Early childhood still the missing chapter
Early intervention works. That is the basic message of the GAP Taskforce on Early Childhood, backed up by countless studies around the world.
With most of a human’s brain development occurring in their first five years, influencing brain development early on is the most effective way to positively impact later education and life outcomes.
Influences can be positive – from parents through home learning, and from a stimulating early learning environment. But, influences can also be negative – toxic stress from a difficult home environment and other pressures inflicted on a young developing child.
What we know is that the first five years have a very long term impact. AEDI research shows that children who start school developmentally vulnerable are twice as likely not to meet minimum reading and numeracy NAPLAN standards in years three, five and seven.
These children too often never catch up, having never learn the basic skills needed to be able to learn. These are the core skills that early learning is all about – communication, self-regulation, socialisation and cognitive reasoning.
That is why early intervention works. Children who attend early learning are a third less likely to start school developmentally vulnerable, and perform better right throughout their schooling.
So why is early learning still regarded as the ‘poor cousin’ to the rest of the education sector? Why is early childhood the missing chapter in the Gonski education funding blueprint? Why is per-child funding for early learning a fraction of what is spent on schools?
The GAP Taskforce identifies that we need to build the evidence base, and to do that location by location. We need to be responsive to the needs and capacities of local communities and the families that live in them.
There needs to be better integration of the multiple services needed to support child development. These are all sensible suggestions. Let us hope that policy makers are listening.
Goodstart Early Learning is in its sixth year of operation as a not-for-profit social enterprise, managing a network of 645 early learning centres across Australia.
About a third of our services are in low socio economic communities, and we know that children and their families in those communities often need more help, as do the educators working with them every day. We are working to deliver that over time, increasing our investment in professional development and social inclusion programs.
Children from the most disadvantaged families benefit most from access to early learning, but are the least likely to attend. That is something governments need to change. The Federal Government’s Jobs for Families Package could make a big difference in making access to early learning more affordable, particularly if it is amended to give those children access to at least 15 hours of early learning each week.
The 60 per cent increase in child safety net program funding (albeit from a low base) included in the legislation will also help.
Governments at all levels need to work harder at removing the barriers to participation in early learning, whether it be affordability, or lack of places, transport, parental attitudes, lack of individualised support - or whatever reason.
After all, governments stand to benefit enormously over the longer run from more children starting school ready to learn. PWC has estimated the longer term benefit to the economy at more than $13 billion, much of that accruing to Government in reduced welfare and increased tax revenue.
Early intervention works. So let’s all work harder on interventions to make it happen.
National Advocacy Manager, Goodstart Early Learning
(John Cherry is the National Advocacy Manager for Goodstart Early Learning, Australia’s largest early learning provider with 645 centres throughout the country. The not-for-profit social enterprise exists purely to improve the lives of Australia’s children and their families