The way we think about early childhood education has changed a lot in a relatively short space of time. It’s amazing to remember that across Australia, guaranteed access to preschool education in the year before school is a very recent initiative. The Universal Access commitment from all Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) was only agreed in 2009. For a long time, education was something that only happened once children started formal primary education.
I was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast event at Parliament House this morning, hosted by Goodstart Early Learning and Early Childhood Australia.
As well as featuring MPs (including the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley), Professor Frank Oberklaid spoke on the importance of investment in public policy aimed at the early years.
As the Founding Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Professor Oberklaid is an expert on the development of young children – particularly their brains.
He made a strong argument for a greater, bipartisan focus on funding investments in early years programs, particularly early childhood education and care.
As all the most recent research tells us, children exposed to vulnerable situations will start life on the back foot – and will most likely never escape that handicap.
Yet the evidence also shows that quality early childhood programs can help to close that gap, at a significantly lesser cost than trying to close it later in life.
I was particularly struck by Professor Oberklaid’s challenge to view investment in the early years as Australia’s “next Snowy Mountain” project. This chimes with my own frustrations on current public policy in the early years, which is more “fiddling around the edges” of existing systems.
It would be incredible to see a bipartisan commitment to undertaking the big reforms that are needed – not to change the odd regulation, or add another bit here, but to fundamentally alter how we support young children and families in Australia.