The OECE’s Chief Advisor
The Chief Advisor is Dr Sarah Alexander.
Dr Alexander has a remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge as well as hands-on experience.
Her qualifications include: Ph.D. (Otago)., M.A(hons)., B.A., Higher Dip Teaching, NZ Free Kindergarten Union Dip, and Montessori Dip (dist) London.
She has been involved in early childhood education for a long time – from the early days before the childcare sector came to rely on government funding. She witnessed nga kōhanga reo as a new development; the shift of childcare administration from the Dept of Social Welfare to the Dept of Education; the opening up of kindergarten teacher training at Teachers’ Colleges to daycare workers; and family daycare growing to become an established and popular early childhood service. She has been consulted by many Ministers of Education over several decades. This has all led to her having a unique level of insight and perspective on ECE policy matters that is valuable for our sector to draw on and use.
Dr Alexander was NZ’s first qualified early childhood teacher to have progressed through academic study to doctoral level and be awarded a Ph.D. in ECE. Also, Sarah probably holds the record for NZ’s youngest head teacher of a kindergarten (having her 19th birthday just weeks before taking a head teacher position in Southland).
In the late 1980s/early 1990s Dr Alexander worked on developing a multi-perspective view on quality. She was part of a top international group of experts from around the world, who met several times for up to a week at a time in cities such as Budapest and Seville.
Her other main research areas have included looking at the effects of childcare on children, women combining work and childcare, and developing breastfeeding-friendly ECE services. She also researched the experiences of men in teaching, supporting education for gifted children, and the outcomes of parent education and support programmes. For the NZ Ministry of Education she reported on the implementation of the Before Five (1988) reforms. Specifically she examined quality within diverse services and the impact on services and people of the requirement to develop charters.
Dr Alexander is author of the “Quality Teaching Early Foundations: Best Evidence Synthesis“, commissioned by the NZ Ministry of Education. And, Sarah been on many government on Ministry advisory groups and panels.
At the Wellington College of Education for two years Dr Alexander taught early childhood teacher trainees. At Massey University for six years she taught courses in human development, infants and toddlers in ECE, and educational psychology to students enrolled in various education and non-education degree programmes such as nursing. She wrote and delivered the first Masters degree paper in quality early childhood education.
Then, in 1997 Dr Alexander founded the NZ Early Childhood Research Network. This was followed with the launch of the first issue of the NZ Research in ECE Journal – the first academic ECE fully-reviewed journal to be published in NZ. Between 2008 – 2021 Dr Alexander was the chief executive of ChildForum (with the research network incorporated into ChildForum).
Today, as the OECE’s chief advisor, Dr Alexander is supported by a small team of staff, members and the ECAC. Dr Alexander is hoping to nurture new talent within the next 3 – 5 years to continue to take the OECE forward.
Commitment and Caring
What we see underlying all of Dr Alexander’s work is her commitment to making a difference for children. She brings a strong intellect and deeply caring approach to all that she does.
Some examples of areas of focus include:
- Reporting on cases of child death and serious injuries to create national awareness of safety problems and deficiencies in current regulations. See for example Dr Alexander’s investigative report into an incident involving a young toddler choking on food not recommended to be fed to a child of his age. This report along with a planned release strategy led to significant public awareness of choking on food danger in ECE and changes in regulations.
- Putting the spotlight on Auckland Kindergarten Association through a series of investigative articles and supporting a parent rebellion. This resulted in a halt to the AKA’s planned programme to change all kindergartens to 7-hour-day year-round childcare. It led to an overhaul of the AKA’s management from a for-profit business to a community-based model.
- Requesting transparency from the Ministry of Education in its handling of complaints against ECE services and placing pressure on it through Official Information Act requests and talking with the media. This led to the ministry’s decision to improve its rate of investigation of complaints and to provide annual public complaint reports.
- Building awareness and understanding of gender-bias in ECE. Dr Alexander carried out the first known NZ research study on the experiences of male early childhood teachers. She has done much to encourage men interested in ECE teaching to take up the career. Dr Alexander organised the very first ECE Men’s Summit (which led to the formation of EC-Menz), set up scholarships, and has continued to talk and write on the issue of the inclusion of men and women in teaching and caring for children in ECE.
- Holding NZEI, the teachers’ union, to account for its no-touch policy. Successfully arguing that there was a place for touch in caring for children in early childhood education programmes, which led to NZEI changing its position.
Sarah is a mum of 5 children. She was a middle and long-distance competitive runner in her twenties, and today Sarah continues to enjoy running and has become a fan of hot power yoga.