Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: If Sir Peter says so

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For those on low incomes, the incentives to participate in preschool once the children are the right age need to be greater. Photo / Thinkstock
For those on low incomes, the incentives to participate in preschool once the children are the right age need to be greater. Photo / Thinkstock

Sir Peter Gluckman has proclaimed that early childhood education is a boon to society as a whole, and apparently he has the ear of the Prime Minister so perhaps now we'll see a renewed focus in that area.

It's great that Gluckman has that message, but dismaying that it only seems to sink in with the conservative government when a knight says it, rather than the hundreds of ordinary people who have known it - and said it - for years.

Just a few ideas for starters, from someone who reads the paper each day and sends her kids to kindy.

How about properly trained, properly paid early childhood teachers running kindies or even daycare centres offering flexible hours for working parents across the country?

Perhaps a stipulation that every centre needs at least one trained teacher guiding the pre-school curriculum before receiving Government funding.

Then, a system of tax credits for enrolling children in properly accredited and audited care from the age of, say, two, for those families on reasonable incomes.

I personally think tax incentives for keeping one parent at home with their children until the age of two would also be helpful, with the commensurate acknowledgement that being a stay-at-home mother or father when your children are very little is a valid and important choice - if your circumstances permit it.

For those on low incomes, the incentives to participate in preschool once the children are the right age need to be greater. There is, and always has been, a large tail of Maori and Pacific Island children who do not participate in pre-school education, which, as we've known for many years, leaves them at a distinct disadvantage when entering primary school - and so on through their entire educations.

We will continue to have this long-lamented tail in education until we do something different. If we can coerce solo mothers back into the workforce when their babies are 14 weeks old - an absolutely ludicrous suggestion currently on the table - then surely we can force families to send their children to preschool by building more centres in low-decile urban areas and providing transport for these families to get their kids there. Providing lunch and other basic necessities may also help the cause.

Getting kids into the system early may also help ease pressure on households where abuse is a real threat. A well nourished, well educated, closely accounted for preschool population would provide a real, tangible boon to our economy decades down the track. Even Sir Peter says so, so it must be true.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to this and any other advancements in education is the blatant disregard this Government shows for education in its choice of Education Minister. Someone who has done nothing but alienate large groups of teachers, and seems to have absolutely nothing of interest or innovation to say about her portfolio, is a deadbeat choice for the job.

Instead of rotating the same old tired faces into this crucially important portfolio, let's get someone really keyed up and enthusiastic in there, and them give them the benefit of lots of support and a stable budget - rather than one that's constantly under threat - with which to ensure investment in our young people is maximised.

Instead of watching his son planking, or krumping with the young Nats, or showing up at the opening of an envelope, it would be nice to see John Key put his considerable brain to this issue of real, if unacknowledged urgency.

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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