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Let’s clean up Canberra’s early childhood education mess

By Kim Fischer - 8 June 2015 16

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High quality childcare improves learning outcomes for children.

It’s that simple, or at least it should be. Unfortunately, in the ACT, when you have children under four you are forced to navigate a system that is a bit of a mess.

Some parents can’t access childcare places, while others can’t afford them. People are forced to sign up to multiple waiting lists because there is no coordination across providers. And the quality and diversity of activities at childcare centres can vary substantially depending on the provider and the fees paid.

This patchwork of private, community and government providers of childcare is sold to us as “choice,” when in reality parents are often forced to take what they can get.

This isn’t a problem just with the ACT – the other states and territories have similar problems. That is why the implementation of the National Quality Framework in 2012 for childcare providers was an important step in providing more consistent standards of care. It reflects the ongoing evolution of childcare into an early childhood education provider, not just a babysitting service. Many other countries already get it: in Germany and France, kindergarten is available for children from two years old.

In our current childcare system, the focus is on increasing workforce participation by parents. However, according to a 2014 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, there are even greater economic and social benefits for the children who attend a quality education and care program.

This research shows that children who attend early childhood education from age three or earlier have improved academic and social abilities by age six or seven. Kids from vulnerable families see particularly important improvements, with one study showing an increase of 17 per cent in Year 12 graduation rates. As taxpayers we benefit from the higher earnings, lower delinquency, and lower reliance on government assistance programs by these children.

In 2009, the ACT government tried something innovative by opening five Early Childhood School facilities. The goal of these Schools is to provide integrated services and support to families with children aged 0-8.

As well as providing both childcare and formal K-2 schooling on site, the school also provides access to community playgroups, parental education programs, and referrals to health services.

Now that the early childhood schools have operated for six years, a comprehensive study should be undertaken to confirm both societal benefits and ongoing individual achievement. A review of similar Queensland centres that opened in 2006 found they improved developmental, social and behavioural outcomes for children; strengthened families and parenting skills; and achieved better outcomes for vulnerable families.

If we’re serious about improving education for our kids, we need to make it more accessible and more affordable right from the start, particularly for lower income earners.

Some options for achieving this include:

  • guaranteeing access to 15 hours of classes per week for 2 – 4 year olds
  • implementing a means-tested subsidy for children in lower-income families to attend a qualified and certified childcare facility, and
  • centralising waiting lists across care facilities

It’s important to give our children the best start in life. Let’s not wait any longer to start cleaning up the mess.

What’s Your opinion?


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16 Responses to
Let’s clean up Canberra’s early childhood education mess
Battlecat 10:39 pm 10 Jun 15

The argument that taxpayers shouldn’t subsidise education at all up to age three or four, but then at age four it becomes 100% subsidised just doesn’t really add up for me. Same with the misguided idea that early childhood days are not important to a child’s education and it should be just babysitting. That’s been disproved many times over. The benefits to society of educated people far far outweigh the cost to taxpayers. That’s why we provide free schooling. The idea that it should start earlier than the arbitrary 5 year old mark is a sensible one.

devils_advocate 8:49 am 10 Jun 15

Kim Fischer said :

Child care staff are doing an amazing job, and it is a profession that should be better recognised and remunerated…

It is worth remembering that public primary and secondary schools are essentially “free” and it is never a “waste” of money to educate the population…

1) what is amazing about the job they do? Why should it be better remunerated? Why, in comparison to every other profession, is it not sufficient to let the market decide?

2) Education is not a waste of money. However, it is a waste of *public* money when it is simply displacing private expenditure.

Kim Fischer 10:54 pm 09 Jun 15

Thanks for your comments everyone. Just a few points of clarification.

Child care staff are doing an amazing job, and it is a profession that should be better recognised and remunerated. Incorporating early childhood education into the broader education system may help to do this.

Currently you don’t have to attend school until you turn 6, however the 4 year old preschool take up rate is very high (I can’t find the exact stats on it) and I am not proposing any changes to it.

