Early Learning

Early learning is important in determining the sort of life a child has when they grow up. It can help a child learn how to get along with others, how to solve problems and how to make decisions. These are skills that, if learnt early, can make a big difference to that child’s development.
 
We know that early learning works. Children who have enjoyed two years of quality early learning before they go to school will experience much better outcomes over their lives. They get a better start at school, they are more likely to complete high school, and more likely to go on to further education such as university or TAFE. As adults, they are more likely to be in work, they will have higher earning potential and they are less likely to have a criminal record.
 
These benefits are even more significant for children from disadvantaged families. Early learning is a great leveller, preparing them to overcome disadvantage across their lifetime. Unfortunately, these same children are the most likely to miss out on an early learning program just when it can do them the most good.
For every dollar spent on early learning, the return on investment is 2 to 4 dollars
Less than two-thirds of Victorian three-year-olds are attending early learning

The issues

Two years of early learning needed for all children

Two years of early learning have significantly greater impact than one. Currently, there is bipartisan support for funding 15 hours a week for all children at age four, the year before school. However there is no funding for most three-year-olds.

Quality

For early learning to make the most difference, the quality of that education should be high. Currently, it is inconsistent. Children in lower socio-economic areas, who most need quality early learning programs, are much more likely to be missing out. In spite of the considerable effort that has gone into this area in the last decade, there is still work to do in workforce development and providing the best possible learning environments.

Accessibility

There is a consistent link between where a child lives and their outcomes at all stages of education. Our research shows that early learning and child care attendance for three-year-olds in metropolitan areas is at 76%. In regional areas it is only 65%. This is in part due to families living too far from the nearest centre, and a lack of staff available to fill rural and regional positions.

Families across Victoria and Tasmania should be able to access to early learning services on the days that they need, without suffering financially. At the moment, parents and carers face barriers such as:

  • long wait lists,
  • insufficient three-year-old programs and
  • financial cost, which our data shows is a major factor for one in five families who do not send their child to early learning.

The solutions

Fund three-year-old kinder

A universal, fully-funded three-year-old early learning program will give children two years of preparation before starting school. They will be able to make the most of their early learning, at the same time strengthening communities experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability.

Build the workforce, and its capacity

While there are many ways to improve quality in early learning, the most urgent is to increase the number of early learning professionals in the sector and develop the skills of the existing workforce. This can be done through pre-service training and continuous professional development throughout their careers.

To attract and retain new talent, governments need to consider providing more money for early learning. This funding should go towards increasing the current low levels of pay.

Find out more

You can find out more the findings of our research on attitudes to early learning here
You can read the complete report here