Since 2013 children across Australia have been attending kindergarten for 15 hours each week. For eight years they have been the beneficiaries of a funding partnership between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments.
These children are now teenagers in their first year of secondary school!
It’s a partnership that has enabled more children to engage in high-quality early learning. It has fostered children’s growth and development with positive outcomes in the immediate and long term. It has also been of benefit to families and society, enabling more people, especially women, to participate in the workforce.
15 hours of universal access to kindergarten (or preschool as it is known elsewhere) has been a terrific success.
This is not just my view or that of the sector. The federal Government’s own report by the Nous Group last year called for continued federal funding and a coordinated approach, regarding universal access a major success.
I see the benefits of 15 hours during my regular visits to Victorian early childhood centres. Teachers and service providers tell me what a difference it has made.
There is more time to engage in deep thinking and learning with children. There is more time to identify developmental needs. There are simply more teaching and learning opportunities throughout the week.
The Victorian government has a strong commitment to early childhood education through our $5 billion investment in three-year-old kindergarten. We recognise all the research, that two years are better than one. We will be the first state or territory government to make this commitment to all three-year-olds.
This initiative is now well underway and will roll out to the whole of Victoria next year with every child receiving at least five hours per week, and by 2029 all children will have access to 15 hours of a kindergarten program. Our youngest learners deserve nothing but the best start.
We have also boosted overall kindergarten funding by 10% through the School Readiness Funding initiative, delivering greater resources to communities most in need, and made kindergarten free this year to support families to recover from the pandemic.
Meanwhile, funding from the Morrison government for four-year-old kindergarten is under threat and runs out at the end of this year.
This is not the first time the Commonwealth government has failed to provide funding certainty. There have been six national partnership agreements following the initial four-year agreement, each time only securing short-term funding extensions for 12 to 18 months.
This uncertainty wreaks havoc with the sector. Staff don’t have job security. Service providers can’t plan for their future viability. And families don’t know what fees they may have to pay or how it will impact their own working arrangements.
But children have the most to lose.
Funding certainty will give our early childhood services the ability to plan and invest in the education of our youngest learners. They deserve nothing less.
We call on the federal government to play their part by giving the sector funding certainty. The time has come for the Morrison government to stop playing politics with this issue. We need an enduring funding commitment that recognises the powerful impact of high-quality kindergarten education.