For some time educators and policy makers among others have been worried that proportionately fewer Māori and Pacific kids are attending early childhood education (ECE). They say that children without an early childhood education are disadvantaged when they turn up at primary school.
This may well be true. But there is another way to look at the issue. I argue that it is the curriculum-driven privately provided early childhood education that is itself the cause of this disadvantage.
For years few – if any – children attended any form of education before starting school. Kindergartens were only rolled out in the 1950s and 60s to limited numbers of children. It was only from the late 1970s when middle class mothers started returning to the paid workforce that day care centres began to spread. But even in those days most kids started school more or less at the same stage of readiness to learn. It was only with the need to elevate the status and pay of those daycare staff that the language of ‘care’ was changed to that of ‘education’ and the early childhood curriculum was developed.
Now the curriculum reigns supreme in early childhood education even from babyhood. Parents are given regular reports on their child’s progress and some centres even have ‘meet the teacher’ interviews for under twos.
I do not support this shift to an education focus. It not only disadvantages some children as discussed above but it also undervalues the day to day informal learning that happens in the home. However for those who believe in early childhood education and wish to address the inequalities caused by it, the only consistent and fair position is to get out there and campaign for free and mandatory ECE if only from the age of 3.