Families, business and government all benefit.
One of the most anticipated education reports this year is being considered by ministers in Alice Springs today. The draft review of the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education offers governments an opportunity to make a real impact on their constituents’ lives.
The Nous Group analysis of preschool has turned out an overarching finding for governments: “that to sustain and further build on progress, funding should continue at a minimum of current levels”.
This opens a door of opportunity to governments. They have an independent green light to deliver the secure funding environment that will see higher quality early education delivered across more of Australia.
The review finds that “funding uncertainty’’ around the federal government’s contribution to preschools is a ‘‘real and important’’ issue. It says governments should commit to supporting universal access to preschool and future funding arrangements should ‘‘guarantee funding for a minimum of four or five years’’.
The current funding agreement between the Commonwealth and the States has been renewed annually or biannually for the past seven years. A stronger and longer partnership could improve governments’ ability work together, regardless of election outcomes, to ensure all Australian children have access to early education programs that deliver the biggest returns on investment.
The first ever Australian study into the economic benefits of early education, released this year by The Front Project and PwC, provides a marker on the tangible benefits to children, families, business and government – a 2:1 return.
Not only does investing in early education provide immediate and direct support for children and their families, it makes economic sense. For every dollar invested into universal early education in the year before school, the community receives $2 back – it is an investment opportunity like no other.
Educators, community services and families with children all intimately understand the benefits of early childhood education. Businesses struggling to employ workers with skills to innovate and expand their operations are also throwing support behind initiatives to improve access to early childhood education, noting the long-term benefits in developing creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills.
Peter Coleman, CEO of one of Australia’s largest energy companies, Woodside, has stated that the early years are crucial for building a happy, healthy and productive future workforce. PwC Chief Economist, Jeremy Thorpe, says early learning has a substantial impact on children’s development and benefits increase throughout their lives.
Some things governments can consider to transform children’s outcomes and see the greatest returns on their bottom lines include:
Any fragmenting of responsibilities could mean individual states and territories having to independently navigate the critical and complex early learning system, risking growing inequality across suburbs and state lines.
If we truly want our children and our nation to be more and have more than we had, then ministers should seize the opportunity on their table today, and make this possible.
This article was originally published on The Mandarin. Read the original article.
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.