How quality early learning benefits children, families and our whole society

Families are under increasing pressure both to make ends meet and have quality time to raise their children well. The good news is that quality early learning in early childhood education and care and preschool can be the best support available to parents to help their children be able to succeed at school and in life.

Giving children the opportunity to attend quality early childhood education for at least two days a week helps them to understand and manage their emotions, learn social skills like how to share and take turns as well as how to focus so they are able to handle the structure of the school environment.

Quality early learning for our children makes a quality future for Australia

Studies in Australia and internationally show the significant benefits children experience from attending quality early learning—that improve their success at school, and even later in life.

A recent Australian study found that children who attend a high-quality early learning program in the year before school are up to 40 per cent ahead of their peers by the time they reach Year 3.

A major UK study has been following the progress of 3000 students through early childhood and schooling from the age of three for the last 13 years. The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) research project is a large scale longitudinal study measuring the positive impacts of preschool education on children's educational attainment, progress and development through to adulthood.

The children in the study have just turned 16 and sat for their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The study found that children who attended quality early learning had better grades in English and maths, and had a higher probability of achieving higher grades up to 12 years after they finished the early learning program. The impact was higher when the children spent two years or more in a quality early learning program.

Like previous studies in the US, they also found that attending early learning can help to combat the effects of disadvantage, particularly for students of low qualified parents, especially for boys. For this group, if they had experienced a high-quality early learning program, they had better grades in English and maths compared to similar students who had not attended any preschool.

These improved school learning outcomes are not just beneficial to the students and their families, there are far reaching benefits for the whole of society.

A well known US study called the Highscope Perry Pre-school study found that disadvantaged children who participated in preschool education were more likely to complete school, find higher paying jobs and own their own homes, and less likely to be involved in crime by the time they were 40, than children who did not get the extra support.

Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman's analysis of this study shows a 7 per cent to 10 per cent per year return on investment for each of the participants who received preschool education.

He developed a compelling graph that shows how investing in early learning provides the highest rate of return, when compared with programs for older children and adults.


Our future depends on how we invest in our children today

Heckman says, ‘Our economic future depends on providing the tools for upward mobility and building a highly educated, skilled workforce. Early childhood education is the most efficient way to accomplish these goals’.

All children benefit from early learning but particularly vulnerable children, who experience multiple adversities of poverty, neglect, domestic violence or live with parents with mental illness or drug and alcohol addictions. These are the children who benefit the most from the stability of a safe early learning environment, who are able to get the support they need to understand and manage their emotions and learn good social skills.

In the long run we all benefit because giving these children at least two days of early learning gives them the best possible chance to succeed at school and means that fewer children will disengage, drop out and become low-skilled workers, unemployed or homeless. And we'll see fewer children end up in the welfare and justice systems as adults.

Involvement in quality early learning is therefore one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of disadvantage that many families struggle with through successive generations.

Participating in early learning adds to Australia's future prosperity by increasing our Gross Domestic Product. Research by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that the participation of vulnerable children in quality early learning would add $13.3 billion to our GDP by 2050.


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