It is worth remembering that public primary and secondary schools are essentially “free” and it is never a “waste” of money to educate the population. This is simply an extension of that system, and one which the linked studies show to have remarkable outcomes.

And for the people who just want safe care for their kids in these early years – I agree with you. I am not suggesting that kids that are two years old take notes in a class room setting, but kids should be exposed to learning through a variety of play activities that are not always found at home. Also, socialisation with a wider group of children helps to develop skills in sharing, cooperation and resilience.

chewy14 8:12 pm 09 Jun 15

devils_advocate said :

Spurious analysis is spurious.
In order to establish a “public good” argument for even more government assistance for early childcare services, it would need to be proved that:
1) on average parents would not put their kids into early care in the absence of a subsidy;
2) in the presence of the subsidy, parents would be more likely to do so;
3) providing a subsidy for specific services doesn’t simply increase the price charged by the service providers by the same amount as the subsidy; and
4) the public benefits cited (less delinquency, higher tax revenues etc) outweigh the direct costs to the public of the subsidy (including the market distortion).
In the absence of this, the above is just a plea for yet more distortionary, public subsidy for people’s private lifestyle choices.

But I want more money so my lifestyle and discretionary income doesn’t change because of my children, so I’ll just ignore the above and say gimmie, gimmie, gimmie.

I remember when they did the economic analysis on the baby bonus and it was costing about $150-$200k per extra baby born due to the financial incentive. Truly money well spent……..

dungfungus 8:03 pm 09 Jun 15

Affirmative Action Man said :

The sector is chronically overregulated which drives up costs. For example a friend of ours who has run her own business & brought up 4 kids went to work in the sector – well of course if she is forced to go & study for a Cert 3 then Cert 4 in Child Care although there is nothing this woman doesn’t know about looking after kids.

Its a scam to make training providers wealthy.

I can tell you that the best childcare we ever had in Canberra was from an unqualified Pakistani woman minding kids in her own home whereas in some of the “Early Learning Centres” we had lazy, incompetent but highly qualified workers looking after our kids.

If you think that is scam wait until the NDIS gets legs.

dungfungus 5:37 pm 09 Jun 15

TuggLife said :

Are you sure about that, dungfungus? Not a penny? Financial assistance to families with children was has been around since 1912. Child Endowment, Basic Family Payment, Family Allowance, Home Child Care Allowance – if you and your family (and your parents, and grandparents) have been in a position to have never accessed the financial assistance available, I envy you.

I don’t know about my parent/s but my first child didn’t arrive until after my second marriage so perhaps I didn’t qualify for any financial assistance by then. My wife eventually gave up work to raise our kids.
My fault for working hard and saving (after taxes paid) I guess.
In those days there were more givers than takers, unlike today.

devils_advocate 4:50 pm 09 Jun 15

Spurious analysis is spurious.
In order to establish a “public good” argument for even more government assistance for early childcare services, it would need to be proved that:
1) on average parents would not put their kids into early care in the absence of a subsidy;
2) in the presence of the subsidy, parents would be more likely to do so;
3) providing a subsidy for specific services doesn’t simply increase the price charged by the service providers by the same amount as the subsidy; and
4) the public benefits cited (less delinquency, higher tax revenues etc) outweigh the direct costs to the public of the subsidy (including the market distortion).
In the absence of this, the above is just a plea for yet more distortionary, public subsidy for people’s private lifestyle choices.

Affirmative Action M 3:23 pm 09 Jun 15

The sector is chronically overregulated which drives up costs. For example a friend of ours who has run her own business & brought up 4 kids went to work in the sector – well of course if she is forced to go & study for a Cert 3 then Cert 4 in Child Care although there is nothing this woman doesn’t know about looking after kids.

Its a scam to make training providers wealthy.

I can tell you that the best childcare we ever had in Canberra was from an unqualified Pakistani woman minding kids in her own home whereas in some of the “Early Learning Centres” we had lazy, incompetent but highly qualified workers looking after our kids.

