ECE Participation Programme Evaluation: Delivery of ECE Participation Initiatives Stage 2
This report is from the second stage of an evaluation of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) ECE Participation Programme. The overall evaluation explores how the Participation Programme and individual initiatives addressed barriers to participation in early childhood education (ECE) for target groups and communities. The focus of this report is on how initiatives’ responsiveness to families and participating communities has enabled them to overcome barriers to participation.
Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Patricia Meagher-Lundber, Toia Caulcutt, Maretta Taylor, Sarah Archard, Helena Kara and Vanessa Paki.
Date Published: October 2014
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This report is from the second stage of an evaluation of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) ECE Participation Programme. The overall evaluation explores how the Participation Programme and individual initiatives addressed barriers to participation in early childhood education (ECE) for target groups and communities. The focus of this report is on how initiatives’ responsiveness to families and participating communities has enabled them to overcome barriers to participation. The evaluation is being led by an Evaluation Working Group of Ministry of Education and University of Waikato staff.
In this Stage 2, data was collected from seven sources:
- MOE data on enrolments;
- interviews with MOE staff;
- a survey of all participation initiative providers;
- interviews with providers from a sample of each type of initiative;
- focus group discussions with MOE staff and community representatives in areas in which an Intensive Community Participation Project (ICPP) had started: Kaikohe, Waitakere, Tamaki in Stages 1 and 2, and Hastings in Stage 2 only;
- a survey of families engaged in the initiatives; and
- interviews with families from three of the initiatives: Supported Playgroups (SP), Engaging Priority Families (EPF), Flexible and Responsive Home-based Solutions (FRHB).
Responsiveness to family aspirations and needs
Parental survey and interview data indicates that the initiative families are predominantly of Māori and Pasifika ethnicity, mainly low income, and accessing income assistance, especially the Domestic Purposes Benefits and Family Support. Almost half of the parents surveyed had no school leaving qualifications. On the whole, it appears that the initiatives are reaching the intended families.
Every parent spoke of wanting their child to be happy, to live well, to “have a good life”. Many parents wanted their child to develop in their own unique way according to their strengths. All parents regarded education as a key to a good life. In early childhood education, a common parental aspiration was for their children to learn to interact and communicate with others, make friends, be respectful and considerate. A range of curriculum areas were mentioned as being important in early childhood education, i.e., reading, writing, counting, singing, dancing, and drawing. A main focus was parents wanting their child to be literate and numerate.
Providers with strong community connections used their understanding and local networks to find out about needs and recruit families. It was through discussion and personal relationships that providers found out about aspirations and needs of families, rather than any formal or written information. EPF providers often helped families address basic needs for health, housing, and income support before discussing ECE and what families wanted for their tamariki.
ICPPs address the needs of families by taking a community development approach rather than pre-arranged solutions. These projects have planned innovative new services located where the families live, built networks of collaboration with ECE services, community and government agencies and families, and thereby tailored solutions to family aspirations and needs. Community consultation occurred before new TAP-funded ECE services were established.
Parental satisfaction with ECE provision
The parents whom we surveyed and interviewed were using the initiatives offered and so we did not find out about unmet need from parents not involved in the initiatives. With this proviso, overall, the barriers to ECE participation reported in Stage 1 of cost and personal barriers, such as not knowing how to enrol, were largely being addressed, either through ECE service provision (TAP, SP and FRHB), the provider finding a suitable service (EPF), making public the range of ECE services in a community (ICPP), or supporting a service to become more responsive (ILCCE). Most parents wanted to be geographically close to an ECE service but in some communities they were limited in their choice. This was said to be due to limited provision generally, ECE services with long waiting lists, limited types of ECE services for family needs and requirements, and ECE services which were not responsive to families with high support needs.
From parents’ viewpoints, with the exception of home-based, the initiatives have been successful in matching family needs to provision. Home-based was not the preferred choice for some parents who had wanted a parenting programme for themselves, although it did suit some other families. Providers also spoke of wanting their coordinator to support to parents as well as home-based educators.
