Ireland joins the three-year-old kindergarten brigade
Australia has some important lessons to learn from Ireland’s decision to offer free or subsidised universal preschool for three to four year olds, according to Goodstart Early Learning advocacy manager John Cherry.
Ireland joins countries including France, Germany, Norway, Israel, New Zealand and the UK in offering the extended kindergarten program.
“Ireland has always taken education seriously, and despite its economic and budget difficulties, has identified as investing in an early start to education as a key priority,” Mr Cherry said.
“Australia has made some great progress expanding access to preschool programs in the year before school, and in ensuring those programs are quality, led by a university-trained early childhood teacher.
“At Goodstart, we now have more than 18,000 children in our preschool programs, and the number of qualified early childhood teachers in our centres has quadrupled to more than 900.
“But while almost all four year olds now attend a preschool program, a third of three year olds do not, often because their parents can’t afford it.”
Countries which have adopted free or subsidised preschool for three to four year olds have reported the growing evidence base that giving children two years of preschool rather than one leads to better educational and life outcomes later on, particularly for disadvantaged children.
Australia is behind the world leaders when it comes to funding early learning. Australia’s children are currently provided with universal access to one year of preschool before children start school, usually at the age of four. This is for 15 hours a week, and is free or subsidised.
In comparison, New Zealand offers 20 hours of free early education for all three years olds in 2007 and has a very high attendance rate. The United Kingdom has a subsidised program for early education for three and four year olds, and this was extended to disadvantaged two year olds recently.
Many other European nations have free or highly subsidised programs for children aged three many years ago.
Goodstart recently hosted leading early learning academics from throughout the world to discuss what should be the key priorities in the crucial three to five year age group.
They reported on a long-running English study of school children which found that even at the age of 16 years, access to two years of quality preschool from age three influenced their Year 10 examination results – the difference between getting 5 Bs and 5 Cs.
Mr Cherry said government investment to make early learning more affordable and to continue reforms to improve quality were crucial steps to giving all children the best possible start in life.
“Australia never likes to lose to the Kiwis, the Brits or the Irish. But when it comes to giving our children a good early start in the global competition for future knowledge based jobs, we are way behind,” he said.
Stacey Fox. policy fellow of the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University comments here: