Wednesday, August 11, 2010

All power to the pre-schools!

The Nats are rats. They keep wages low, raise GST, cut our social welfare, squeeze our health and education systems. They won't give compensation to the victims of police sex abuse, they won't sort out our polluted rivers or runaway climate change, and they attack our work rights.

Yet one attack stands out as one of their most despicable acts of pro-corporate, anti-working class wrecking - slashing funding for trained teachers early childhood centres.

According to the NZEI union, "The cuts will affect 93,000 children enrolled in 2000 early childhood services".

Early childcare centres will be forced to either raise fees or cut the number of trained teachers. It's about cutting public services so John Key can give his rich mates and the big corporates a tax cut.

These attacks will hurt the children of the working poor the most, the nearly 1 in 4 children growing up under the poverty line. It is essential we stand in solidarity with parents, educators and children fighting for good quality education. A line in the sand should be drawn over this issue. Everyone should stand up and fight this Government now. They have attacked the future generations opportunities just so they can give big business lower taxes.

NZ is a rich nation and can afford to ensure that all children recieve the best start in life possible. The links between education and human achievement is well documented and the website for the Australian Radio programme Health Report, contains a series of interviews by Norman Swan with public health professionals who describe in detail the link between education and health outcomes. They detail the extraordinary impact of early childhood education on people.

One interview is with Professor Len Syme, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley
Len Syme: In the 1960s in a little town called Ypsilante, Michigan, they did an amazing study by inviting three-and-four-year-old children, (they were all poor, all black) inviting them to come to an early education program. The idea would be for three-and-four-year-olds to come to a year or two of early education. This was the program that preceded Headstart, in fact it was the reason for Headstart starting.

Norman Swan: Headstart being an extra educational activity for underprivileged children.

Len Syme: Yes, and three-and-four-year-olds, now in the United States a national program that's been remarkably successful. It had begun because of this Ypsilante study. They were overwhelmed when they invited these children. So they randomly allocated kids to either have the program or not have the program. And these children were in the program for a year or two, and then they followed them at age 19, still poor, still black, and they got almost 100% follow-up with these kids. And they couldn't believe the results, and nor could I. Double the high school graduation, double the college admission, half the welfare, half the crime rate; for girls, half the teenage pregnancies. And this dramatic difference in their lives. In fact the book they wrote about that is called 'Changed Lives'. They then followed these kids up at age 28. Again, very high response, and their lives are still different, really dramatically changed. What did they do in that one or two years?

And I've done a lot of work interviewing teachers in the program saying, 'What is the key issue here?' And it's very hard to tell, because all the teachers have different stories, but I can tell you one that I learned about from a teacher in Oxford in England. And she said, 'Well, the common theme is the children come to the school and they're asked, 'What do you want to do today?' Typically the new kids say they don't know, so they get assigned to work with children who do know. Eventually they do choose something, and then all the resources of the school are brought to bear to help them do what it is they said they'd like to do. This woman in Oxford said 'Yesterday a kid came in and said, "I want to do aeroplanes", and all the other kids said, "Me too". So they all got together and they made paper aeroplanes and they flew them and the planes crashed. Then they sat around and talked about what happened, and they re-designed the planes and they flew them again, and the planes crashed. Then they got together and discussed it again and they flew them and the planes crashed. She said, 'That's all we do all day, and that's basically all we do all year.'

Now to me, what this is about is teaching children about failure and about success and about being creative and hanging in, learning how to succeed; learning how to succeed to me is a critical issue. What happens is they then go to Grade I with a different view of life and that persists throughout their careers. Now interestingly, when you take this program to children in middle and upper-middle class groups, the children are bored. So my sense is that somehow from the earliest days of life, certain kids get this kind of challenge and experience and other kids don't. And there's something you can do about it.
Read the full interview here.

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