08 SES 08, Policy Enactment and Implementation
In Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) the government recently released The Childhood Obesity Plan, which included a significant focus “on children, as that's where the evidence shows we can have the greatest influence” (Coleman, 2016). This policy initiative aligns with approaches internationally targeting children, who are perceived to be vulnerable and at risk, unless action is taken to future proof them against ill-health. This has initiated a call by governments internationally and others, including physical activity researchers, economists and public health professionals, for increased early intervention efforts in Early Childhood Education (ECE), which along with primary schools are viewed as site that “may hold the most promise” (Copeland et al, 2012, 81) for the production of healthy children (and their families). In NZ, this call for more to be done to help prevent ill-health, alongside a rise in the privatisation and subsequent marketization of ECE in response to neoliberal market-driven agendas, has resulted in an increase in the development of pre-school ‘fitness’ and physical activity programmes specifically targeted for children under five years old. Such approaches appear to take little account of the international literature over the past 20 years that has highlighted how notions of a rise in obesity to epidemic proportions (perceived or otherwise), and narrowly framed physical activity and nutrition interventions, have resulted in deleterious effects on young people’s sense of self-worth, and the on-going relationship they have with their own and other bodies.
The research presented in this paper focuses on three questions: What is the full extent of the physical activity programmes on offer in ECE and how do these align (or not) with government policies; what does this mean for early childhood educators understandings and practices associated with health; and what is the impact physical activity offerings in centres may have on children under the age of 5? Drawing from our research findings relating to these questions we explore how the complex nexus between health and education policy, the corporatization of early childhood education ‘play’ and physical activity, is beginning to reshape what learning looks like for pre-school children in formalised education settings. We begin by exploring this disconnect between how Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa (Ministry of Education, 1996), the NZ Early Childhood curriculum, promotes holistic notions of wellbeing, and the plethora of health related policies focused narrowly on the ‘education’ of children about physical health. This leads to the examination of how the policy landscape, alongside the neoliberal market-driven approach to the provision of ECE over the last decade has lead to an increase in the number of outside providers offering ‘health’ related programmes as an added extra for ECE centres. Finally we look at the potential ramifications for teaching and learning about bodies, physical activity and health for children under five.
Our theoretically oriented analysis and discussion of the research findings, draws on the work of Ball and Foucault to critically re-examine the reconfiguration of ECE in Aotearoa New Zealand and extend insights into the prospective implications for children’s learning about being ‘healthy’. In so doing, we endeavour to offer new insights to international debates about ‘health’ education, by focusing on the under-researched ECE sector as it, too, becomes dismantled by discourses of healthism, neoliberalism and privatisation.
Burrows, L., & Wright, J. (2007). Prescribing practices: Shaping healthy children in schools. International Journal of Children's Rights, 15, 83-98. Ball, S. (2009). Privatising education, privatising education policy, privatising educational research: Network governance and the ‘competition state’. Journal of Education Policy, 24, 83-89. Lloyd, E., & Penn, H. (Eds.). (2012). Childcare markets. Can they deliver an equitable service? Bristol, UK: The Policy Press Pike, J. & Leahy, D. (2016), “‘The family who eats together stays together’ Governing families, governing health, governing pedagogies”. In Dagkas, S. and Burrows, L. (Eds.), Families, young people, physical activity and health. Critical Perspectives, Routledge, London, pp. 84-95. Shilling, C. (2004). Educating bodies: schooling and the constitution of society. In J. Evans, B. Davies, & J. Wright (Eds.), Body knowledge and control: studies in the sociology of physical education and health (pp. xv-xvii). London: Routledge.
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