RICHARD DAVISON and JOHN COSGROVE
Playcentres could close and pre-school children could miss out on learning development in worst-case scenarios mooted due to lack of funding of South Otago early childhood education.
Clutha playcentre supporters believe the Government’s lack of adequate early childhood education (ECE) funding could lead to 5-year-old children arriving for their first day at school completely unprepared with no social interaction or learning skills.
Clutha Valley Playcentre co-presidents and parents Emma McLeod and Lydia Benge said they endorsed the national call for more ECE funding as closures threatened the district’s playcentres.
“Playcentres are the hub of rural and small town communities, especially here,” Mrs McLeod said.
“If they go then a major educational and community resource would be lost.”
Mrs Benge said their playcentre at Clydevale was educating the third generation of several families.
“Over the past few years we have been humming along with lots of children enrolled.
‘‘If we were to lose this facility then parents would lose a huge support network for their families.’’
Children could arrive for the start of their primary school education without developing any social exploration, interaction or educational skills.
While some parents could manage taking their children on long daily commutes to kindergartens in nearby towns, others would be unable to bear the burdens of time and money.
This would eventually pose challenges to parents to find a balance between work and family life, the loss of support could affect the farming industry, the rural communities and raise mental health issues,” Mrs Benge said
Balclutha Playcentre president and parent Alice Reid said her centre could be one of five threatened with closure in South Otago alone, due to long›term underfunding of parent organisation Playcentre Aotearoa.
She said most of the district’s centres —also in Owaka, Clinton, Clydevale and Tapanui
— had been running for more than 50 years.
“For many rural communities, the playcentre is the local hub for parents and families. If you take those away, you rip the heart out of the community, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.’’
Playcentre Southern regional manager Antoinette McLean confirmed that the organisation was looking at closing as many as 100 of its least viable centres, most of which would be rural because of their naturally smaller catchments and member numbers.
In the Southern region, half of the centres (23 of 46) were rural, she said.
Although the Government had announced a further $280 million for the ECE sector in its recent Budget, the money would go only to teacher›led services, not predominantly volunteer-led facilities like Playcentre.
‘‘Playcentre educates 7% of all preschoolers, yet we received less than 1% of government funding.
Playcentre is not just another early childhood service, but one playing an enormous role in the lives of tamariki, whanau and communities.’’
As some centres were teacher led, under the recent announcement Playcentre would receive another $3.1 million over four years.
However, that brought average playcentre funding per child to just over $750 a year, or 10.8% of average non-Playcentre funding.
That was barely enough to pay for ‘‘consumables’’, let alone overheads including ‘‘eye›watering’’ property maintenance costs, Mrs McLean said.