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The government’s new social obligations policy, announced by Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett on Tuesday, shows ideological confusion, says a Massey University academic.
“It was not too long ago that the National Party was in opposition and calling the Labour Party supporters of the nanny state. Now it appears that the Minister for Social Development wants to claim the title of nanny for herself,” says Dr Andrew Cardow from the School of Management.
“Bennett has taken away the right for a parent to choose whether or not their child attends an early childhood education centre – trampling one of the sacrosanct tenets of neo-liberals everywhere.”
The new policy means beneficiary parents must enrol children aged between three and five in early childhood education, or lose a portion of their benefit. However, current New Zealand law does not yet require children under the age of six to attend school.
“Just to be clear, the Education Act states that: ‘Except as provided in this Act, every person who is not an international student is required to be enrolled at a registered school at all times during the period beginning on the person's sixth birthday and ending on the person's 16th birthday,” Dr Cardow says.
“There’s nothing in there about beneficiary children aged between three and five being treated differently. Is the minister proposing amendments to the Education Act too?”
Dr Cardow says the minister seems to believe that beneficiaries are not qualified to decide what is best for their children. She has also failed to cite any hard evidence that all children benefit from organised early childhood education conducted away from the home.
“While there is evidence to suggest that social development is retarded by the absence of adequate finances that enable appropriate socialisation, that does not mean it can only take place within the confines of an early childhood education facility,” he says.
“Surely, as long as the child is being socialised and his or her needs are being attended to, that should be enough? It seems, however, that the Minister of Social Development is more interested in playing the gallery than developing play.”