Dr Anne Meade leads fundamental change

Issue: Volume 97, Number 14

Posted: 13 August 2018
Reference #: 1H9jwJ

One of New Zealand’s most eminent educationalists, Dr Anne Meade, speaks with Education Gazette about some of the seismic changes in education she has helped to lead.

Dr Anne Meade’s outstanding career has spanned one of the most important periods of change in early childhood education in New Zealand – the late 1980s and early 1990s, when policy around childcare became about more than simply childminding.

Anne says many factors came together at the time to move early childhood education towards the evidence-based model we aspire to today – not least a government that recognised that change was necessary. Prime Minister David Lange was also Minister of Education, and Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer understood that the goal of more equitable opportunity could be helped by introducing education into the lives of very young learners regardless of the service they attended.

“There’s been one big fundamental change that is the foundation for [all subsequent changes]”, says Anne, “which was to bring childcare out of social welfare administration and under education, so that all children were then regarded as being able to benefit from early education that fostered and enhanced their learning and their development. That happened a long time ago, but I was part of that story.”

In fact, Anne was ‘borrowed’ from her regular job by both Prime Minister David Lange’s office, as well as that of Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, as part of advisory groups that influenced policy of the time. Many other changes cascaded from this seismic period – for example, the way early childhood teachers became qualified – with Anne being instrumental in moving ECE into the modern era.

Anne was also instrumental in ensuring that early childhood education could benefit from the changes that resulted from Tomorrow’s Schools, by her leadership of the seminal Education to be More report, generally referred to as the Meade report.

Experience informs the future of early childhood education

Anne remains involved in the future of ECE in New Zealand. She is a member of the reference group for the Early Learning Strategic Plan that is currently underway, which will result in a 10-year plan for early childhood education. She speaks passionately about her hopes for the work of this reference group.

“I think it’s about the emphasis. If you want to do the very best for children, and have an early childhood sector that sets the foundation for children, for their lives – and the research is quite clear around the first 1,000 days [of a child’s life], in terms of things like kindness, empathy, and thirst for learning – it’s part of our curriculum in this country, but we’ve got to keep working with the workforce, because I don’t think we’re quite there yet, in some aspects of the education and care that we’re offering.

“For me personally, I also think we need to do better in linking with other government and community initiatives to enhance child wellbeing; putting more emphasis on working closely with health agencies, for example.

“When you hear about information that’s emerging about how many babies are affected by things like fetal alcohol [syndrome], I think we’ve got to accept the need for assessment and become better informed, and more accepting about, for example, what sort of interventions benefit such children markedly if identified in their early years.”

A passion for research

Anne is proud of her determination to bring the research she’s passionate about into the real world.

“I think just being able to continue in a variety of ways to persist, because a fair bit of that has been required at times! Thinking to myself, ‘all right, well, the [political] context has changed, but what do we need to continue asserting is important? And what sort of things are we now all right on, so that we can stop banging on about [them]!’”

Some of the research work Anne has been involved with has informed significant change in New Zealand’s education landscape. Being semi-retired, Anne now works as a consultant, helping others with their own educational projects.

Anne says one focus that is likely to continue for her is her work on the early years teaching workforce.

“Five years ago, with lecturers at Te Rito Maioha – Early Childhood New Zealand, from which the largest number of early childhood graduates in New Zealand come, our research found a greater impact on teaching and learning when there was a high proportion of qualified teachers in a centre.

“The project has involved a series of case studies and we’ve learned some important things about a high proportion [of qualified teachers] in any one setting being needed to provide optimal child development and learning. The proportion has been a matter of debate, but I believe the regulations need to set the bar higher.

“More latterly, I was working alongside some lecturers at the Open Polytechnic looking at the practicum, which in teacher education is an important part of any teaching degree programme. We’ve been examining the way that the practicum works and how best to support students so that it has maximum impact.”

Anne concludes, “I’d like a rethink of approaches to ongoing professional learning for those already in the workforce, and more resources there.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 13 August 2018

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