Opinion: The Act Party’s Education Policies—A Step Backwards for New Zealand’s Future
Yesterday, the Act Party announced a set of education policies that have left many experts, educators, and parents deeply concerned. While the party may be considered the ‘tail wagging the dog’ of the National Party, its influence should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to shaping the future of education in New Zealand—a country globally recognized for its forward-thinking and innovative approach to early years education.
Developmental Appropriateness: A Fundamental Oversight
Varied Developmental Milestones
One of the most glaring issues with the Act Party’s policies is the lack of understanding of developmental appropriateness. The expectation that all 4-year-olds should read and write is not only unrealistic but also deeply flawed. Children develop at different rates, especially during their early years. To overlook the natural variability in developmental milestones is to set up our children for failure from the get-go.
Early childhood is a crucial period for holistic development, encompassing social, emotional, and physical growth. The Act Party’s undue emphasis on academic skills like literacy and numeracy risks overshadowing other vital areas of development. We cannot afford to sacrifice the well-rounded growth of our children for the sake of academic checkboxes.
Physical Development Concerns: More Than Just ABCs
Hand-Eye Coordination and Bone Structure
The physical implications of these policies are equally troubling. Fine motor skills, including hand-eye coordination, are still in the developmental stage at this age. The bones in young children’s hands and fingers are not fully formed. Expecting 4-year-olds to write can be physically challenging and potentially harmful, putting undue stress on their still-developing bone structure.
Gross Motor Skills
Before fine motor skills can be fully developed, children need to hone their gross motor skills, which involve larger movements of the body. These skills are not only developmentally appropriate but also crucial for later fine motor development. The Act Party’s policies fail to acknowledge this essential aspect of physical growth.
Psychological and Emotional Impact: The Hidden Costs
Stress and Anxiety
The emotional toll of these policies is another area of concern. The pressure to meet academic expectations can induce stress and anxiety in young children, affecting not only their emotional well-being but also their long-term attitude towards learning.
Failure to meet these early academic expectations can severely impact a child’s self-esteem and self-worth, which are in delicate stages of development at this young age.
Educational Equity: Widening the Gap
The Act Party’s policies also exacerbate educational inequities. Not all families have the resources to provide early literacy and numeracy training, disproportionately affecting children from lower socio-economic backgrounds and widening the educational equity gap from the outset.
Recommendations: A Way Forward
Age-Appropriate Assessments and Expert Consultation
Any assessments for this age group should be developmentally appropriate and consider the child’s holistic development. Policies should be formulated in consultation with child development experts, paediatricians, and educators who understand the physical and psychological needs of young children.
While early education is undoubtedly important, the focus should be on developmentally appropriate, holistic learning experiences rather than narrow academic skills. The Act Party’s policies are not only developmentally inappropriate but could also have long-term negative impacts on the physical and emotional well-being of our children. As a nation that prides itself on its innovative approach to education, especially in the early years, we cannot afford to let these ill-informed policies dictate the future of our children and, by extension, our country.