Sir Peter and his DonKey

Written By: - Date published: 9:09 am, August 20th, 2010 - 12 comments
Categories: education, families - Tags: ,

Something John Key did right on entering government was to appoint a science advisor, and Sir Peter Gluckman was a great choice.  Maybe it’s the BSc talking, but I like having science further up the agenda.

But the danger with having independent sorts as advisors is that they often contradict you.  It’s not a mistake National have repeated with their working groups; there they’ve taken their advice directly from Sir Humphrey: “never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be”.

Sir Peter meanwhile keeps coming up with evidence contrary to government policy.  His latest: in his own roundabout way, criticising the cuts to early childhood education.

Evidence suggests that for each $1 spent in ECE $13 are saved in later life.  Those who have a lot invested in them in early childhood get better education, better jobs, and pay more taxes; those who are neglected are far more likely to end up on the dole, in prison and straining the health system with bodies that are knackered with cigarettes, drink, drugs and stress.

Sir Peter is talking about more than Early Childhood Education, although that’s the first step.  He talks about a “more integrated approach”.  This must involve a lot more support for parents in those early years.  Our maternity & especially paternity leave isn’t particularly generous compared to most in the west, and those early weeks are so important for establishing bonding and attachment.  Freely available and heavily encouraged parenting classes (presumably in our now defunct ACE program…) would also be a welcome step.

It must also include more intervention in children’s early lives if things are going wrong, and to make sure they don’t.  So many brain pathways are laid forever in the first 3 years – empathy may never be developed if those first years are damaged.  And a lack of empathy will lead to a life of crime, or worse, trawling right-wing blogs.

Somehow we must avoid the tag of ‘the ultimate nanny state’ and get more involvement in those early years from outside the nuclear family (from appropriate agencies like plunket, ECE centres and doctors).  Few parents would claim to be experts when a child arrives in their laps, but no-one likes interference in their family – so this needs to be done with care.

Rather than looking at increasing investment in early childhood though, Sir Peter has to put up with being attached to a government that is instead slashing it.  So while Sir Peter says:

“let’s encourage our policy makers to look at whether we have the balance where the investment is right. I don’t think we’re talking high in the narrow sense yes, it may be that there appears to be an expense, but the economists tell us the rate of return is worth it.”

we have a government that doesn’t think it is important to have qualified teachers to extend our toddlers in their formative years, and a minister of education that thinks cutting $400 million from our youngest children is some sort of opportunity.

Hat Tip: David Clark

12 comments on “Sir Peter and his DonKey”

  1. Chris 1

    I have always thought the idea not you don’t need 100% qualified ECE teachers was really odd. Imagine if you had 80% qualified doctors, or 80% qualified police, or 80% qualified nurses.

    Having children being taught by people who have no qualification is just plainly dumb.

  2. Bored 2

    Nice article Bunji, you raise one concern Somehow we must avoid the tag of ‘the ultimate nanny state’that is always pounced upon by the right.

    Given that you point out that every dollar spent saves $13 later, perhaps we should by rebranding “Nanny State” with the “Caring State” or similar. Any suggestions?

    • Blighty 2.1

      take out the state too. the state is just a mechanism for the community to get things done. caring communities

      or you could say that 13 return for 1 invested is just value for money in government spending. Beats the pants of any of their motorway projects.

      • Bored 2.1.1

        I like that, imagine a government devolving down to “community” level, or even making that their concern. Flies in the face of Thatcherism.

    • bbfloyd 2.2

      @bored… what we need is to raise the level of debate above petty sloganeering, and reactionary namecalling. unfortunately, for that to happen there needs to be a large number of “journalists” lined up and shot.
      without the constant white noise going on in the background, people would have the chance to actually think clearly about these issues. at that point, rational debate can start to dominate decision making.
      p;s: (just joking about the shooting bit) leather muzzles would do at a pinch.

      • Bored 2.2.1

        Dunno, shooting sets a better example, its the Admiral Byng scene from Candide.(pour encourage les autres ..crap French but I think thats how its goes)

        • bbfloyd

          i think it would look good in 3d as well. it could be turned into a weekly event. perfect use for the wasted area left behind when “party central” folds up and blows away.

  3. Blighty 3

    A truely excellent post.

    anyone heard of the ‘rat park’ experiments? basically, if you give rats, or by inference people, a good upbringing – where they become integrated with a community and their environment is nice to live in – they don’t get addicted to drugs even with repeated exposure. Just doesn’t interest them.

  4. comedy 4

    Wow that $13 for every 1 spent sounds fantastic ….. got a link to the actual study ?

  5. J 5

    Investment in the education of our children at a time when they literally hang out for learning is so obvious its painful to have to debate it. It is just another example of science running 50 years ahead of the ever present slow brake on our society….right wing parties

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