Early education is one of the smartest investments we can make to boost Australia’s prospects – 90 per cent of brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life. The evidence is there – we know that attendance at pre-school has a significant positive impact on a student’s NAPLAN results.
In 2008, before Labor introduced universal access funding for preschool and kindergarten, just 12 per cent of Australian children received 15 hours or more of quality education in the year before school. In 2012 that figure had risen to over 56 per cent.
Labor introduced the Universal Access program so children across Australia can access 15 hours of quality preschool education in the year before school, with preschool enrolments climbing to 90.9 per cent nationally since the program’s inception.
Australian studies show children who attended preschool or kindergarten go on to score significantly better in Year 3 NAPLAN tests. This is also backed up by international research that shows Australian students with one year of pre-primary education achieve more highly in Year 4 reading, maths and science.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Abbott-Turnbull Government is determined to keep a shadow of uncertainty over the future of preschool and kindergarten funding. Before the election he promised not to cut education then took an entire year to make the decision to keep preschool and kindergarten funding going for just another 12 months. A 12 month extension to preschool and kindergarten funding only means more uncertainty for families and services. This decision has left families and services in limbo for months by failing to commit to any future funding.
The Productivity Commission made clear recommendations in its draft report that the federal government must continue funding preschool. Instead, the Government is asking states and territories to increase the number of services they fund but is providing no extra money.
Without guaranteed funding now and in the future, preschool and kindergarten services will be left to make tough decisions about their viability. If services reduce hours or close, parents will be in the lurch looking for alternative early childhood education and care and it will have huge future costs if our children are not getting the early education they need.
Even Liberal states have deserted Christopher Pyne and joined Labor’s fight for children to have access to 15 hours of quality preschool in the year before school.
The Coalition Government needs to come clean and tell families, preschools and kindergartens the truth about their failure to fund this essential program. If they walk away from their responsibilities, it will cost our education system and our economy a lot more in the long run; leaving Australian children to slip between the cracks.
Labor is determined to continue the fight in order to avoid a return to the situation we had under the Howard Government - where just 1 in 10 Australian children has access to 15 hours of preschool per week.