Some additional barriers to participation emerged in Stage 2, as well as the prevalent barriers of cost, transport and locally available ECE. Providers and parents said that it was essential to establish trusting relationships with key people in order for parents to feel comfortable in the ‘new’ ECE environment. Parents talked about difficulties they had passing over the care of their children to another person and the importance of trusting that person or feeling comfortable in the ECE environment. All providers talked about relationship building as essential to building trust. SP providers accommodated their playgroups to the needs of different parent groups in order to provide a familiar and therefore safe environment. Building trust was said to take a long time. ICPP publicised ECE services in their communities through play days to help generate understanding and build connections.
Providers reported the high needs of some families as a barrier to participation in ECE, and reported that these needs generally had to be addressed in some way before families could attend ECE services. They noted that it was essential they were able to broker support for families. Providers, particularly EPF providers, said that the intensive nature of the programme and the length of time they worked with families meant they had the time to address families’ needs, often engaging other social services such as Housing New Zealand, WINZ and CYF to deal with things such as housing, finances and social issues. In addition developing a trusting relationship with families helped providers to find out about and so address different issues. ICPP developed and coordinated collaborative networks of ECE services, government and community organisations and families that enabled families to access wider support.
We did not have evidence of whether parents’ aspirations had been met for their children for “a good life” and “to follow their dreams”, but many parents spoke of their child’s happiness at being in ECE. If programmes offered are high quality then we would expect children to develop learning dispositions and in a range of learning areas of importance to parents (e.g., literacy, music). Some SP parents expressed some concerns that could be linked to quality. Seven percent of those surveyed and interviewed wanted a permanent building so that they did not have to pack up every day, could leave children’s work on walls and could help generate a sense of playgroup belonging. They also expressed a need for improved children’s equipment and resources. A few (four parents) recommended that staff be qualified and have better pay, and one also recommended ongoing professional development. Twelve percent of parents recommended transport be provided.
Parental involvement in early learning in ECE
All initiatives support families to enrol their children in ECE in some form, but there is some variability in the extent to which they support engagement with ECE and with children’s learning and development.
As was intended in its design, SP seems to be most effective in encouraging engagement of families. SP families participated in the programme and acted on ideas for activities and resources to use at home. This seemed to happen through the families watching others and being encouraged to participate themselves. SP parents were encouraged to learn not only about their child’s learning and development and the role they could play but also to pursue their own continued learning, such as a playgroup mum who was learning te reo, reading and writing from the SP provider. We did not have an opportunity to assess the quality of advice and support offered.
The engagement of EPF and TAP families with ECE traversed a broad spectrum and was dependent on the people in the ECE service where the child was enrolled, whether the parent brought the child to the service or transport was provided, and the efforts made by EPF providers and ECE services to broker connections. Providing transport might help ensure the child attended ECE, but could hamper parents from being involved if deliberate efforts are not made to invite participation. Some providers were using people (teachers as van drivers) and portfolios to connect families with ECE services that their child attended. However, many of the EPF parents interviewed do not have regular ongoing contact within the centre, and may have only been in the service to enrol their child. They do not engage with the centre on a regular basis.
Most FRHB parents knew their FRHB educator and made connections with home. But there were differences in ways in which these parents were engaged in their child’s learning and development that seemed to be a function of the opportunities offered by coordinators, their relationship with the family, and their professional expertise.
Responding to needs for quality
Quality in ECE from parents’ perspectives can take on very different forms depending on the family and what is important to them at the time. For families, the idea of quality did not necessarily relate to the education of the child, but more to how the provider or service was helping the family.
Overall, the most commonly mentioned feature of quality was the environment. Comments ranged from the appearance of the service, being decorated in bright colours and with examples of children’s work, having indoor and outdoor play areas, to more fundamental concerns as to safety and cleanliness. Feeling welcome, safe and happy were expressed. The second most commonly mentioned feature was the resources and activities. Thirdly, the interpersonal relationships of staff were important features of quality for parents. Teaching and learning—being able to see their children learning and developing from the experiences they were getting through ECE—were important. Additional to this were comments around social skills, learning to play, and adjustments to behaviour and development.
Most providers indicated aspects such as if the child is happy, there is food, and the child is excited about attending as basic indicators of quality that parents would be able to identify. Some talked about qualifications but one warned that sometimes (particularly with EPF and TAP initiatives) going too deep with parents about the intricacies of child development theory hinders the relationship development. Most providers felt that staff needed to be qualified, and have significant experience and understand how to engage with diverse families. This included the type of language used, the warmth of the individual, the approachableness of the staff and a general ability to engage with parents and family from all walks of life. Some providers also indicated that how clean the environment was would be an indicator to look for as well and how new the resources were.
