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.
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.
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.
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.