23 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Kōhanga reo advised to stay closed under alert level 3

4:52 pm on 23 April 2020

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust is advising all kōhanga reo to remain closed under alert level 3.

Blocks at an early childhood centre

Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

It follows similar action from some mainstream early childhood centres, which have also indicated they will remain closed due to health fears and lack of demand.

In a statement, Trust chief executive Angus Hartley said the risk to the health and wellbeing of whānau was just too high.

"The Trust believes whānau should take an extra precautionary approach and not risk the health and wellbeing of our vulnerable pakeke, kaumātua and mokopuna," he said.

"The advice from the ministries of education and health is not consistent with the risk profile that exists at kōhanga reo. We have surveyed our kōhanga reo whānau and over a third fall into high-risk groups. More than that, nearly 80 percent of our kōhanga reo are telling us they do not feel safe to return to mahi at alert level 3."

He said whānau had every right to feel anxious and concerned.

"Our whānau are right to be concerned given our ageing workforce and other disparities. I want to ensure Kōhanga Reo do not have the opportunity to be a vector of transmission in our communities. The potential cost is just too high," he said.

"Our focus is on ensuring a safe, nurturing environment where mokopuna can flourish. It's difficult to achieve this when kaiako are uncertain and anxious.

"Kōhanga Reo have been engaging their whānau online, via Facebook and over the phone. They are telling us they're prepared to continue distance learning and the Trust is actively encouraging this with our own programme to supplement this mahi."

He said if kōhanga reo do wish to open, they must do so following the health and wellbeing advice from the Ministry of Health.

The Early Childhood Council has also recommended that its centres remain closed.

Associate Minister of Education, Kelvin Davis, said the health and wellbeing concerns of whānau and staff across the board were completely valid, and he supported the the Kōhanga Reo National Trust's move.

"I support their decision. No one knows their situation or what's at risk better than they do so I think good on them. They wouldv'e spoken to their communities, their kaiako, their whanau and they would have made this decision based in the best interests of their staff and their community."

The trust is considering allowing children to attend another Kōhanga Reo, where possible, if theirs decides to close.

Online learning for Kōhanga Reo children will continue.

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