A recent report has provided details regarding early childhood education in Australia and within developed countries. It has delivered new insight into the efficacy of early childhood education in Australia. The Starting Strong reports commenced in 2001 and provide comparisons of early childhood education systems across the globe. The reports have had a large impact on the development of global early education policies. The reports’ primary finding has been that equitable access to early childhood learning can strengthen the foundations of lifelong learning for all children.
In most countries, more than 90% of five-year-old children already enjoy enrolment in early childhood education programs. The same percentage is true for four-year-old children in two thirds of the 37 developed countries included in the report. The findings of the report in terms of the Australian early childhood education system are listed below.
Australia has an above average segment of children under three years old attending preschool. It also enjoys one of the fastest growth rates in the four-year-old category attending preschool: attendance rates skyrocketed from 53% in 2005 to 85% in 2014. However, we still lag behind the UK, France, Germany and several Scandinavian countries where 95% of four-year-olds attended early childhood education programs. We retain one of the lowest attendance rates of three-year-olds: only 15%.
On a per-child basis, Australia ranks fourth highest of 37 countries in public expenditure on preschool. This is largely driven by lower child to staff ratios. There are fewer than ten children for each teacher in Australia.
The impact of early childhood education on a child’s future is well-documented and extremely positive. Findings of the report identify participation in at least two years of early childhood education as one of the most powerful influences on students’ results at age 15. Australia’s relatively low enrolment rate for this period (four to five years old) is therefore a concern. Other Australian research has examined the benefits of increased access to a second year of preschool for all children in Australia.
Students are more than twice as likely to be low performers in science if they attend less than two years of preschool.
Another metric Australia is lagging behind in is enrolment within disadvantaged social groups. Australia ranks below average on this and is substantially behind New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Switzerland.
Finally, preschool funding is one area where Australia is positioned in a unique segment. 77% of Australian children attend early childhood education in a private, not-for-profit or community-run centre, compared to an average of 32% in other developed countries. In addition to this, Australian families also provide a comparatively high proportion of preschool funding. In almost half of the countries described in the report, 90% or more of funding comes from the Government, while in Australia, 35% comes from families.