“Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela
We all know that if we want to build strong foundations for our children’s ongoing education, learning and development we have to do two things. We need to have whaanau, families and caregivers on board and engaged and we need to join forces with external agencies and organisations, working together, to encourage and motivate children to be successful learners.
That’s why for the past 18 months Ko Awatea, with the support of the Ministry of Education’s Early Learning Taskforce has been working with seven privately owned South Auckland Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres. The aim is to increase enrolments, participation and quality of teaching for children aged 3 to 4 years.
The results have been remarkable, and I’m joined by Monique Davies, Ko Awatea Project Manager and Jilly Tyler Director of the Early Learning Taskforce to tell us more.
The project began in 2014, when seven privately owned South Auckland Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres agreed to take part in an improvement collaborative, coached by the improvement team in Ko Awatea. As Geraint mentioned above, the group’s work aimed at increasing enrolments, participation and quality of teaching for children aged 3 to 4 years. These centres were experiencing low enrolment and attendance numbers, which meant that the children in these communities were not participating in early childhood education and not getting the best start on their learning journey.
The project team trained ECE staff on the Model for Improvement, a methodology used successfully around the world, to help people find quick, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to identified problems. In a nutshell, early results decide whether actions should be adopted or abandoned. Ideas are tested in a small way and then scaled up rapidly if they get good results.
Who would have thought that treating head lice at ECE centres would see more children regularly attend their local ECE centre? Or that sending texts following up on absenteeism would improve ongoing participation rates?
These are just two simple ideas identified by ECE teams to increase early education enrolments, participation and quality in Weymouth, South Auckland. These and other ideas were tested on a small-scale and adapted or adopted using the Model for Improvement methodology via PDSA (plan, do study and act) cycles.
The centres also thought that expensive marketing was the only way to increase attendance. But instead, they found that simple ideas saw children returning after the holidays. For example texting families on Sunday nights, reminding them to attend the next day, having welcome rules around how families are greeted on arrival or sending parents Christmas cards listing centre activities over January.
“At the beginning it was all a bit daunting. But the model made us breathe a sigh of relief that we can work on this in small bits and eventually we’ll see change happen in a big way,” says Naomi Diack, one of the leading ECE centre participants.
Since March 2014, enrolments across the seven centres increased from an average of 70 per cent to 99 per cent. One centre doubled its attendance. Seeing the local centres work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to deliver quality ECE to more kids in South Auckland has been a highlight.
Ministry support was crucial in getting the seven ECE centres working together. Previously, they saw each other as competitors. But our information showed the centres, there were more than enough children needing to be enrolled locally for all to share.
Currently, 96.1 per cent of children starting school have been to ECE. We are aiming for 98 per cent in 2016. Getting the sector and communities to make changes together and to partner with others to address children’s health issues, as well as their education needs, is just one of the ways we plan to reach the 98 per cent ECE participation target.
Two further cohorts have since started the same improvement journey, building on the success of the first collaborative. The Ministry team have been so impressed with the results that Ko Awatea has now been awarded the contract to nationalise the work across five regional hubs in New Zealand.
As part of this planned national approach, looking to spread improvement methodology to more ECE centres across the country, the team will also utilise the Improving Together website and eLearning programme that Ko Awatea have recently developed for the NZ Ministries of Health, Social Development and Education and the HQSC, providing these teams with additional support to the training provided by the improvement team.
Well done to everyone involved. It just shows what can be achieved if we work together and not in opposition. This work is also getting international recognition and In February this year, Jilly and Monique presented their work at the 2015 Carnegie Foundation Summit held in San Francisco. They also spoke at the APAC Forum as part of the panel on Collaborate2Accelerate providing helpful tips on running successful Collaboratives on both small and large-scale.
For further information about the project contact Monique Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 525156.
Geraint, Monique and Jilly
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