Tymefor 2:38 pm 09 Jun 15

My wife is pregnant atm. So I’m only just really starting on researching these sort of issues. Guess ive always heard of them. But I was personally raised by a nanny until primary school. so ive never really understood the situation.

So I really don’t get the previous comments. That research that was quoted, both the PWC paper and the study of what’s happening in QLD, are pretty damn conclusive. Also I took only about 10 mins to have a search for some summaries from other countries, and they all pretty much agree with those 2 pieces.

So what’s the issue here? is it just money? or is it another area where research is ignored over cultural norms?

tooltime 12:40 pm 09 Jun 15

Although I benefit from the current system, new parents like me shouldn’t be in other taxpayers wallets having childcare arrangements subsidised. It’s a bit like the negative gearing argument – I’m not breaking any rules, just reacting to government policy which affects the returns on my investment decisions.

If I were more tech savvy, I would have developed an app that registers me on all childcare/early learning services within a pre-defined boundary, and developed comparisons charts about each facility with feedback etc…kinda like comparing AirBNB listings. But it’s no better or worse anywhere else really, just another first world problem to work yourself up over…

TuggLife 12:32 pm 09 Jun 15

Are you sure about that, dungfungus? Not a penny? Financial assistance to families with children was has been around since 1912. Child Endowment, Basic Family Payment, Family Allowance, Home Child Care Allowance – if you and your family (and your parents, and grandparents) have been in a position to have never accessed the financial assistance available, I envy you.

TuggLife 11:40 am 09 Jun 15

I don’t think it’s fair to those working in the sector to call it a ‘mess’. The variety of care available reflects the diversity of families and approaches to parenting. As seen from the previous commenters, it’s imprudent to assume we all want the same things. The NQF has done a wonderful job of ensuring services are up to scratch, and any accredited service is certainly OK. (By the way, it is still being implemented – it’s “from 2012”, not “in 2012”)

I see from OP’s bio that this is a large part of her platform for the ACT election. There are some fundamental misunderstandings about the sector in this post, particularly with funding, and access for lower-income earners, as Child Care Benefit is most definitely means-tested.

A centralised waiting list would be wonderful, but it’s unlikely – OP highlighted the range of providers. OP should also note that the larger services do have centralised lists for their multiple centres already. There is certainly a perception of lengthy waiting lists among new and expecting parents, and I agree that this is brought about by parents themselves, contacting every centre. The ‘baby room’ will always be difficult to access, as the timing of care need is inconsistent, with new places needed throughout the year, but positions mostly available from January (when the preschoolers head to school and children transition up). I am not sure that any of OP’s suggestions will rectify this quirk of planning care.

In my own expereince, I have a strong memory of hauling my daughter around in her capsule to tour our local centres when she was days old, adding her to all the ‘waiting lists’ and trying to make a good impression, when I should have been at home recovering and bonding with her. I could have stayed at home – when it came time for my baby to actually start care, there were places available at quite a few centres that I contacted. Frustrating though the process was, we are so happy with our service. My daughter has formed a strong attachment to the educators there and her confidence has grown.

dungfungus 11:03 am 09 Jun 15

I can remember paying lot’s of money for early child care etc. but I don’t recall getting any subsidy or rebate from any government.
I also don’t recall getting a FHOG or family payments.
It’s time all taxpayer underwritten borrowed money for childcare and family benefits is reined in because it is out of control.
People have to start providing for themselves, living within their means and stop sponging off us (the demographic who paid taxes through the neck for all of our lives).
We are Taxed Enough Already.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 10:43 am 09 Jun 15

There is already a subsidy for childcare, and it’s not means tested.

Personally I’m very happy my childcare arrangements. Our daughter attends a great centre filled with nice, qualified people and has a wonderful time. And the government gives us back about a third of the cost for no real reason.

Affirmative Action M 1:08 pm 08 Jun 15

I disagree – it should be childcare NOT early learning. What used to cost very little is now costing $billions.

I had 3 kids & at Childcare I wanted them to be safe, fed, have their nappies changed & muck around with other kids.

Kindergarten for 2 year olds what a load of rubbish.

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