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Home arrow Education arrow Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation

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Neoliberal discursive era

New Zealand during the 1980s and 1990s experienced an extreme conversion to neoliberal doctrine, resulting in deregulation, devolution, corporatization, and privatization of services such as education that had previously been held as the domain of the state (Farquhar, 2008), in what has been described as “the most ambitious attempt at constructing the free market as a social institution to be introduced anywhere this century” (Gray, 1998, p. 39, as cited in Farquhar, 2008, p. 119). After many years of priding itself on being a “welfare state” that cared for all its citizens, “New Zealand moved almost overnight to a user pays, market driven economic system,” welfare systems were pruned and national assets privatized (Carpenter, 2009, p. 3). New Zealand early childhood services have been increasingly privatized in line with the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) policy, which aims to “limit public expenditure and to allow greater choice and control by parents” (Farquhar, 2008, p. 125). The traditionally left-wing Labour government (1984-1990) whilst captured by neoliberalist economics, tried to maintain a commitment to social justice and the traditional Labour government ethic of egalitarianism in its social policy-making. Owing to Maori activism within the party, it also had significant commitments to The Treaty of Waitangi. The curriculum reforms initiated under this government included the Before Five (Lange, 1988) policy document, and led to the development of Te Whariki, both of which reflected this commitment.

The right-wing National Party formed the next government (19901999), and immediately delivered policy changes reflecting a more extreme neoliberal/neoconservative doctrine, rendering it somewhat bizarre that Te Whariki was produced during this decade. Understanding this seeming anomaly requires unpacking the complexities of the assemblage of the early childhood sector, as outlined in the previous chapter, as a “flax-roots” loose collective of different organizations, all deeply committed to offering services for children and families in particular contexts. From a Deleuze-Guattarian perspective, the ECCE sector in Aotearoa, and Te Whariki, can be seen as assemblages that are “passional, they are compositions of desire” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. 440), and that were collectively strong enough to resist the striations being imposed by neoliberal policies. It has also been suggested that the National Government Minister of Education may have been uninterested in closely monitoring the development of a curriculum for a non-compulsory education sector that was largely the domain of women and young children (Mutch & Trim, 2013).

Neoliberalism has been described as a “heightening and renewal of modernity’s now dominant metanarrative” of individuals as “rational utility maximisers” (Peters, 2001, p. 119). Recent neoliberal metanarratives “reframe all human transactions as being primarily economic in nature” (Cope & I’Anson, 2003, p. 220). Forces/forcers of international globalization such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have promulgated “a Western-centered architecture for global capitalism” (Robertson & Dale, 2009, p. 32), resulting in “the triumph of market fundamentalism” infiltrating what were previously social services, and education being remodeled as a marketable commodity (Saltman, 2009, p. 56). This discursive shift is seen in the education curriculum documents that promote the “ability to earn money, flexibility, [and] competitiveness” as opposed to previously celebrated values for maintaining the social fabric such as “solidarity, fairness, and compassion” (McCarthy, Pitton, Kim, & Monje, 2009,

pp. 40-41).

The workings of neoliberalism create a sense of positioning for educational (and other) services that is deliberately (and artificially) detached from the direct engagement of government, a form of governmentality that allows the governmental officers to maintain a sense of independence from any calamities that ensue, since “Risk management is forced back onto individuals and satisfied through the market” (Peters, 2001, p. 111). The perils of this approach was supremely evident in the tragedy of the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan (Stiglitz, 2010). Meanwhile, corporate, middle-class bureaucratic capture promotes individualism in the forms of consumer autonomy, privatization, user-pays, and individual enterprise (Peters, 2001), which are in contrast to Indigenous values of collectivism. Ironically the individual also becomes relatively powerless to oppose these forces, as “our contemporary capitalist society adjusts to changes, and works to refold rogue elements of the socius back into the ceaseless play of the commodity” (Roffe, 2007, p. 48). As neoliberal subjects are required to become “entrepreneurs of themselves” (Foucault, 1979, as cited in McCarthy et al., 2009, p. 40), individual “freedom” is positioned “as being more important than welfare liberalism’s privileging of equality” (Farquhar, 2008, p. 17).

The ECCE sector in Aotearoa had been dramatically affected by neoliberal policies, seen particularly in the shift toward privatization. In 2000, 26 percent of early childhood centers were privately owned profit-making businesses, whilst a decade later, in 2010, 40 percent of our early childhood provision operated as “for-profit” businesses (ECE Taskforce Secretariat, 2010, p. 5). This situation has rendered children, families, and teachers vulnerable to “market failure” (Farquhar, 2008, p. 126). New Zealand has therefore become “a culture where the market is regarded as the ethic guiding all human action, [and] the subject’s identity is constructed in and by the market” (McCarthy et al., 2009, p. 40). Recent research has identified increasing discrepancies in the provision of ECCE, with many low-income, Maori, and Pacific Islands families struggling to access services (Ritchie & Johnson, 2011). The reterritorializing by this intensifying neoliberal metanarrative seems devoid of an ethic of care, or of the egalitarianism that was once a professed characteristic of New Zealand society, albeit with the ongoing under-belly of racism and colonization. Corporate interests prevail, a hegemonic faith in the mythological market side-lining Maori interests, despite the ostensible role of the Maori Party within a National-led coalition government.

 
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