Morrison’s preschool neglect leaves Aussie kids behind

The Morrison government’s refusal to guarantee ongoing funding beyond 2020 for two years of preschool for all Australian children means that our Early Childhood Education (ECE) sector receives little more than half the funding provided by other OECD countries to their preschools.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2019 report has shown that while countries including Sweden, Iceland and Norway all spend at least one per cent of GDP on ECE, Australia has been left languishing at only 0.57%.

And with ECE funding averaging 0.8% of GDP across the OECD, this leaves Australia sitting behind 16 other countries when it comes to early childhood education funding, including Portugal, Latvia, Hungary and Slovenia.

Australian Education Union Federal president Correna Haythorpe said the Morrison government’s refusal to guarantee funding for early childhood education for more than twelve months at a time, and failure to provide funding for three-year-old children, was extremely short-sighted and would cost Australia dearly in years to come.

“These latest OECD figures show that Australia is already lagging behind much of the rest of the world when it comes to funding early childhood education,” Ms Haythorpe said. “Australia is just one of eleven OECD nations which do not provide two years of early childhood education.

“Scott Morrison’s failure to guarantee ongoing funding for two years of preschool for every three and four-year-old child makes absolutely no sense. Two years of early child education is fast becoming the global standard,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“In addition, the Morrison government’s refusal to guarantee funding for any sort of early childhood education past July 2020 means that our ECE sector will continue to fall further and further behind.”

According to the OECD report, about two-thirds of children in OECD countries who are enrolled in pre-primary education attend publicly-funded institutions. However in several countries, including Australia, at least 70% of children attend privately funded ECE. 

Ms Haythorpe said that Australia needs a strong preschool sector to complement its existing strong public school system. The Morrison government’s failure to properly fund preschools places Australia squarely in the bottom third of the OECD rankings for both three- and four-year-old enrolments.

According to the report:

•    Only 67% of three-year-old children in Australia are enrolled in ECE, far behind the OECD average of 79%.
•    Only 86% of four-year-olds are enrolled, again lower than the OECD average of 88%.
•    Australia’s lack of investment in permanent ECE funding shows in that it has been unable to improve 3-5 year enrolment at even the OECD average. From 2010-2017, Australia’s enrolment rate improved from 74% to 84% of 3-5 year olds, still lagging the OECD average of 87% (up from 82% in 2010).
•    Australia is years behind in terms of enrolment growth compared to the top OECD countries, all of whom have enrolment rates above 90%.

“The benefits of a structured early childhood education program for our children are compelling and proven,” Ms Haythorpe said. “The skills and abilities children develop in preschool lead to stronger academic performance through school, a greater likelihood of undertaking further education.

“Preschool also improves cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, and is important in providing a strong foundation for learning,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“In addition, a recent analysis showed that for every dollar invested in early childhood education Australia receives two dollars back through higher tax revenues, higher wages and productivity and lower spending on welfare and criminal justice. Investing in ECE just makes good sense.”

Ms Haythorpe said that funding fifteen hours per week of preschool for three and four-year-old children would also provide certainty for parents and enable future workforce planning for teachers and other ECE professionals.

“It’s time for the Morrison government to make this commitment for our children and families,” Ms Haythorpe said. “Guaranteed funding for our early learning sector is a critically important investment in the future of our children.”