The Review has been asked to consider, and make recommendations on, the most effective interventions to be deployed in early childhood, with a focus on school readiness, improving achievement in schools and future success in employment or further education. (See terms of reference, page 96.) It addresses these vital issues in full awareness of the range of policy goals served by early childhood provision and the efforts across jurisdictions to overcome historical divisions between care-focused and education- focused services.
Senior officials from all states and territories commissioned this Review. It comes at a time when long-term national funding arrangements for early childhood education are uncertain, and significant community discussion and governmental inquiry is occurring on how to improve Australia’s educational performance. Despite funding increases, Australian school students’ performance in national and international assessments has declined in real and relative terms.
The Review finds that quality early childhood education makes a significant contribution to achieving educational excellence in schools. There is growing evidence that participation in quality early childhood education improves school readiness and lifts NAPLAN results and PISA scores. Children who participate in high quality early childhood education are more likely to complete year 12 and are less likely to repeat grades or require additional support. High quality earlychildhood education also has broader impacts; it is linked with higher levels of employment, income and financial security, improved health outcomesand reduced crime. It helps build the skills children will need for the jobs of the future.
Quality early childhood education and care is best considered as an investment, not a cost. Investment in early childhood education provides a strong return, with a variety of studies indicating benefits of 2-4 times the costs. Significant fiscal benefits flow to both the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.
These benefits are greater – often substantially so – for programs targeted at vulnerable or disadvantaged children. Support for these children is vital – children who start school behind their peers stay behind. Quality early childhood education can help stop this from happening, and break the cycle of disadvantage.
A key explanation for these broad and significant benefits lies in neuroscience. A substantial amount of brain development occurs in the years before school. This is the period when children learn to communicate, get along with others and control and adapt their behaviour, emotions and thinking. These skills and behaviours establish the foundations for future life skills and success. They are provided in most, but not all, homes. Quality early childhood education gives all children the best chance of establishing these capabilities. Without these foundations in place, children often struggle in school, and then often go on to become adults who struggle in life.
The benefits of quality early childhood education are widely accepted internationally. The evidence is extensive and consistent. Most comparable countries recognise this, and invest accordingly.
In contrast, Australia is below the OECD average in terms of investment in early childhood education and participation in early childhood education.
It is not surprising that Australia’s school outcomes are of concern – Australia fails to invest early,
and pays for it later.
Australia can and should do more for its children. Early childhood education offers a great opportunity for Australia to lift its game.
Source: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions, 201