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Issue #1843      October 10, 2018

Childproof the future

The federal government’s plan to cut $500 million in funding from the early childhood sector is expected to come under increasing scrutiny in the lead-up to the next federal election.

A recent two-day lobbying blitz in Canberra by early childhood teachers and parents has left federal MPs in no doubt about the need for long-term funding for the sector.

Responsibility for preschool funding is shared between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. However, since 2013, the government has only guaranteed the funding for its share of the scheme for 12 months at a time, creating great uncertainty for the sector, teachers and parents.

Australia already has one of the lowest-funded Early Childhood sectors in the OECD, and now plans outlined in the federal budget to slash nearly $500 million from the early childhood education budget in 2020 put the opportunity for all children to benefit by attending preschool under major doubt.

The Australian Education Union (AEU) took its campaign to secure permanent funding to Canberra in Parliament’s first sitting week after the winter break. Teachers and parents spent time talking to MPs from all parties to explain the value of the 15 hours in providing a solid foundation for later years of schooling.

Early childhood education is a fundamental right for every child, says Martel Menz, the AEU’s federal executive early childhood representative.

The problem is that the government sees early childhood education simply as child care, and as a way to increase workforce participation, says Menz.

“At the heart of it, we’ve got a federal government that doesn’t understand the importance of investing in young children.”

Data proves value

Kindergarten director Danielle Cogley can see the positive results for herself at her kindergarten, which is part of the Box Hill North Primary School campus in Melbourne.

“With 15 hours per week the children become more resilient and confident and we see that effect right through their years at the school. And the results are even more noticeable among children learning English as their second language,” she says.

“We get the time to have more high-quality interactions with the children. We’ve got dedicated teachers and educators who can spend that one-on-one time with them, supporting each child’s needs.”

But parents, preschools and teachers are left frustrated by the funding uncertainty, despite the wealth of evidence from respected researchers – as well as those working in the sector – proving the link between quality early childhood education and improved long-term outcomes.

For David Coulter, principal at Darlington Children’s Centre in Adelaide, the lack of long-term funding can be dispiriting.

“We go through a cycle from about this time of the year onwards as we’re starting to enrol new families, where we’re saying: ‘Yes, we can offer you a preschool program, but we can’t guarantee the exact amount of time’.

“I just don’t know why the government don’t lock it in. My guess is that, in the great scheme of things, it’s not that much money,” Coulter says.

The constant fear that funding will end is stressful for educators and damaging to their wellbeing, says Menz.

It’s also offensive to families, she says. “It’s a political football and the government thinks that parents won’t really understand what’s going on. They’re wrong. All parents care about early childhood education and want to make sure that every child gets the opportunity.”

Next article – Need for independent inquiry into ABC meddling

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