As an organisation which works with children living in the most vulnerable circumstances in Australia, Save the Children knows first-hand the difference early years learning can make to their life chances.
This commitment will go some way to address the barriers to access for vulnerable children, and lift the percentage of three year olds in preschool education.
We know that national leadership on this issue is crucial. After the COAG National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education in November 2008, the proportion of children enrolled in 600 hours of preschool rose significantly from 12 per cent in 2008 to 91 per cent in 2015.
However, Australia lags behind internationally when it comes to the number of three-year olds in early education. As the Everyone Benefits campaign has highlighted, only about 68 per cent of three year olds in Australia attend an early learning service.
Research has clearly shown that two years of participation in an early childhood education program rather than one, has a positive influence on children’s development – especially for those experiencing vulnerability.
Save the Children’s Director of Australian Services, Heather Finlayson welcomed the commitment to early years education as an important step forward for Australian children, particularly those most at risk of life-long disadvantage.
“There is nothing more important to a child’s development than those first few years of life,” said Ms. Finlayson.
“We know that nearly a quarter of Australian children arrive at school without the foundational skills they need to thrive.”
“It is distressing and unacceptable that so many children currently miss out on such a life-altering opportunity in a nation like ours. It should be a priority for every government.”
In 2016, the Mitchell Institute called for two years of early education, including for Australia to provide a universal 3 year old preschool program. Indeed, their report Preschool – Two years are better than one, confirmed that “disadvantaged children benefit the most” – with greater impacts of cognitive and social and emotional outcomes.
“It’s critical for us to address the barriers to accessing early childhood education for families and children who may be doing it tough,” said Ms. Finlayson.
“Save the Children welcomes this commitment from Labor and hopes to see a greater contribution from all Australian governments to early years learning in the future – particularly for vulnerable Australian children.”
For organisations like Save the Children, who work in early education and development in remote and regional areas, it can be tough to find and retain quality teachers – leaving children at risk of being further left behind.
“We need to better recognise the fundamental role that quality educators play in educating the next generation,” said Ms. Finlayson.
“The opportunity for a child to engage in play-based learning, with a qualified educator, can be the difference between a productive, happy life and a life-time of dependence and disadvantage.”
“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in particular, we must also work to improve access to quality early learning services that strengthen their connection to community and culture. This will contribute to their growth and learning and improve long term developmental outcomes.”
Save the Children has been supporting education for children in Australia since the 1950s and remains committed to giving all children the best start in life and successful transition to school. We run Play2Learn supported playgroups in more than 200 places across Australia, to improve early childhood development, parenting support for children’s development and connection to community for the families that attend.
For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918