Thursday, March 27, 2014

Unwelcome Change

There is a lot going on in Australia at the moment. And much of it has many of us concerned. But can I just share ONE more thing that is dear to my heart?

It is looking more and more likely that we are going to see the end of the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education, an agreement between Federal and State government, that has funded the huge reforms to the Early Childhood sector over the last few years. These reforms have meant that all kids now have access to 15 hours of kindergarten (until last year it was around 10 hours), and that all kindergartens across Australia are being held accountable to a fantastic set of research based standards and practices (the National Quality Framework). A LOT of hard work has gone into these changes. And why?? UNICEF put it very nicely...

      There is consistent and strong evidence which shows that:

·      Brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. When the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected.

·      The effects of early disadvantage on children can be reduced. Early interventions for disadvantaged children lead to improvements in children’s survival, health, growth, and cognitive and social development.

·      Children who receive assistance in their early years achieve more success at school. As adults they have higher employment and earnings, better health, and lower levels of welfare dependence and crime rates than those who don’t have these early opportunities.

·      Efforts to improve early child development are an investment, not a cost. Available cost-benefit ratios of early intervention indicate that for every dollar spent on improving early child development, returns can be on average 4 to 5 times the amount invested, and in some cases, much higher.

The Federal government are putting it out there that they plan to withdraw their portion of the funding that pays for 15 hours of kindergarten. The state governments will be unable/unwilling to cover the gap. 15 hours of kinder will be way too expensive for parents to pay for. We will be forced to cut back the hours of kinder to about 10 hours. The momentum of raising the bar in early childhood will almost certainly be lost.

And look, many of you may be thinking, “we didn’t have 15 hours of kinder when we were kids and we turned out fine". Sure, you did. But chances are you were from a middle class family who were able to provide many other great sources of stimulus apart from kinder. There are many, many kids out there for whom an extra 5 hours a week in a safe, nurturing, stimulating environment might just make all the difference. And kindergarten educators are expert at picking up those kids who might need a little (or a lot) of extra assistance that might make all the difference. And this difference, from a national economic perspective, if nothing else, affects all of us. And this isn’t mere speculation.

I’d love this to become an election issue.