From the ground up
Key points Pasifika families are thriving on a new project that trains parents to be home-based early childhood educators.The Wellington Kindergarten Association project enables Pasifika parents to keep their children…
Pasifika families are thriving on a new project that trains parents to be home-based early childhood educators.The Wellington Kindergarten Association project enables Pasifika parents to keep their children in a home-based setting. Parents report less TV and less smacking. “I’ve fallen in love with my children,” says one parent.
Training and paid employment are huge positives for a community facing many challenges.˜It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, it’s opened my eyes to everything,” says Tina Metuariki, an educator for Porirua’s new home-based Pasifika ECE service Etu Ao. Tina cares for four children at her home in Porirua East, including a grandchild.
Etu Ao is part of a raft of government-funded initiatives trying to improve participation levels in early childhood education. Tina, of Samoan and Cook Islands descent, is one of 25 educators in Porirua East responsible for educating and caring for up to 80 children, including family members. They follow the early childhood curriculum Te Whaariki, and are visited weekly by a qualified early childhood teacher. She and the other educators have all completed a certificate in early childhood development, looking at both theory and practice.
They gather at Toru Fetu Kindergarten in Cannons Creek for a weekly playgroup, and meet monthly for a professional development session, often with outside speakers.
The setting is in the heart of one of the poorest areas in New Zealand, with all of the statistics that tend to accompany poverty” high numbers of single parent families, high numbers of unemployed, and low levels of educational qualifications. But the scene ata Toru Fetu is far from depressed. Educators are excited about their work, and the progress their children are making. They share experiences, and show the learning stories they have written illustrating children’s progress.
Art work is passed around and people exchange ideas for craft materials for budding artists that are readily available at home. Although 86 per cent of Pasifika children now take part in early childhood education, that level is lower than for Pakeha children. The barriers include cost, but another factor is that many parents want their young children in a family environment. They also want children to have a strong language and cultural foundation, so informal care is common, with children being cared for by a relative while parents work. However the standard of that care can vary.
Etu Ao aims to work with family members or friends, and make the informal care part of the formal home-based education system, so that children are exposed to the educational experiences they need in a home setting, while remaining strong in their language and culture. Educators confirm that before they studied children’s development and recognised their need to explore and communicate, to talk and ask questions, to paint and climb and jump, they would often just turn on the TV to entertain and occupy young children.
Sisilia Talamaivao, a Samoan grandmother and great grandmother, says she enjoyed the course and it’s completely changed the way she and the others look after children. “It’s very easy to turn on the TV, but now they are doing drawing, reading, outside activities. “I learned a lot of new things. For example, I used to smack my children, now I never would and I don’t want anyone else to do it. It was new to me, talk nicely to your children, I am really aware of it now.”
Practical skills such as first aid are also useful and give educators confidence. “You never know when something is going to happen.” Tina Metuariki says the way she runs her house has completely changed. From being a self confessed neat freak, she is now a different person, appreciating what children are learning from playing in the mud. She is flexible and not worried about the four children messing the house with their play. “They can suggest something, they are not scared to ask.”
Tina can see the difference in the children since they have been coming to her. Her own grandson has flourished in a child-centred environment. “Children need a sense of belonging, someone they can talk to.”
She sees that home-based early childhood education is good for children who might be shy and overlooked in a larger centre with greater numbers. “We have one-on-one interaction and no-one gets left out.”
Etu Ao is run by the Wellington Kindergarten Association, and Caroline Mareko, who is in charge of Pasifika and Community projects, says the project has been very exciting. “It’s making significant changes for families.” The project targets children who weren’t previously enrolled in early childhood education, and some children are also being introduced to kindergarten through the home-based service. Several attend both.
Caroline says for many educators, completing the certificate course has been a milestone, with graduation sessions a real celebration, packed out with family and friends. And the educators are hungry to learn more, with indications already that some will go on to train as early childhood teachers.
She says the project has the potential to grow, with 25 people waiting to become educators, but it’s important to make sure the service is sustainable and it’s better not to grow too quickly.
Caroline says the weekly visits from qualified teachers, which contrast with monthly visits offered by some commercial home-based services, are a key to success. They help stop educators from feeling isolated, and help them stay on top of the requirements. And she says the benefits are spreading throughout the community, with other significant spin-offs for families.
Tina Metuarikia outlines some of these within her own family. “I’m a lot closer to my kids now, I have fallen in love with my kids. I’m there, and they can talk to me. I’m a lot happier, my partner and kids are happier.”
Tina was working shifts at the Police College and she recognises now that she was so busy working full-time and running her house that she didn’t know her children. When she was home she didn’t realise how important it was to talk to them and to listen to their problems. She has a better understanding of children now. Previously her parenting method was “you do what I say”. It mimicked her own upbringing where she was “smacked around”.
Tina says whereas she used to run the household completely, now her partner is more involved and they work together as parents. Her partner supports her work as a home-based educator and her older children also help, making resources for the children’s play.
She says her children (aged between five and 20) notice that she treats the four children she looks after much less harshly than she treated them.
Like many of the educators, Tina now gets approached by extended family for advice.
“My brother rings me about his son not reading. I tell him:˜Don’t smack him, encourage him’.”
Another benefit of linking family care into the early childhood education system is the access to funding. Some 40 per cent of Pasifika children live in poverty, and the government subsidies that are available for home-based options can make a big difference. Commercial operators have been quick to take advantage of these subsidies, and home-based care is big business for some, but with this project the money is channeled back into communities.
Sisilia Talamaivao says with her children off her hands, she does not have the same expenses but for others it’s a different story. “Lots of Pasifika are looking after their grandchildren, doing it for love, allowing the parents to earn money. It’s great that this (Etu Ao) is happening. Money is very useful for some families.”
Tina can see herself continuing as a home-based educator for many years. “If I can make a difference, I’ll stick to this.”
The government has a policy of 98 per cent of children participating in early childhood education by 2015.
Achieving this requires not just more places, but changes to what is provided so that all families can find something that suits them, and that they can afford. Costs that limit participation can include transport, suitable shoes, even lunchboxes, but quite often it is simply parent fees that rule children out.
Although all children are supposed to have access to 20 hours free ECE from age three, the reality is slightly different. Many services have optional charges, which may not seem all that optional to parents. Others will only take children for the 20 hours if they agree to paid hours on top” sometimes another 20 hours.
A very big barrier can be the cultural fit, which special projects such as Etu Ao aim to overcome.
The Ministry of Education provided the Wellington Kindergarten Association with a grant to help with the costs of setting up of the service.
The Ministry’s Group manager ECE Karl LeQuesne says the strength of the project is that it comes from the ground up.a “Etu Ao is tailored to the families it serves, rather than trying to make families fit an existing arrangement.” The government has six categories of programmes which target children geographically, from census data. Programmes range from those that try to make existing services more responsive to different cultures, to others that use existing community sources to ask people at a very local level what would work for them.
So far, 800 extra Pasifika children are enrolled as part of the various initiatives, while another 75 have been attending but have already moved on to school.
The projects are on track to engage more Pasifika families. So far, the ministry says supported playgroups seem to be working well nationally, both as a stepping stone for children to other services but also in engaging families, supporting parenting and grandparenting, and building community connections.
Evaluations of these projects are still in progress, and it is sustained regular participation and quality education that will make the difference. The government plans to modify its efforts as it becomes clear what works best. There are also grants to extend the number of places in priority areas, and about 2000 additional places have been funded.
From here, the challenge is to sustain and replicate programmes that are working well such as Etu Ao, where it will suit another community.