A new report from Victoria University has recommended universal preschool be extended to include three-year-old children.
Under the current agreement between the Commonwealth and states, universal access to preschool is offered to four year olds.
Dr Stacey Fox from the University’s Mitchell Institute says other OECD countries had extended preschool and educational outcomes have improved.
“We’ve looked across the international research literature. We’ve spoken to preschool teachers and child development experts in Australia and there’s an overwhelming consensus that two years of preschool gives children the best start,” Dr Fox said.
“All of the evidence shows that two years of high-quality preschool is one of the best ways to amplify children’s learning and development.”
Dr Fox said she could not say how much such a move would cost, but that she believed it could be achieved with a “modest investment”.
“What we’ve suggested is that COAG commission a study into what kind of capacity exists already in our early education and care system and then look at what kinds of additional resources would be needed in terms of workforce and capital investment.
“We think it could be manageable and we think that the long-term benefits of that investment mean that the returns absolutely outweigh the costs.
“It means children are much more ready when they start school, they start school on a much more equal footing, it has flow on impacts to their NAPLAN scores, to their rates of Year 12 graduation.”
Minister welcomes discussion of extra preschool year
Samantha Page from Early Childhood Australia agreed with the recommendation to extend preschool access.
“Children who go to a quality preschool are much more likely to make a successful transition into school,” she said.
“We know that we have nearly a quarter of children starting school at a disadvantage to their peers, that means they’re coming into school behind where their peers are and it’s fairly difficult for those children to catch up.
“In fact most of them don’t and we can correct that by investing more in the preschool years.”
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he welcomed the discussion about extending preschool.
“I’ve been speaking publicly about extending preschool to three year olds for nearly a year. It’s a complex issue in terms of what settings it should be delivered in and for what hours as well as how it is funded,” he said.
“Nonetheless we are looking at international models and will engage with state leaders who have a prime responsibility in the delivery and funding of any preschool expansion.”
Senator Birmingham said the Government’s focus now was trying to pass the savings needed to pay for the planned overhaul of the child care and early education system.
– Julie Doyle