Kids need more preschool education, say experts

East Brunswick kindergarten kids learning about road safety. Photo ELAA Publications.
Experts in early childhood education are warning that Australia risks lagging behind the rest of the world unless more is invested, writes Rebecca Johansen.

If Australia does not recognise the importance of early childhood education it will slip behind the rest of the world, Shane Lucas, CEO of the Early Learning Association Australia has warned.

“The importance of investing in quality learning for children in that year before school is critical for their long term educational outcome.

“Their socialisation and education is disadvantaged if they haven’t had a quality experience prior to starting primary school,” says Lucas, whose organisation represents early childhood education and care providers.

Jo Briskey, director of The Parenthood, an education lobby group representing families and carers, agrees and has criticised the federal budget provision for the sector.

“The Coalition intends to delay their significant investment into early learning and care. Delaying it means it’s harder for families to access it and afford it.

“It is keeping Australia from moving forward and putting us at the back of the pack in terms of our performance in comparison to the rest of the world,” she says.

Briskey says, “Right across the world, most developed countries are now investing in early learning and care, making it more affordable for families while enabling access to more kids.

“They see the benefits in increasing skills and the education of their population. It is one of the best investments government can make in terms to the amount it returns to the economy.”

Lucas has criticised the Coalition’s Jobs for Families package, saying its focus is on benefits for parents going back to work, rather than outcomes for the child.

“It means if you’re not doing a certain amount of hours of work or study every week, then your child’s access to quality early learning would be reduced.

“We think that’s punishing the child for the actions of the parents and particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged families, and we are very concerned about that,” he says.

The Coalition has said it will invest around $40 billion on child care support over the next four years, including an increase of more than $3 billion to implement the Jobs for Families package.

Labor has promised $37.3 billion for the Your Child, Our Future policy, which commits to improving education.

The Greens have pledged to increase access to publicly funded childcare for carers of children who are on low and middle incomes, working or studying.

Advocacy group for young children, Early Childhood Australia, has said “One in three children don’t attend the amount of early learning needed to make a difference in outcomes.”

Lucas said, “It doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to have a happy life or an educational outcome.”

Lucas said children would be in a better position from day one at primary school if they have had a quality early learning experience.

Briskey said, “One of the most important things of early learning is the benefits to kids. The first few years of their life are incredibly important to help set our kids up for the rest of their lives.

“Disadvantage children benefit the most from early learning, but are also the ones to miss out,” she said.

Lucas said, “If we can get disadvantaged children into quality early learning programs from a young age, then their capacity to change their economic and social outcome for themselves as individuals is really significant.

Lucas and Elaa think the jobs for families package is good and would like to see both sides of politics committing to the estimated $3 billion of new investment.

Lucas said, “We would like to see both sides working within the sector to ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged families aren’t further disadvantaged.”

“There is always more capacity to make quality childcare and learning more affordable. We don’t believe that this package is the end of discussion with government about funding,” he said.