Does the Ministry of Education Even Understand Children?

The Ministry of Education’s recent bulletin says that essential workers who can’t find childcare after today, can drop their child at any centre that is “open and accepting enrolments”.  For a child, being left among strangers can be very scary.  The Ministry of Education is ultimately responsible for our children’s wellbeing.  The Opportunities Party (TOP) question whether the Ministry understands children, or do they simply not care? 

Think of the Children

Under Alert Levels 4 and 3, the government gave funding so home-based services could care for children of essential workers.  These parents now have three days to find alternative care for their children, as the funding will stop this Friday, regardless of whether Alert Level 3 is extended. 

Let’s consider this from the child’s perspective.  When lockdown started, these 0-5 year olds were moved suddenly from their normal daycare situation to a stranger’s home.  This may have been very unsettling at the time, but over the last six weeks, they have hopefully developed a relationship with their new carer.  Now, many will be moved again, because funding has stopped.  Perhaps they’ll go back to their old daycare, but some will have to go elsewhere.  All while their parents keep our society running.  Life under covid has been tough enough for essential workers and their kids, why are we making it even harder? 

From a broader perspective, government policy over the last 10 years has focussed on participation in ECE.  We’ve seen significant growth across the sector, but little consideration of quality.  This has led to substandard services and regulations that are detrimentally affecting some of NZ’s youngest children.

Rather than going back to the old ‘normal’, TOP is urging the ministry to think differently about ECE, especially when it comes to ‘quality’. 

Rethinking quality in ECE

Quality is important in ECE.  Done well, ECE can shape social, emotional and academic outcomes for all children, help improve equity, and build strong communities and healthy families.  The evidence is clear that the return on investment for society can be much higher when investing in children early. 

However, NZ’s pre-covid ECE sector was in a state of crisis.  We’ve had 10+ years of policy, funding and regulation decisions based largely on financial rather than educational perspectives, to the detriment of our youngest citizens.  We were factory farming some of our youngest children.  This was not ok. 

One way to avoid returning to the old ‘normal’ is to consider what quality in ECE looks like.  Quality means different things to different people, and there are many routes to quality in early childhood education.  For example, government agencies like to use rigorous methods and templates to assess quality. They develop rating scales, checklists and inspection procedures to monitor performance of ECE services.  In these terms, ‘quality’ is universal, objective, stable, and measurable. 

Yet, meanings of quality have been challenged educationally since the 1990s.  Subjectivity, diversity, and multiple perspectives are also important aspects of education that can’t be easily measured and monitored.  Educationally, quality means asking critical questions, investigating power dynamics, researching ideas and issues, reflecting on teaching practice, and fostering diversity and difference.  Quality educators learn from their students, encourage exploration, curiosity and wonder, embrace risk taking, confusion and failure, and question their fundamental beliefs and assumptions. 

If we want ECE in New Zealand to shape positive outcomes for our tamariki, families and communities, we need to reconsider what’s important.  TOP suggests taking a ‘care and community’ approach to ECE.  When the system is caring for educators (teachers, whānau, and caregivers), educators are empowered to care for children, and learning can flourish. 

What would The Opportunities Party do differently?

Firstly, TOP is committed to fair pay for ECE teachers, in-line with kindergarten and schools and improving working conditions for ECE teachers.  One complicating factor to demanding pay parity for all ECE teachers is that corporate ECE providers are not required to report full accounting information.  Therefore, no-one knows what proportion of government funding and parents’ fees end up in corporate shareholders’ pockets via dividends.  TOP will require all services to produce full accounting information.  This will make the path to pay parity much clearer.

Secondly, TOP believes that ECE should be the priority for investment in education.  However, it is crucial that additional funding lands in communities (and not in centralised bureaucracy or shareholder dividends).  Communities and families are in the best position to know what they need.  Therefore, we will review the $/hr/child rates to ensure communities are better supported to provide quality ECE services.  Note: We will retain higher rates for services with higher qualifications and prioritise funding for vulnerable communities, who have been under-resourced in the past.

Thirdly, TOP will give all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents a universal basic income of $13,000 per annum (for 18-65 year olds) plus $2,080 per annum per child (paid to parents).  This will enable families to make decisions regarding their childcare arrangements.


TOP’s new ECE policy will be released prior to the September election.  These are just some of the ideas that are included in the policy.

Dr Naomi Pocock is TOP’s Education Spokesperson and Hamilton West Candidate.

TOP’s other education blogs include:

How can we fix education in New Zealand?

Will participation in early childhood education actually reduce future crime in NZ?

Nature play in schools – A mainstream option?

National & Labour – Both tinkering around the edges of education