Minister, Hon. Steve Maharey’s address to the Early Childhood Council  Annual Conference 31st March 2007

Welcome everyone. It’s great to see you all.
I’d like to acknowledge Early Childhood Council (ECC) President Ross Penman, CEO Sue Thorne and ECC Executive members, Jan Peeters from the University of Ghent in Belgium, keynote speakers and of course the people who work with our youngsters – you.

Thank you for the invitation to speak with you, I’m looking forward to hearing about your discussions.

Last year in Rotorua I spoke with many of you about our vision for early childhood education by 2012. I said then that our collective challenge is to think about strategic and innovative ways to achieve our vision of all children being able to access quality early childhood education, regardless of circumstance, and I highlighted the importance of quality in ECE – the thing that brings us all together here.

A year later I’m even more inspired by the great things that are happening in early childhood education. Work in the sector continues to be exciting and innovative – I would to start my comments today by thanking the Early Childhood Council for their constructive engagement in developing an early childhood sector for the 21st century.

We have committed and professional people working with children in creative ways and providing our children with the best start to their educational journey.

Some of you have will have already heard me talk about personalising learning over the past few months. I believe that early childhood educators are in a position to provide inspiration across the education sector in thinking about how personalising learning can transform our education system for the 21st century.

I want our students to be as excited by their learning the day they leave school as they were on the first day they spent in one of your services.

Knowledge society

Like most other nations, New Zealand is transforming to a knowledge society. A knowledge society is a key driver of the economy. Knowledge has always been important, but never as pivotal as it is now.

We are transforming New Zealand to a knowledge-based economy and society; a country producing high-value goods and services; a country competing on the global stage; a country where all New Zealanders have a strong sense of identity and achieve to the best of their abilities.

The development of a knowledge society is of huge importance to education. It requires us to transform the way we think about education and the way we think about knowledge.

Learners will need more than “one shot” of education that will serve them for life. They will need the skills for life-long learning. They will need to sustain the dispositions for learning that you are helping them to develop through quality early childhood education: to be curious, to ask questions, to explore and find out, to persevere and to be resilient.

ECE strategic plan

You are leading the way in transforming education to meet the needs of a knowledge society. This leadership is built on the clear vision that is captured in our Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Education, Pathways to the Future: Ngâ Huarahi Arataki, which is owned and driven by you.

Our shared commitment is to ensure that all families have access to quality education services that are responsive to their needs and those of their children. Quality early childhood education provides strong foundations for life-long learning and enables our children to contribute strongly to the knowledge society.

Research alongside your professional experience tells us that we will achieve this by delivering the three goals of the Strategic Plan:

· Improving the quality of early childhood education services;
· Increasing participation in quality ECE services; and
· Promoting collaborative relationships.

Personalising Learning

I began using the term personalising learning widely once I had listened closely to people in the education sector. I decided that it captured the best and most progressive features of what we are doing to enable our youngest children to create and use knowledge.

Many of the things I see happening in early childhood education exemplify what personalising learning is about. I already see young children with the dispositions for learning in a knowledge society. Parents, teachers and children are all engaged in what children are learning and how they are learning.

· Curriculum – Te Whâriki, the curriculum document for early childhood education, creates opportunities for teachers to build learning around the interests of children. Sector feedback on the proposal to make Te Whâriki the compulsory curriculum framework for all early childhood education is being collated for analysis;

· Strong Engaged Communities – understanding the learning expectations of families and whânau and the wider community; and supporting families, whânau and communities to work together with ECE services and schools to best support and strengthen their children’s learning along with other agencies and organisations involved with children’s wellbeing;

· Leadership setting the conditions for and championing personalising learning;

· A highly supportive system helping you lead your services and support your families and communities, ranging from resourcing to professional development and ECE criteria; and

· Strong Engaged Communities – understanding the learning expectations of families and whânau and the wider community; and supporting families, whânau and communities to work together with ECE centres and schools to best support and strengthen their children’s learning along with other agencies and organisations involved with children’s wellbeing;

I’d like to share with you two communities who we’re now going to visit, and look how they connect learning.

The first of these examples of personalising learning which highlights a number of these components is what happens in A’oga Fa’a Samoa in Auckland. It was the first licensed Samoan-language ECE centre in New Zealand. Established 20 years ago, it is still the only licensed Samoan centre connected to a primary school that has a Samoan-language programme.