Stage 2 interview questions and parent survey data has only touched on views of quality. The spectrum of understanding around what is quality varies depending upon experience, engagement and individual background and initiative.
Responding to language and culture
Families’ needs regarding responsiveness to language and culture differed significantly across the initiatives. These differences can be described best as a spectrum that reflect their choices of early childhood provision, reveal their ideas and understandings regarding their language and culture, and also echo their perspectives on the importance and inclusion of language and culture in education.
Some families (particularly EPF) were somewhat alienated from their language, culture and identity. Some of these whānau are third generation urban situated and have limited understanding of their extended whānau, hapū and iwi. Provider interviews indicated that many of these whānau have had negative experiences in their own education with regards to language, culture and identity and have taken the position of maintaining language and culture at home rather than in an educational setting.
Parents often chose a playgroup because language and culture were significant to the playgroup context. This factor is particularly prevalent for Pasifika families where language, culture, religion and family connectedness were significant influences on enrolment and participation. Within these playgroups, members were often encouraged and informed of the playgroup through word of mouth from extended family members within their community groups such as church. Extended family group community connections have also influenced their participation and ideas around the importance of education. Within playgroup settings parents also indicated that there is a sense of community that encourages intergenerational relationships. These are significant for both Pasifika and Māori cultural identity. This sense of community identity has, in some settings, developed opportunities for members to grow new relationships and maintain unique cultural values associated with cultural capital.
There were mixed responses with regards to some initiatives’ connections with the home environment and cultural capital of families. Supported playgroups in Pasifika communities have offered the opportunity for families to extend their regular community relationships into early childhood education in a setting that provides a familiar cultural fabric and has enabled these families to engage comfortably. The familiarity of the cultural capital and fabric at home is evident in the playgroup context. This is also reflected in Kaupapa Māori playgroups where a whānau setting where younger and older siblings attending side by side reflected the tuakana–teina reciprocal learning model that reflects their home environment.
Other participation initiatives have had less obvious connectedness between centre and home environments. Provider interviews for the Identity, Language and Culture (ILCC) initiative where centres receive support to be responsive to their community have indicated that there have been improvements in centre understanding as to the importance of culture, language and identity. Providers indicate that centres and their staff have made shifts on the cultural competence continuum that has enabled them collectively to develop a clearer picture of cultural practices.
Home-based initiative provider interviews indicate that they are still developing ideas around cultural competence and how the family home cultural capital can be incorporated into the initiative.
The most successful examples in regards to identity, language and culture suggest that when there is a close connection between the home culture and ECE service culture, families positively echoed a sense of belonging and ownership. This sense of engagement empowers parents to feel they are significant to the service itself and that the cultural fabric of home has a place in early childhood.
Inclusion of community perspectives during set-up and decisions about provision
The MOE valued and drew on community knowledge in designing the Participation Programme initiatives, selecting providers and implementing provision. MOE staff drew on their community knowledge to choose initiatives suitable for particular communities and that matched the needs of families. Supported playgroups work well in engaging with communities, particularly where language and culture are significant values. Two initiatives, ICPP and TAP 3, most lend themselves to finding innovative solutions and being directly responsive to communities since the nature and shape of the initiative is not predetermined. Some MOE staff and providers expressed a strong view that having an ICPP and community planning process in every community would be ideal.
Selection of providers
Providers were selected by the MOE on the basis they were a ‘good fit’ with the community and had capacity to deliver the initiative. Two characteristics of providers helped them to be responsive to the community. One was having related or relevant experience working in the community. This enabled providers to understand family needs, draw on already established family support networks, and hold a good idea of what might work in a particular community and what support systems might need to be put in place. Secondly, having understanding and experience in delivering an initiative was beneficial.
Implementation in a community responsive way
Characteristics of providers and of particular initiatives seemed to help build community networks and responsiveness. Where a provider held more than one initiative, knowledge and resources from one were able to be used in others. EPF had most contact with external agencies and played a brokering role in supporting families. Supported playgroups that were located in a school, church or marae were able to build close links with their wider co-located community. Other providers reinforced the importance of community connection.
