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  • Low marks for childhood

     

    AUSTRALIA ranks second from last among 20 developed countries in funding vital early childhood education and care, a report has found.

    Skimping on spending now could impact on the social and educational development of Australians later in life, said the report's co-author, Professor Collette Tayler.

    The eight-year study, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education, had found Australia spent only 0.45 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in early care and education.

    Canada was the only OECD country, at 0.3 per cent of GDP, which spent less, while Denmark topped the list with two per cent.

    But the problem was not just a question of training more childcare workers, said Prof Tayler, who is an early childhood researcher at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

    "It's a decision at a community level as to how much access young children should have to early childhood education and care programs,'' she said.

    "In that sense, access to affective programs is, in Australia, among the lowest in the OECD countries.''

    Prof Tayler said only around 24 per cent of children up to three years old and 61 per cent of three to four year-olds had access to accredited early childhood programs.

    But even if the children were lucky enough to get into a program, most staff were ill-trained to help them develop in the way they should.

    "Children gain a great deal from effective early childhood education and care, and if access is relatively low in that country, then fewer children are gaining that benefit before they move into the formal school sector where everybody is required to take part,'' Prof Tayler said.

    The OECD report does not differentiate between a childcare centre, preschool or kindergarten.

    Prof Tayler said just over half the staff in early childcare programs in Australia were not even meeting minimum qualifications.

    But the situation was not expected to improve while qualified teachers opted out of preschool and childcare positions for jobs at schools where they could get higher wages and better conditions.

    The report was launched last month in Italy.

    It has made 10 recommendations, including paid parental leave for women to devote time to their children, particularly in the first year of life.


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