They implement Te Whâriki within a Samoan language immersion environment. Another Centre of Innovation, they looked at what helps learning and Samoan language continuity as the children make transitions within and from A’oga Fa’a Samoa and how research findings about bilingualism and secure attachment can be implemented. As the supervisor / manager says “All I know is that we will never stand still.”

Let’s look at how they involve their community in their centre.

Now let’s visit our friends in Glen Innes. Te Kohanga Reo o Puau Te Moananui a Kiwa, another COI, works within Mâtauranga Mâori to help develop te reo. Their research questions included what changes will enhance te reo Maori learning; what changes will contribute to strengthening Mâori identity; and what will prepare mokopuna for success in their life’s journey? This work recognises the pivotal importance of language in strengthening identity and supporting achievement for mokopuna and their whânau. It brings together the various worlds of mokopuna.

These are real examples which demonstrate all the connections I’ve been talking about and underline that the components of personalising learning are all a part of the work you are already doing to achieve the goals of the ECE Strategic Plan.

High Quality services

To make a difference to children’s learning, early childhood education needs to be good quality.

A particular focus through the strategic plan has been ensuring that quality ECE provision is directly linked to quality teachers, with the tools at their fingertips to support effective teaching and learning.

We all acknowledge the central importance of quality teaching in ECE.

Qualified teachers

To strengthen the early childhood sector, we decided we needed all early childhood teachers to meet a minimum professional standard.

I applaud your sector for leading the move towards teacher registration and for your efforts in getting more teachers qualified and registered. At July 2006, 56% of all early childhood teachers in education and care services were qualified and registered; compared with 39% in 2004 – this is a tremendous achievement! I urge you to keep up your efforts so that all services will have at least 50% of staff qualified by the end of this year.


At the same time, it is important that we have a diverse range of people who come from all walks of life to teach our children. It is pleasing to know that there have been steady increases in early childhood teachers from Mâori and Pasifika backgrounds.

I know many of you are concerned about the low proportions of men working as early childhood teachers, and that more men in early childhood teaching would improve the balance of educational experience for children. It’s a challenge for us all.

Some of you may have read the story about Ray Margrain in the Sunday Star Times on 4 March. Ray enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad so much that he decided the next step was a career in ECE. He’d been an electrical technician for 27 years before he decided ECE was for him. Ray did his diploma in ECE and says he’s found his “passion”. The article notes too that “a couple of the boys [at his centre] have told me they want to be teachers too – it’s great that they see it as an option.”

You’ll be interested to know that TeachNZ are currently developing promotional material to get more men into ECE teaching. Samples of the work to date will be available at this conference.

Assessment and Curriculum

Effective teaching depends in part on the tools that are available to support qualified teachers. It’s about bringing together experience, assessment resources and curriculum to create learning opportunities to meet the needs of diverse learners.

I am pleased that the ECE sector continues to lead initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and learning practices in your services. I have heard that most services are engaged in Kei Tua o te Pae: Early Childhood Exemplars, and the professional development that is running alongside them. Professional development providers are already reporting that teachers are using the exemplars to strengthen their responsiveness to children’s interests and strengths.

Increasing participation

For all New Zealand families to be able to participate in and prosper from the knowledge society, we must ensure that no child misses out on the opportunity to participate in quality early childhood services.

A key strength of early childhood education is that quality in teaching and learning happens across a diverse range of services. I appreciate the services you provide in your communities. Many of you have built these services up from the beginning and it’s testimony to you that you have continued to focus on what your communities need and what your children need, at the same time.

We have made huge gains in participation since the introduction of the Strategic Plan. It’s good to see that more Mâori and Pasifika children are now participating in early childhood education. For example, 90% of Mâori tamariki starting school in 2006 had participated in early childhood education, compared with 86% in 2002.

In 2006, 84% of Pasifika schools entrants had participated in early childhood education, up from 79% in 2002.

Despite these gains, there are still groups missing out on early childhood education. Did you know that children who enter decile 1 schools are ten times less likely to have attended early childhood education than a child who enters a decile 10 school?

The Promoting Participation Project is one of the ways we are working to ensure that children from these families have the opportunity to participate in quality early childhood education.

In Pukekohe a promoting participation project identified children where there was no available licensed ECE service available. A playgroup was set up and then the community worked together to develop and open an ECE service licensed for 50 families.

20 Hours Free

Lifting the numbers of children participating in early education is important, and we need to ensure that children get the maximum benefits from participation. Research tells us that participation in education needs to be regular and sustained to make a difference.

