they received the first of those four pay rises.

How important is Early Childhood Education? This raises the question: Is teaching a 3-year-old as important, as demanding, and as complex, as teaching a child aged 9 or 17? Should qualified and registered early childhood teachers be paid the same as teachers in primary and secondary schools? Those who believe that the bigger the child, the more important and demanding it is to teach them, will say no. They argue that a teacher’s job becomes more difficult and the stakes are higher, the closer a child is to entering the workforce or moving on to tertiary education. There is a wealth of evidence to show that this argument does not stack up. It ignores the fact that the success of a 17-year-old in his secondary school final exams is not based solely on the education he receives in his final year at secondary school. It is determined by the quality of education he has received from his first day at an early childhood education centre, through the whole of his primary and secondary schooling. Studies show that the most critical period in the brain development of a child occurs in their first six years. Positive stimulation of the brain in these early years lays the foundation for the child’s future ability to learn, to develop language skills and to interact with others. So the positive stimulation, or education, a child receives in these early years is crucial. Research by the Rand Corporation, an independent non-profit think-tank based in Los Angeles, USA, shows that children in quality early childhood education programmes demonstrate higher IQs and increased emotional and cognitive development. This is supported by research conducted by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Its Competent Children Project is tracking the long-term development of around 500 children. The study began in 1993 while the children were aged just under five and attending an early childhood education service It assesses their competencies in 10 areas linked with successful learning. The latest report was issued in August this year and evaluated the children at age 12. It found that: “The early childhood education experience of the children in the study continued to make a contribution to their mathematics and reading comprehension scores, seven years later.” As with the American research, the project shows that the quality of early years education is vital in determining how well a child does at school. It found that: “Quality ratings of centres increased with an increasing proportion of qualified staff and higher salaries paid to staff.” So research confirms the importance of children receiving quality early childhood education because it enables a child to perform better at school and on into adult life. But is teaching at that level really as demanding and complex as teaching in a primary or secondary school? Early childhood teachers are required to carry out the same work on a professional level as their primary and secondary colleagues. They are required to follow a national curriculum, they are required to do assessment and from January 1 next year all teachers who are running early childhood education centres must be qualified and registered and meet the same professional standards as primary and secondary teachers. The government has set a target of having all teachers at teacher-led centres qualified and registered by 2012. New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce a national Early Childhood Curriculum, called Te Whariki. Each component of Te Whariki is linked to the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, the policy statement covering teaching, learning, and assessment in primary and secondary schools. Like their primary and secondary colleagues, early childhood teachers develop individual learning plans for each child in their centre. They set goals based on the learning outcomes in Te Whariki and then carry out assessments of how the child has performed. The teachers document the child’s work so they can map their progress and report to their parents. Sound like primary and secondary teaching? It is. Again research proves this. In an independent comparison of the work done by kindergarten and primary teachers in 1999, kindergarten teachers scored slightly higher than basic scale primary teachers. The report’s author concluded: “The role of kindergarten teachers and basic scale/senior primary teachers are similar in size and there is an area of considerable overlap. There appears to be no justification for the differences in salary.” Since then, kindergarten teachers have gained pay parity with their primary and secondary colleagues. This was won by their union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, which gained parity for primary teachers with secondary teachers in the 1990s, after a job evaluation showed that their work was also clearly comparable in size and value. Now pay parity has been extended to a thousand early childhood teachers working in community owned centres. Kindergarten teachers are in effect state employees. NZEI Te Riu Roa is determined to achieve pay parity for all registered and qualified early childhood teachers and applauds the current government’s commitment to provide the funding to deliver this by 2008. “NZEI acknowledges the investment the Government is making in funding pay parity for early childhood teachers and in helping centres employ registered and qualified teachers.” “This will pay huge dividends that will benefit the whole country,” says Colin Tarr, NZEI Te Riu Roa's National President. The above article is a sythesis of the press articles from the NZEI Te Riu Roa website. For more information, please contact NZEI Te Riu Roa: http://www.nzei.org.nz/