The Government has unveiled a plan for early childhood education centres to be 100 percent staffed by qualified teachers, despite a severe shortage.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says it is a "key proposal" in a new 10-year plan to improve the sector, alongside reducing adult:child ratios and increased monitoring.
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"Participation in early learning has grown in recent years, but this doesn't mean that all children have access to high quality learning opportunities," Mr Hipkins said on Monday, unveiling the draft Strategic Plan for Early Learning.
"All the evidence shows that early learning gives children a head start in life, improves their wellbeing and contributes to a happy safe childhood. But only if it's high quality."
The draft plan "sets out a path to develop and strengthen the early learning sector over the next 10 years, to meet the needs of all children and their families and whānau" Mr Hipkins said.
Its key themes are:
- moving towards a 100 percent qualified teacher workforce in early childhood education centres
- improving the adult:child ratios for babies and toddlers
- increasing the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions across the sector
- a more planned approach to establishing new services, greater support and increased monitoring.
Mr Hipkins acknowledges it will increase the demand for qualified teachers. RNZ reported earlier this year early childhood education centres were already struggling to find staff, despite the current requirement only 50 percent need to be trained teachers.
"It's really hard to find professional, ethical teachers with those who are actually qualified as well," Maria Johnson, owner of the Little School franchise, told RNZ in March. "They are far and few between."
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They're also reportedly paid less than most school teachers. One of the proposals is to up salaries - which could be a tough ask, considering the Government is currently refusing to meet primary school teachers's pay demands.
"This is a long-term commitment which requires a staged approach to allow time for the sector to respond to the changes and additional workforce demands," said Mr Hipkins, who wants to hear from the public about the proposals.
"I am keen to hear from families and whānau, kaiako, service providers, educators and the wider community about the specific changes suggested, as well as the proposed timeline for implementation."