ECE enrolments through Initiatives
MOE data shows the enrolments for Māori and Pasifika children and children from low income communities in ECE over the first two years of the programme have increased considerably from the first year. Child enrolments in ECE through initiatives as of December 2012 were 2246 compared with 845 in the first year. The 2012 figure is well on the way of achieving the original aims of the programme for 3500 children to be enrolled in ECE by 2014. As part of the Better Public Services goals, the Government set four actions for the Ministry of Social Development (as lead agency), the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to support vulnerable children in the next three to five years. These included a new target that in 2016, 98% of children starting school will have participated in quality ECE, an increase of 3.3 percent from 2011 (New Zealand Government, 2011). The Ministry of Education has estimated that to achieve this target there is a need to enrol an additional 3,000 children each year until 2016 (this estimate is based on current population projections—actual numbers are subject to change). This is on top of the growth already predicted to take place over the same period.
Enrolments were highest in four initiatives: EPF, SP, ILCCE and TAP.
|Initiative||Enrolments at December 20112||Enrolments at December 2012|
ICPP, FRHB and TAP showed the biggest percentage increase in enrolments, but they had few or no enrolments in 2011. The TAP building projects begun in the first and second years were still to be completed. ILCCE providers work with services that have spare capacity to support them to be more responsive to their communities. It is not possible to link increased enrolments in these services to enrolment of priority families who have not previously attended ECE, since ILCCE providers do not work directly with families. Just over a fifth of EPF families have left the EPF initiative for unknown reasons (20.5%), which matches with higher levels of transience and the level of support needed for these families to engage with ECE. They also have one of the higher rates of leaving for school (6.9%), a reflection of the older ages of the children within the initiative, and that transition to school is part of the initiative design. Just over a third of supported playgroup families left for unknown reasons (34.4%), but across the initiatives they showed higher levels of leaving for school (7.2%) or another ECE service (16.5%), which could be an indication that supported playgroups are bridging a gap to more formalised ECE. The TAP initiatives have a lower rate of leaving for school (2.2%) and a higher rate of leaving for unknown reasons (23.6%).
The total number of Māori ever enrolled in the Participation Programme as at 2012 was 1,979 (51.8% of all enrolments) and Pasifika enrolments numbered 1,615 (42.3%), showing the initiatives are supporting ECE participation for these children. The statistics do not show the percentage of these children who had had prior ECE experience, so the overall levels of participation in ECE for Māori and Pasifika children may be less than these figures would predict.Uptake of Participation Initiatives for 2012 by priority groups is set out in Figure 1 below, indicating that only a very small percentage (4 percent) of children are not from these groups.
Figure 1: Percentages of Priority Groups enrolled in the Participation Programme as at 31 December 2012. Includes all currently enrolled and currently registered children.*
Consistent with their policy intent, EPF initiatives were catering predominantly for 3- and 4 year-olds, while SP and FRHB were catering for younger children as well.
Effectiveness of initiatives in increasing participation
Intensive Community Participation Projects (ICPP) have led to the implementation of Community Action Groups (CAG). These focus on building local capacity with community ownership through the development of community networks which are multiagency but have an interest in families and young children. ICPP providers have in-depth community knowledge, are part of the community focused on, and shared a passion for the need for a better future for their communities.
Engaging Priority Families (EPF). The key factors that make the EPF initiative effective in increasing participation include relationship building; a brokering role in respect to health, housing, and other social services; providers often delivered a range of initiatives or had services to support families; were connected with many ECE services in their communities; acted as go-between for often vulnerable parents with ECE services. Underpinning the work conducted by EPF providers was the ability to form trusting relationships with families with high needs. The intensive nature of the work, with one-on-one home visits by a case worker to families, and the length of time spent working with families provided the opportunity to help families to address underlying issues that were making it difficult for them to engage in ECE. EPF providers negotiated with ECE services minimal or no fees for EPF parents, access where waiting lists were an issue, and addressed other barriers such as provision of food and transport. They worked with services to encourage responsiveness to families with high needs, supporting them to find solutions to families’ issues.
