Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Tolley swings her axe

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The 20 hours of free care for three- and four-year-old New Zealanders is one of the initiatives being looked at by the taskforce reviewing the effectiveness of spending in the early childhood education sector. Photo / Thinkstock
The 20 hours of free care for three- and four-year-old New Zealanders is one of the initiatives being looked at by the taskforce reviewing the effectiveness of spending in the early childhood education sector. Photo / Thinkstock

It's been a week in which the country has had to face facts about itself in a rather stark way: a small country with a small population at the bottom of the world; able to do a small number of things very well...

But few of those are exportable to the world stage and where they are, they often require the extra leverage of rather large foreign chequebooks.

The Government has chosen which industries it's going to back in these gloomy times and it seems, for now, the blockbuster film-making production industry is one group in line for support.

Well and good. But this week has also shown that, apart from tourism and farming, which are wedded to the land, many other industries can be the making or breaking of New Zealand at the whim of overseas backers.

This time, the Prime Minister's involvement and Peter Jackson's nationality have played their part in securing two big film productions. But what if something happens to PJ? What if the next Prime Minister has other thing things occupying him or her?

Almost any industry in this country is vulnerable. But there is one investment in this country's future that simply can not fail it - and that is in education.

A literate, learned population is a boon to any economy - especially one in which manufacturing/assembly line jobs are scarce.

Education is best started intensively and early. Like, in the years before primary school. Where physical impediments to learning can be identified, where problems can be "red flagged"for specialists, where parents are - usually - still closely enough involved in the day-to-day minutiae of their children's lives to be able to guide their preschoolers through any battery of speech therapists and psychologists and (hopefully) nip problems in the bud.

Naturally, this being an incredibly valuable but long-term investment, and one seen as having little vote-buying power, it is continually at risk.

Whenever there are cuts to be made, it always seems to be down to the Education Minister to make them.

What a short-sighted, foolish decision we have this week to review 20 free care hours for three- and four-year-old New Zealanders.

I don't believe Anne Tolley is to blame for this. She has been handed a hospital pass in the form of a ministry that is always under stealth attack by cabinet, looking to chop bits here and there from it. Teacher unions keep teaching wages tolerable; Anne Tolley is sent forth to show the PPTA who is boss and hopefully sideline this union and its pay demands once and for all.

Now she has her sights on the pre-school sector.

She says there will be the possibility of means-testing the 20-free hours' eligibility.

Why the hell should the working poor - of which there are more and more in this country - be eating into their pay packets for education/care which has time and again been proven to be ultimately worthwhile for everyone?

Why should we not be aiming to get every three- and four-year-old ready and set to go on the day they start primary school, with properly funded, properly trained staff providing basic numeracy and literacy skills to the generation of New Zealanders that will one day be expected to lift this country's economic performance?

In truth, the changes to the 20-free hour eligibility will mean little to me. The kindy my kids attend has decided to retain its well trained staff and so, even with the scheme, the costs come down only marginally.

My last bill for term four, for two kids doing six sessions a week, was in the region of $1300. I am not the working poor, but it is still a big bill for a household bringing in, effectively, one proper wage.

Nevertheless, we've chosen this way of doing things. I am not used to getting things for free and this day and age accept that I will have to pay for anything over the bare basics.

But not everyone has the "luxury"", such as it is, that I enjoy - and in any case, a proper education should never be a "luxury".

It annoys me no end that the Government can pull money out of its proverbial to prop up failed finance company investors, obscure sporting events, and even, yes, multi-million-dollar American film projects, without seemingly a thought for an investment that really will create the kind of society we all say we want. Foolish, foolish, foolish!

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