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Source: New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI)

Innovation during the COVID-19 lockdowns, support that went above and beyond for families after the Christchurch shootings, mentoring children to be environmental enthusiasts, and tirelessly advocating for a better, more just early childhood education system are just a few of the incredible examples of heroism being acknowledged in the ‘ECE Hero / Ngā Hautipua Kōhungahunga’ awards today.

For a full list of the award recipients click here.

Backed by NZEI Te Riu Roa union, today’s Children’s Day ECE Hero / Ngā Hautipua Kōhungahunga awards are recognising early childhood professionals and their teams for showing heroism in their profession after a particularly tough year.

“We asked parents, educators, and those in the wider community to tell us about the heroism they’ve seen in early childhood education – and we were blown away” says the union’s National Executive representative for early childhood education, Virginia Oakly.

“The nominations tell a story of dedicated, talented experts throughout the country who really care about the tamariki they work with and the communities they work in. The panel had a tough time making their decisions, but the people they’ve chosen have all made incredible contributions to the profession, and to their communities.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford agrees.

“We know that people in early childhood education have a huge positive influence on our youngest New Zealanders during their critical first 1000 days of life”, says Mr Rutherford. “They’re experts at what they do – ECE teachers must meet the same level of training and qualifications as their counterparts in kindergartens and schools.

“But data released by the Ministry of Education just last week shows that there’s a stark imbalance in pay. It’s shocking to see that teachers in ECE are paid on average $16,000 less than primary school teachers, and every day we’re hearing stories from people working in the sector about the very real, personal impacts this difference in pay has on their lives.

“These ECE Hero awards are a small way for us to recognise our incredible early childhood educators, and the phenomenal work they do. But the reality is that the Government needs to step in and acknowledge them too – it’s only fair that our ECE teachers should receive pay parity with their equally experienced and qualified colleagues.

“Children’s Day, and these milestone awards, are a chance for us to remind Minister Hipkins about his pre-election commitment to work towards pay parity, and to let him know just how urgent it is.”

So far the Government has committed $600m toward beginning work on pay parity, but the sector is yet to see a clear plan or timeframe to get the job done, says Ms Oakly. Early childhood educators are looking to this May’s Budget, and calling for the Government to use it to show clear next steps toward that goal.