An edited version of this article appeared as Get Smart About Early Learning in the Whitehorse Leader, Monday 3 September 2018, pg 12.
I am a proud, hardworking and dedicated early childhood teacher and like many of my early childhood education colleagues, I am advocating for ongoing commitment from governments, to invest in our nation’s youngest children who are beginning their learning and life journey; children who are not yet able to advocate for themselves; children who need and deserve our advocacy and investment in them.
I know I am not alone. I know every other person who works in early childhood education, along with parents, families and communities are looking to our State and Federal governments to make an ongoing commitment to our children – our country’s future.
While there are numerous aspects of the early childhood education sector that require ongoing commitment and investment, the issues our kindergarten has been particularly focused on recently is the matter of Universal Access 15hrs for children in the year before school entry and funding for Three Year Old Kindergarten.
Every single year our sector of education finds itself lobbying and debating with governments to make an ongoing commitment to 15hrs of kindergarten for children in their year before school. Yes, every year!
Currently, kindergarten funding for 15hrs per week, per child, is funded by the State (10hrs) and Federal (5hrs) Government. Every year there is uncertainty around the funding and whether the 15hrs per week, per child will be sustained. Every year kindergarten teachers and educators wonder and worry about their job security, families are unsure about hours of service and kindergarten management groups guess projected operational budgets and fees because ongoing funding is not confirmed.
Additionally, there is no denying the beneﬁts of two years of preschool education before school entry. This is now clearly and unquestionably well understood here and internationally.
The 2018 Lifting our Game Report, commissioned by all Australian State and Territory governments, identiﬁed that two years of preschool education should be a matter of policy and funding priority for governments. The Report identified that two years of preschool education sets children up for academic and cognitive success, as well as enhancing social and emotional development to ensure children arrive at school ready to thrive. The Report further identified that preschool education contributes to improve employment prospects, health and wellbeing, and social outcomes such as reduced reliance on social services and less interaction with the justice system. Early education is an investment with broad-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
Neuroscience confirms that genes provide the initial map for brain development, and a child’s brain development, (‘wiring’) occurs during the first years of life. This effectively programs the child’s development trajectory.
At age three, a child has around 1000 trillion brain connections or synapses, by adolescence brain synapses is around 500 trillion, and this number remains relatively stable into adulthood. This pruning of brain synapses indicates the significant impact quality early years experiences plays in shaping a young brain. It’s the experiences and relationships that a child encounters that develops their brains, building neural circuits. It is essential that children are not denied quality early childhood education experiences and that governments commit their investment in this.
I am both saddened and frustrated how significantly behind Australia is when it comes to providing three year-old preschool and I am exhausted and disappointed with the annual work our sector needs to engage in, to defend ongoing funding for Universal Access 15hrs.
Economist, James Heckman, reports that the most effective time to invest in education, to deliver the greatest return on investment, is at the early learning stage — before children start school:
“Early education prevents achievement gaps, it boosts school achievement, presents better health outcomes, improves our workforce, increases our productivity and reduces the need for costly social spending.” (Heckman, J. 2012)
Australia needs to catch up to the global early learning revolution. Around the world, countries are investing in early childhood education because it is the most effective way to drive wellbeing and prosperity. Sadly Australia is lagging behind. Too many children are starting school developmentally vulnerable and at risk. We know how to change this. Internationally, 68.6% of children in OECD countries participate in three year-old preschool education, compared to Victoria’s 25%. (OECD, 2017)
As part of our kindergarten’s advocacy work we recently welcomed Julia Banks, Federal Member for Chisholm (pictured left, with the author) to visit the kindergarten, as part of Australia’s first ever Early Learning Matters Week.
For the first time and in the same week early childhood services from every state and territory invited their local federal politicians to visit and experience quality early learning and to hear from educators and parents Why Early Learning Matters.
During her visit to Pope Road Kindergarten, Ms. Banks, participated in a group time where the children and teachers shared an engaging conversation, initiated by the children, about the lands of the world once all being connected. Ms. Banks witnessed the respectful relationships between children and teachers and the competence of young children in a quality space of learning.
It’s time for Australia to increase our investment into early learning. It matters for our children, and it matters for our community into the future.
Director/Teacher/Educational Leader – Pope Road Kindergarten, Blackburn VIC
OECD (2017) report, Education at a glance 2017: OECD indicators, retrieved from http://www.everyonebenefits.org.au/why_australian_three_year_olds_miss_out
Heckman, J. J. (2012). Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy. Retrieved from: https://heckmanequation.org/assets/2013/07/F_HeckmanDeficitPieceCUSTOM_Generic_052714-3-1.pdf