Parents supported by EPF were predominantly Pasifika and Māori with at least one child aged three or four who had not previously attended ECE. Many families had more than one child five years of age and under. Most of the EPF parents had little or no transport, and were on benefits or low incomes. Some of the EPF parents were familiar with multiple agencies including Child Youth and Welfare and Family Start. Some parents had poor educational experiences themselves that have impacted on their ability to engage with resources in their communities.
Many parents struggled with the paperwork required to enrol their children in ECE, and some felt that they would be judged if they walked into a centre to make enquiries. The support of EPF providers was essential in both alleviating social issues prior to them engaging in ECE but also in organising transport, negotiating fees, and introducing parents to a very unfamiliar environment.
Many Māori EPF parents were either disengaged from their culture or felt that language and culture should be passed on in the home rather than in ECE. Caseworkers work with EPF families to look for ECE services where families feel most at ease.
There appeared to be three key issues faced by EPF providers. One was balancing the need in the community with the number of families their contract stipulates they are to engage in ECE. The second was the targeting of one child in each family aged three and over, while the third was the non-responsiveness of some ECE services to the families they worked with.
Supported Playgroups (SP). The key factors that make SP effective in increasing participation include knowledge of and networks within communities, and the ability to fit provision to the needs of the local community, previous experience with Ministry contracts, provision of an environment where families feel safe and connected, support for language, culture and identity, and low or minimum cost of attendance and limited need for transport.
SP families were predominantly Pasifika and Māori, although New Zealand European, Asian and African families also attended supported playgroups. The SP families were generally engaged with their local community and interested in accessing resources available to them. They tended to be aware of what was available or have the ability to enquire about what services were in their area. Those parents who were less engaged in the community, particularly Pasifika families, were introduced to playgroups by family members or friends. Māori whānau appeared to attend because of input from others in their community, or word of mouth.
The close location of SP to families as they carried out daily business was an essential factor in parents finding out about them. Being able to walk to playgroups was important to parents as this made them accessible where transport was an issue.
Parents liked the fact that they could attend with and learn alongside their children. This was very important to those parents who were unwilling to leave their children to be cared for by others. Many parents seemed to have a strong awareness of the benefits of ECE and therefore the impact on their child’s education. In some SP, language, culture and identity were pivotal to participation. This was particularly evident for Māori and Pasifika whānau/families but also for other cultures where English was not a language spoken at home. The recognition of religious beliefs was also important to Pasifika families.
It seems that SP face particular issues impacting on sustainability. These are retention of trained coordinators with experience in ECE; the sustainability of the playgroups once Ministry contracts have finished; and finding appropriate venues with limited funding.
Flexible and Responsive Home-Based (FRHB). One of the strengths of the FRHB initiative is the connections providers have made with other agencies also working with families in their communities and the platform this provides for sharing of information where relevant, supporting recruitment of families and referrals to support families. Another strength is the focus on finding a key person to work in the community, with local knowledge, connections and an understanding of the families they worked with.
Families using the FRHB initiative tend to be looking for care in situations where there are low numbers, and they like the low ratios. The make-up of families varies according to locality. According to a provider, many families preferred the home environment because it gave “connections with their own culture and then that feeling of sense of belonging”. Developing a sense of trust and extended family with the caregiver/educator was important to FRHB parents. It was also important to families that the caregiver/educator lived close to them as transport was usually an issue.
Comments would seem to indicate that the structure of the FRHB model requires further thought. Is this a valuable model or does it require restructuring in order to better meet community needs? The model placed limitations on providers working in low socioeconomic areas. Firstly, levels of take up of FRHB are low. Second, there are issues in finding home environments that meet the required standards and in sourcing funding to upgrade the environments so they meet standards. Another issue is the unwillingness of families to transition to the licensed and certificated model. Pasifika and Māori families in informal arrangements could be unwilling to take payment.
The example of a kindergarten association that used a TAP 3 grant to set up a home-based scheme, with apparent success for educators and families, offers ideas on how MOE could improve the FRHB scheme. The association recruits educators from the target area, puts in its own resources to bring homes up to licensing standards, and supports educators through fee payment and provision of childcare to undertake an eight week (two days per week) training course which results in their obtaining an NZQA Level 3 certificate (to meet licensing requirements).
