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Fiona Hughes: The highly-valued 'nana' touch can't be taught in a degree

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Kidicorp's Fiona Hughes backs the decision to move away from 100 per cent qualified teachers

Fiona Hughes. Photo / Supplied
Fiona Hughes. Photo / Supplied

The Government decision to not have 100 per cent qualified teachers in early childhood education is a good one.

Responding to Annemarie Quill's editorial, Fiona Hughes, chief operations officer of Kidicorp, NZ's largest private provider of early childhood education, says "centres need nanas too".

The Budget decision to get rid of 100 per cent teachers in early childhood education is practical and informed. Qualified teachers play a vital role in child development and so do quality carers. Centres need nanas too.

Quality childcare starts with qualified teachers but it doesn't end there. Early childhood education is not just about education but quality care and this care may come from someone who doesn't have a three-year degree. This doesn't make them unsuitable to look after children.

Often experienced carers are those who have had their family but not had the chance, money or time to go to university and get the three-year degree required to be a qualified teacher.

Suggesting to those who have no qualifications but whom have a wonderful love of children that they don't know how to support children's learning is unfair. A mum and grandmother of 20 years can be a wonderful asset in a childcare centre with her calm and practical knowledge.

Centres don't need a qualified teacher changing nappies but you do need them to observe children and look at how they might extend their learning.

A skilled qualified teacher is invaluable with observing a child and then knowing how to extend the child's learning, so an interest in a chrysalis can turn into an appreciation of the whole cycle of a butterfly.

Unqualified carers in a centre play a different role to qualified teachers but it's still a worthy role. They will be involved in planning meetings and in these planning meetings the extension of children and supporting their learning is discussed, alongside qualified teachers. These people are constantly gaining practical educational knowledge and expertise.

Anyone in the early childhood sector knows that getting the staff to be 100 per cent qualified is very challenging. Right now, for all the centres in the country there aren't enough qualified teachers and the learning institutions can't produce enough each year for the places that need qualified teachers.

Of course, this is demand and supply but in this instance it is the childcare centres in poorer areas that will suffer the most because they can't keep putting their fees up to pay for qualified teachers.

Because the demand for qualified teachers is so great, some starting rates for newly graduated teachers is more than qualified trades people with 20 years' experience can earn. This change to the quota is practical and sensible.

Annemarie Quill may say that cutting her daughter's fringe doesn't make her a hairdresser - but three years of university training often doesn't make a teacher.

Many teachers arrive in a centre, qualified but with no practical experience about what to do with a distressed child or a child who won't settle. This is where an unqualified carer who has seen this on so many occasions may be able to settle the child and reassure them.

I know who I would want looking after my child when they arrived at a centre for the first time, tearful and afraid.

Because of the shortage, many of our "qualified" teachers are coming into centres with overseas qualifications. They can then do a one-year post graduate diploma and become "qualified". But they aren't familiar with the highly regarded New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whaariki, and its planning and assessment practices to support children's learning.

Removing the spending from 100 per cent qualified to improving participation of children who need it most is a good thing. The money not going into qualified teacher bands means there should be more money to focus on how to get the children who are still missing out into early childhood education before school.

Getting more children into early childhood education so that they can make the most of school is a great goal. Give children this chance at education early and then we might need fewer prisons.

It takes a village to bring up children, as the saying goes, and sometimes the best mix of teachers is a mix of qualified and not qualified.

* Fiona Hughes is chief operations officer of Kidicorp, claimed as New Zealand's largest private provider of early childhood education.

- NZ Herald

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