Considering the challenges and opportunities which confront the Australian ECEC sector through a systems change approach, this research explores the concept of system stewardship and how its application could benefit the ECEC system.
Australia has a proud history of ECEC and has lifted participation and quality through significant reform over the past 15 years. Across Australia, the ECEC system fulfills three critical imperatives:
- contributing to the developmental and educational outcomes of Australian children
- offering opportunities for increased social equity by reducing the impact of disadvantage, and at the same time
- contributing to workforce participation outcomes for Australian parents – in particular, mothers
The significant role that ECEC plays in improving the social determinants of health in contemporary Australian society is well documented. However, the Australian ECEC system faces many challenges. Access to and participation in quality ECEC is unequal, contributing to widening social inequity where some children experience greater disadvantage. This is reflective of unequal geographic and demographic provision, issues of affordability and family choice in a non-compulsory sector. The ECEC workforce is also experiencing low retention and workforce shortages which are impeding quality and placing stress on the system.
Drawing on peer-reviewed literature, international and intersectoral case studies, as well as more than 40 consultations spanning experts and leaders across systems thinking, public administration and ECEC, this report examines the current challenges and significant opportunities which confront the Australian ECEC sector. Considering these challenges and opportunities through a systems change approach, this research explores the concept of system stewardship and how its application could benefit the ECEC system.