The FRHB educators are also supported in the home by a qualified teacher coordinator, which is standard across all licenced home-based ECE provision. Additionally, educators are required to bring their children to a playgroup once a week where a qualified teacher takes the programme, modelling and discussing teaching and learning and offering workshops.This model has been subsidised by the kindergarten association while numbers grow and according to the executive officer could not have been sustainable without this support.
It would be useful to find ways for providers to regularly share information, perhaps through technology, so they are able to exchange and discuss ideas and solutions to issues and work on the same page.
Targeted Assistance for Provision (TAP). The key strengths of the TAP providers reflected the intent of the initiative with providers working to build strong relationships with their communities and develop services that reflect the culture and language of their community and connected with families in their communities, encouraging participation by previously non-participating Māori and Pasifika families.
While many TAP families were Māori and Pasifika, families also included those from many other cultures, including refugees. Families often faced social, economic and health related issues, which meant they placed a lower priority on ECE. Many families were unfamiliar with ECE environments and the idea of learning for children prior to school. Other families were interested but unable to afford the cost of their children attending a service. Some families have a history of erratic participation caused by transience. Families heard about services either through word of mouth from other families using services, friends or neighbours, or, through meetings with providers or other agencies in communities.
The key issue facing TAP providers was the length of time they had to wait for either resource consents, or, once these were acquired, building consents from local council. This created uncertainty for providers in terms of their timeframes for opening; and therefore challenges in recruiting families.
Identity Language, Culture and Community Engagement (ILCCE) initiatives are intended to provide identity, language and culture support for clusters of services that have available child spaces in areas of low participation. The intent of ILCCE is to assist ECE services to increase their community responsiveness and so increase the engagement and participation of local families We found that providers supported many ECE service managers to examine and change their fee structures and enrolment requirements where cost presented barriers to participation. The focus was not only on language and culture.
According to providers, ILCCE initiatives supported ECE participation by encouraging the development of a culturally rich community in ECE where people feel welcome. An important attribute was the ‘right person’ to work with services, people with strong connections to the community or local iwi.
ILCCE works for communities where ECE participation is low amongst Māori and Pasifika, and where there has been a reluctance to use existing services. ILCCE aims to improve responsiveness of services through working with teachers/educators and management. It looks at identity, language and culture and how to support services to meet the needs of, in particular, Māori and Pasifika families. In addition ILCCE was said to have supported the removal of cost and transport barriers, with creative policy changes being made to address these as a result of discussions about how to engage families.
The engagement of services in removing barriers to participation indicates that it could be useful to extend this particular form of support to other services in areas of low participation. Feedback from providers of other initiatives, such as EPF, and families has highlighted non-responsiveness of some ECE services as a barrier inhibiting families from attending some services. Centre support with a focus on belonging, welcoming relationships, language culture and identity and on removing cost and access barriers would be beneficial in addressing this.
Participation Programme initiatives generally contributed to increases in participation not only by meeting targets but through the engagement of families. Overall, initiatives are responsive to communities they work within both in regard to looking to remove barriers but also through linking families to ECE environments with which they identify and have a cultural affinity. For SP the involvement of family and the culturally responsive environments were important in participation of predominantly Pasifika and Māori families but also families where English was not their first language. EPF initiatives work to address the needs of families and ensure engagement with suitable and responsive ECE services. TAP initiatives have been and are being developed to respond to the specific needs of communities including cultural, language and identity. ILCCE initiatives have increased service cultural responsiveness to communities in addition to working to address cost and transport barriers to participation. FRHB initiatives have been less successful, but in one community a model has emerged that, through the provider’s ECE umbrella organisation, meets both care-giving and early learning needs of families.
Two main challenges emerge from the findings for practice and policy. The findings highlighted the significance of ECE services connecting with families to generate a sense of belonging, a sense that this is our place, we are welcome here, and our contribution is valued. These have been described as primary focuses for children’s transitions and apply equally to parents; connection between home and the ECE setting enables funds of knowledge and cultural capital to be shared to the benefit of all. Where there is a strong connection between ECE services and families, parents are more likely to remain engaged, and children are more likely to continue to attend ECE. Overall, parents want their children to be educated. Reducing barriers of cost, location and unresponsiveness within services (as the Participation Programme initiatives do) needs to be a common goal across the ECE sector, as these are key enablers for priority families to engage in ECE.
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