Early learners in New Zealand have lost more than 35 million hours of early education due to the pandemic, according to a recent report by the Ministry of Education. This equates to around 177 hours lost per Auckland child and 108 hours for those living in other parts of the country.
Some sectors of the community have been more impacted than others. The report, which looked into the impacts of Covid-19 on education participation, found that Pacific and Māori children and those from disadvantaged areas have lost more formal education.
In Auckland, children attending services in lower socio-economic areas – low EQI services – lost around 15 hours of early-learning education after the second lockdown lifted, while those attending services in the most advantaged areas lost around six hours.
“One reason for this larger impact on low EQI services is that families may have had more change in economic circumstances due to Covid-19,” says Andrew Webber, Evidence Data and Knowledge at the Ministry of Education.
“Job loss could cause a reduction in ECE participation for two reasons: firstly, the loss of income may make some forms of ECE more difficult to afford; and secondly, it may free up the time of parents to enable them to care for their children during the day.
“These employment effects may affect lower socio-economic communities more, both because they may be more likely to lose income, and because they are less likely to have savings to draw upon, and so need to more quickly make changes to household expenditures, including ECE,” he says.
The report also found that Pacific children appear to have experienced the biggest barriers to ECE participation due to the pandemic.
“Pacific children had the largest reduction in hours over Level 1 after the national lockdown compared to the same two months last year. Pacific children outside of Auckland also appear to have lost noticeably more hours in the more recent Level 1, with no apparent recovery after the change to Level 2 that accompanied the Auckland outbreak and lockdown.
“The average Pacific child in Auckland has lost about 14 hours of formal ECE since the end of the Auckland lockdown, compared to about seven hours for the average Māori child, and about 2.5 hours for the average Pākehā child,” says Webber.
The disproportionate impact on participation on Pacific and Māori learners in Auckland is consistent with recent analysis on school attendance, particularly in primary schools, Webber states.
It is also consistent with reports from Auckland Pacific communities that many families have safety concerns with sending children to education, particularly when they live with elderly or immunocompromised relatives.
But spending time at home with family rather than in formal education is not necessarily a bad thing for pre-schoolers and provides no evidence it will negatively impact their education, Dr Sarah Alexander, Chief Executive of early childhood research and advocacy group Child Forum, said in an interview with news-media website Stuff.co.nz.
In fact, pre-schoolers could end up benefiting from the different learning experiences they have at home with family.
“We know from child development research that children’s learning is strengthened when parents are involved. Children whose parents were not essential workers had an increase in time to spend with their parents to do activities, games, go for walks, and do activities they might ordinarily not do when in ECE like helping to paint the shed or cooking at the stove with their dad,” said Alexander.