20 Hours Free ECE is one way of encouraging parents to increase their children’s participation, give more New Zealanders a good start in life and give parents greater choice about caring, living and working.

I met with your representatives on Monday to discuss how Free ECE was working. I have been impressed with your executive’s determination to represent your concerns, and make this policy work for children and families. This kind of constructive dialogue is what will make a difference.

When looking at offering Free ECE you need consider how you currently offer your services, the patterns of children’s participation and income for Free ECE hours, and discuss with parents the additional services you provide.

We are not telling you how to do this – this is your decision to make as the owner of your services. Neither the ministry nor I will be expecting to see unreasonable increases in fees after Free ECE begins, and the ministry will be monitoring fees and will be advising government of any considerable increases.

As we are so close to rolling out Free ECE it would be irresponsible to make changes to the policy at this stage. Some of you have expressed concerns about the funding rates.

The Free ECE rates have been set to cover 100% of the average cost of providing early childhood education to the regulated standards. The rates are based on actual operational costs that all services were asked to provide, they are reliable and accurate.

For those of you who provide additional services, the rates may not cover all costs. You have the flexibility to talk to your parents about donations or Optional Charges. Just a reminder too, that if a parent agrees to an Optional Charge, the services can enforce payment, just like you do now with your fees.

Many parents who have been contacting me are saying they are happy to contribute to the cost of their child’s education. I’m encouraging parents to talk with their services, to let them know that they are happy to commit to contributing in this way. You need to have the conversation with your parents so you can agree the best way of offering Free ECE that works for your parents and your service.

I also want to stress the importance of attending the Ministry of Education training which is happening now until the end of May. The ministry is keen to work with you and want to support you as much as possible, so please do talk to them if you have any questions or need more advice. After attending the workshops, 90 per cent of services said they had enough information to clearly understand the policy, and 90 per cent also felt confident they knew the steps required to offer it.

We’d all agree that quality early childhood education helps children develop a foundation for successful life-long learning. Free ECE is one way of encouraging parents increase their children’s participation in quality ECE, will give more New Zealanders a good start in life and will give parents greater choice about their children’s regular involvement in ECE.

Building collaborative relationships

We know that parent and whânau participation is essential to improving learning outcomes for children. We need to be able to work together – services, parents, agencies and community groups. Personalising learning identifies the need to understand the learning expectations of families, whânau and the wider community, and the challenge of developing stronger networks for learning with all the stakeholders involved with children’s wellbeing.

Whenever teachers can link the learning a child is doing in the ECE service with learning that the child has done at home and with their family they are achieving both strengthened learning for the child and learning that is connected to the world of the child and their family.

I am really keen to hear about some of the ways that your services are working to link and to strengthen the connections between learning at home and learning at the ECE service. Have a think about this and we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Another example is one of our Centres of Innovation, here in Christchurch, where the New Beginnings Pre-School takes a pro-active approach in working with Te Whâriki. Children are trusted to make decisions about their own learning. They learn about things that are relevant and meaningful to them and the lives of their families and whânau.

I’d now welcome your comments about some of the ways that your services are working to link and to strengthen the connections between learning at home and learning at the ECE service.

Thanks for your comments – it’s great to hear so many positive examples.

Another creative way of involving families at a distance is through the use of Information and Communications Technologies or ICT. ICT is a way we can push the boundaries of our kids’ (and parents’) learning and prepare them for the information and knowledge society.

One of the first centres of innovation, in the COI programme, Auckland’s Roskill South Kindergarten, provides an excellent example of the innovative use of ICT to enhance early childhood learning and development. Here, digital cameras, computers, and video have been used in the kindergarten’s programme to allow children to use the technology and take charge of their own learning and involve their families in what they are doing.

Conclusion – Vision for ECE

As adults charged with the future of our children we are faced with great responsibility. In the critical early years of children’s learning New Zealand can continue to be at the vanguard of transforming to a knowledge society. To lead the world we must all be able to change

The ECE sector is already contributing to the transformation of our economy, through starting our children on the path of learning to learn, stimulating creativity, questioning and problem solving.

We need to recapture the ability that we had as children to dream without limits about the future. We need to dare to follow our dreams and the realities of our children. We need to recapture that spirit of adventure, when each new thing we learn is like gleefully tearing open an unexpected present.

Thanks for having me.