How many teachers do you know with a second job? For Amelia, a bar job on a Friday night on top of a 40+ hour week as a fully qualified teacher in an early childhood centre is essential just to pay for "luxuries" such as a haircut and an annual holiday.
When primary teachers took strike action last year because of the teaching shortage and lack of pay parity with their secondary colleagues, there was huge public sympathy. Many parents experienced their children having to double up with other classes as the pool of relievers dried up; school boards understood how difficult it was to recruit teachers and everyone in New Zealand it seemed had a friend or relative who was a teacher experiencing the tough end of the teaching crisis.
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But the early childhood sector has been facing a similar and even deeper crisis that's been far less visible. The statistics of the crisis are stark – our estimates show the pay gap between early childhood teachers (working outside of kindergartens) and kindergarten and school teachers is at least 23 per cent.
National statistics show that overall from 2010 to 2018 there has been a 55 per cent drop in domestic students training to be ECE teachers and the number of unqualified teachers in centres has increased by 60 per cent since 2014 while the number of qualified teachers has increased by only 15 per cent.
Faced with this reality, employers are seeking to recruit teachers from as far away as the Philippines.
Ninety-two per cent of 3- and 4-year-olds go to an early childhood centre, and we know that ECE plays a vital role in their future physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. The wide variety of experiences they have with their parents, extended family, teachers and early childhood providers have a significant impact on their future.
The economic case for more investment in ECE is overwhelming. For every dollar invested in quality ECE, there is a return on investment of 11 per cent per year, lasting for more than 30 years for each child.
Low pay has been compounded by the funding freeze instituted by the National government from 2008-2017. The shortage of teachers is forcing centres to hire more unqualified staff and underfunding is driving some centres to closure.
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This crisis can be fixed. The first step requires the Government to fund teachers' salaries fairly – by introducing pay parity for ALL teachers. It's a big bill, but it could be done in a couple of annual cycles with an immediate pay jolt now and full parity by the end of 2021.
Not only is parity needed to address the teacher shortage, it is also the right and fair thing to do, particularly for a government committed to closing the gender pay gap and boosting wellbeing.
NZEI Te Riu Roa's ECE Voice campaign is pushing to fix the pay gap for all early childhood teachers because we believe every child deserves the best teaching and learning we can offer.
The Government has been dragging its heels on this issue. We think it needs to be a priority for this May's Budget. Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said that early childhood education is next on his list - now is the time to see some action.
By investing in early childhood education we are investing in the future success of our tamariki. That's why our campaign is not just for teachers, it's for everyone who has a stake in the children of today and our society tomorrow.
• Virginia Oakly is a kindergarten teacher and the ECE representative on NZEI Te Riu Roa's national executive.