All parties should heed new report in election lead up - shows Australia’s early learning participation rate in bottom third of OECD

A new coalition of early childhood organisations, researchers and parents are warning all parties to get their Early Childhood policies in order for the coming election campaign. They say investing in early learning directly links to increasing Australia’s future prosperity.

The organisations have joined forces to start the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign, to be launched in Brisbane on Friday 6 May, by former Governor General, the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.

To coincide with the launch, the campaign has released a new report The State of Early Learning in Australia Report 2016, which contains new data showing low investment and participation rates of young children in early learning.

“The first five years of every child’s life can unleash a lifetime of potential,” said campaign spokesperson, Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia.

“However, Australia is lagging behind other developed countries in terms of the number of children participating in quality early learning.”

New data in the Report shows that Australia has low participation of three year olds across every state and territory and nationally (66 per cent) compared with the OECD average of 74 percent.

Australia is also in the bottom third of countries ranked by the OECD (27 out of 39 countries) for the participation of three year olds - well behind the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan and Denmark.

 “We are now at a critical juncture – where Australia’s education results are declining, and we must act to ensure more children attend quality early learning, for long enough to amplify their development,” said Ms Page.

We have serious problems that need decisive action:

  • 1 in 3 children don’t attend the amount of early childhood education to make a difference in outcomes [1]
  • 1 in 5 children are developmentally vulnerable when they start school and 2 in 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are developmentally vulnerable[2]
  • The disadvantage gap between poorest and wealthiest children is widening[3] 
  • Our comparable performance in international school education testing at age 15 is declining (in the Programme for International Student Assessment - PISA).[4]

According to research on PISA, the AEDC, and the UK’s Effective Provision of Pre-School and School Education (EPPSE) study the key to turning this around is to ensure that all children have access to high quality early learning.

New analysis in the Report also shows that investment in early childhood education (pre-primary) services is low – below 1% of budget outlays in most Australian states and territories.

“Our future depends on how we invest in our children today, said businesswoman Wendy McCarthy (AO), who serves on the boards of IMF Bentham and Good Start Early Learning.

“We need to change the way we view early learning, and start to value it is an essential contributor to the nation’s economic health and prosperity. Children who get a good start to their schooling can better develop the expertise and skills to become productive members of the workforce and contribute to society.”

A PWC report released in 2015 found that the benefits to GDP from children participating in quality early learning stood at more than $10 billion cumulative to 2050, with increased participation of vulnerable children adding $13.3 billion.

Launching the national campaign in Brisbane, The Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce said:

“We all benefit from children’s participation in quality early learning, and it is at least as important as school education for children’s outcomes and our future prosperity,”

If we want a prosperous, healthy society, lets make sure that every Australian child gets the support they need in those early years, when it can make the most difference, to them and to all of us.

“Investing in quality early learning will create a quality future for all Australians,” concluded Ms Bryce.

Watch the campaign message from Ros Cornish, President of Early Childhood Australia and Director of Lady Gowrie Tasmania.