3 July 2022

Billions of early childhood education funds 'fabulous', but concerns raised over reality of plans

| Albert McKnight
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The NSW Government has announced $5.8 billion to introduce universal pre-Kindergarten for all children. Photo: Pambula Preschool website.

Billions of dollars to start a pre-Kindergarten year of education has been announced, along with more funding aimed to save parents money when sending their children to preschool.

However, concerns have been raised on the Far South Coast about what the new structure will look like in reality and how preschool educators appear to have been left out.

The 2022/23 NSW Budget will set aside $5.8 billion over 10 years to introduce universal pre-Kindergarten for all children in NSW by 2030, along with $1.4 billion promised over four years to ease cost of living pressures for families.

Bermagui Preschool director Narelle Myers said such recognition of the importance of early childhood education was “fabulous”.

However, she raised some concerns over the announcements such as a need for clarity over infrastructure issues surrounding establishing a pre-Kindy year of education.

She said if it meant constructing preschools on primary school sites buildings would have to be tailored for the under five-year-olds, as demountables would not meet their specific needs. In addition many standing preschool buildings needed repairs due to longterm lack of funding.

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Ms Myers also said it was “really critical” to retain the play-based focus of the early childhood education curriculum because that was the way under five-year-olds learned best.

She said there was a fear in the industry the new structure would lead to a “push-down effect” in NAPLAN-style assessments and that they would take place earlier, in preschool.

“There is a concern about what the programming will look like for children,” she said.

The $1.4 billion investment will mean families will be eligible for $4000 per year in fee relief for three to five-year-olds attending a community or mobile preschool, as well as $2000 a year in fee relief for four and five-year-olds at preschool in a long day care setting.

While Ms Myers said this was “fabulous again”, there was a concern some private centres could increase their fees which would absorb the money and allow their shareholders and private operators to maximise the funding. This was “not what it is intended for” and would still result in childcare being expensive.

This round of funding will also mean families can have five days a fortnight of affordable preschool fee relief.

But Ms Myers said many four to five-year-olds were not up for preschool this often, nor were a lot of parents as childhood was a “very short and beautiful time of life”.

Lastly, but most importantly, she said the funding announcements did not address increasing the pay of preschool staff.

According to Ms Myers early childhood educators could be paid up to 20 per cent below what primary school teachers received, while diploma and Certificate III staff were among the lowest-paid awards.

The pay was “really low” compared to other industries with the same responsibilities and there were staff shortages.

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NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the $5.8 billion investment in families was on a scale never seen before in Australia.

“This is incredible reform that will change lives and deliver enormous educational benefits for children across the state, securing a brighter future for NSW families,” he said.

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said providing the best education started in the early years.

“Universal pre-Kindergarten will give every child in NSW access to a specialised year of play-based learning, smoothing their transition to school and solidifying their path to a brighter future,” she said.

“A significant body of research shows that children who participate in quality preschool programs have improved lifelong educational, social and economic outcomes.”

The NSW Government said it would consult with families, peak bodies and service providers to create the best model for the pre-Kindergarten year.

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