Part 2: Outcomes for children in early childhood education

Introduction

All licensed early childhood services are required to meet regulated standards, employ qualified teachers or meet other qualification requirements, and implement a bicultural curriculum. While unified at a policy level, the early childhood education sector in Aotearoa New Zealand is diverse.

This diversity includes:

  • different cultural perspectives
  • structural differences (sessions or full day programmes)
  • organisational differences (kindergartens or education and care services)
  • different environments (home-based or centre-based programmes)
  • a range of philosophical emphases (Pacific early childhood services, Playcentre, Montessori, or Rudolf Steiner programmes)
  • the different resources available in urban and rural settings
  • the ways in which local communities participate
  • the age range of children in programmes.

ERO’s reviews of early childhood services respond to the diversity in the sector and variations in services’ performance in promoting positive learning outcomes for children.

Regulatory environment

The Education Act 1989 was amended in 2008 to create a revised legal framework for the operation of early childhood services. This is known as the ‘2008 regulatory system’.

All early childhood services needed to be licensed under the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 1 by 30 November 2014.

The key document that forms part of the regulatory framework for home-based education and care services is the Licensing Criteria for Home-based Education and Care Services 2008 2 which includes the Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework 3. Home-based services must meet the licensing criteria as well as the other regulatory requirements contained in the regulations to gain and maintain a licence to operate.

ERO’s review process includes how the home-based service meets the regulated standards. However, ERO focuses on the quality of care and education that the service provides. The curriculum framework is prescribed by the Minister of Education. The Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework is made up of the English and te reo Maori versions of the principles and strands from the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Matauranga mo ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa (Te Whāriki) 4. All licensed home- based services are required to provide a curriculum that meets the principles and strands of Te Whāriki.

Early childhood services and Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a foundation document of Aotearoa New Zealand and guides education with regards to participation, power and partnership for Maori, as tangata whenua, and non-Maori as signatories to the Treaty. The Treaty provides a driving force for the revitalisation of Maori language and culture.

Home-based services are required to provide a curriculum that acknowledges and reflects the unique place of Maori as tangata whenua. The curriculum must also help children to develop their knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritages of both parties to Te Titiri o Waitangi.

The principle of partnership in the Treaty needs to be reflected in the practices of the early childhood service. Working in partnership with Maori requires inclusive and collaborative practices between the home-based education and care service and whanau of tamariki Maori for the learning and wellbeing of Maori children.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

This convention 5 is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. It places an obligation on governments not just to protect children’s rights but to actively promote them. It also requires governments to allow children to have a voice in decisions that affect them. New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 6 April 1993.

Early childhood leaders and practitioners should give consideration to children’s rights in their services’ policies and practices for the provision, protection and participation of children and their families in high quality early childhood services.

Outcomes for children in early childhood education

Te Whāriki sets out the principles, strands and goals for curriculum in early childhood services. It seeks for children ‘to grow as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, and secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.’ 6

Te Whāriki is based on socio-cultural perspectives. This means that there is an expectation that the curriculum in each home-based service will respond to the social and cultural values and beliefs of its community of children, families, educators and teachers. Each home-based service, in consultation with its community, determines its own curriculum priorities and emphases, and the learning it values.

According to Te Whāriki, the outcomes of a curriculum are knowledge, skills and attitudes that combine together to form a child’s working theory and help children to develop dispositions that encourage learning. Positive outcomes for children include high level competencies as well as more specific knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions for learning.

The valued outcomes of early childhood education vary from one family to another depending on cultural, educational and religious beliefs, as well as views on early learning. There is a broadly shared expectation, however, that early education will contribute to the growth of a secure, confident child who can communicate, learn and work with others.

An early childhood service that nurtures and promotes an individual child’s growing competence to communicate, participate and learn about the world, is likely to support such progression.

Outcomes for children are not always easy to determine. Nevertheless, the focus on how well children learn is central to all ERO reviews. ERO’s methodology, evaluation indicators and professional practice refer to research on how different factors and features of early childhood practice contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.

Service leaders should give consideration to equity (what is fair and just) and excellence in their service provision to support achieving equitable outcomes for children. They should identify the children in their service who require additional support to help achieve equitable outcomes.

The extent to which the service provides for each child is likely to be a measure of the commitment the service has to equitable outcomes for all children.

ERO’s methodology requires home-based education and care services to reflect on what their intended outcomes for children are, and what they know about how well children are achieving those outcomes.

Responding to diversity

Diversity encompasses many characteristics including ethnicity, socio-economic background, home-language, gender, special needs, disability, and giftedness. 7

To understand and respond to these learners, home-based education and care service leaders need to have a deep understanding of the identity and experiences of these children. Their practices and systems should be responsive to children’s diverse needs and changing circumstances.

Māori children

Ka Hikitia, the Government’s Maori Education Strategy, proposes that better outcomes for Māori learners are likely when the language, culture and identity of Māori children is acknowledged and a productive partnership is forged by the sharing of power between Māori learners, whānau, iwi and educators.

Penetito 8 states that there is no such thing as the Māori identity, there are only Māori identities. In addition, Māori children live in and between at least two worlds. While they may position themselves differently in these worlds they are Māori, by virtue of descent and whakapapa. 9

The wellbeing and learning of Māori children is located in their culture, language and identity. A child’s culture, language and identity are places where concepts of mana, wairua and mauri exist. Mana is the power and potential the Māori child brings with them. 10 Wairua is a concept linked to the child’s spirit and emotional stability. Mauriis observable. It is the life force and energy of the child which enables energy to be expended; the mind to think and have some control over how the body behaves. It enables the child to be vibrant, expressive and impressive. 11

Children of Pacific heritage

The Pasifika Education Plan, 12 the Government’s strategic direction for improving Pasifika education, focuses on increasing participation in quality early learning and building a strong foundation for lifelong education.

To improve outcomes for children with a Pacific heritage it is important to understand that Pacific children are not a homogeneous group. Pacific children come from diverse groups with different cultures and languages. While some Pacific children are born in New Zealand, others may be new arrivals to the country. Families hold differing belief systems about the place of culture, faith, family and education, among others.

Understanding the diversity of Pacific children is integral to understanding each child as an individual. Educators cannot simply create broad strategies or approaches to improve outcomes for Pacific children who attend early childhood services (both Pacific services and mainstream). Educators need to use their knowledge and understanding of Pacific children, their families and communities to design a meaningful curriculum and relevant experiences so that each Pacific child experiences success.