Early education builds the skills that support national prosperity.
In January I had the opportunity to present at the World Economic Forum where I was part of an education panel with business leaders.
The theme at Davos this year was the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ with a focus on skills of the future. Amongst the many big ideas discussed and the enormous economic and environmental challenges we face, I was heartened to see a spotlight on the early years as a place to mine solutions.
This new age will be influenced by physical, digital and bio technologies that we are yet to fully understand. Therefore, particularly in Australia, it is unlikely we will have a workforce with the skills required to excel in this new era.
21st Century workplaces are already changing rapidly. According to the World Economic Forum it is predicted that in 2030, workers will spend twice as much time solving problems, 77% more time using science and maths skills and 17% more time using verbal communication and interpersonal skills.
For the jobs of tomorrow today’s children will need to be adaptable problem solvers who are great with people. The foundations of these skills are laid in the early years when children’s brains are primed to learn the early fundamentals of critical thinking, problem-solving and good communication. Quality early learning programs actually accelerate the development of these skills and research shows that two years of high quality early education sets children up to thrive.
Most OECD countries offer at least two years of preschool education and have very high participation rates. Australia’s education performance in key areas is lagging behind these countries that have two years of preschool. Currently in Australia we know 1 in 5 children start school developmentally behind their peers, and that gap continues throughout their schooling life and into the workforce.
Our early education sector offers a solution to this problem that can deliver immediate and significant long-term benefits to children, families and the future prosperity of Australia.
For Australian businesses to remain competitive in the global marketplace they will need access to a pool of talent who have the skills to match tomorrow’s jobs, and the resilience to adapt to several careers in a complex and changing environment.