Sharing the power of preschooling

THIS year, my boy started attending the local preschool. For 15 hours each week preschool is available to all children starting school the following year as part of the public school system in the ACT.

It’s just as you would imagine, a lovely little preschool with lots of paints, a cubby house, book library, sandpit and…his favourite, Lego! We are thrilled to see him run off to preschool each time and come home with a smile on his face.  

I’m a big fan of the publicly-funded preschool system in the ACT because it is in stark contrast to our experience to living in Sydney where the year before school is very much a user-pays model.

Most children in Sydney I know continue to attend their daycare centre and do their preschool program there until they start school, the added drawcard is the longer hours of operation to allow working parents to, well, work. And that’s a great help!

Where we lived in Sydney, our local preschool charged about $140 a  week (for 2.5 days of short school hours), so preschool was far from publicly funded.

Daycare is brutally expensive, even with subsidies, and I know a lot of people looking forward to all their kids attending fee-free public school; they dream of buying a first home with the extra cash or start to make a dent in their mortgages.

Most if not all of the mum’s wages goes to pay daycare fees, especially those with more than one child. It’s a bit depressing but the experts can tell you for a fact that having early learning or preschool for two years before starting school sets children up for the best transition into the school system.  

Although it was emotional to let go and send my two to preschool (let alone surviving those first winters where they caught every bug known to man), I have been impressed by my children’s ability to learn new skills and knowledge at such young ages, as well as being genuinely cared for and loved by their teachers.

It’s certainly not “just” babysitting. Their play-based explorations have extended them in ways we have been blown away by. Their (biased, I know) grandparents characterise our kids and their friends as being far more sophisticated, engaged and switched on than when my generation was tiny!  

Early learning, daycare or preschool – whatever you call it – is certainly an educative experience that is important for all children. I believe it is a right.   

More than 80 per cent of a child’s brain has developed before children start formal schooling and the greatest window of opportunity is between 3-5 years of age.

That’s why the Early Learning and Care Council is lobbying both sides of politics to support their “Launch into Learning” campaign to allow two years of government funded preschooling to all children.

The council says, right now, one in five children in Australia start school developmentally behind their peers, but attending preschool can reduce that.

With the user-pays model so prevalent, these kids tend to be those whose families do not have financial means to pay. This disadvantage follows them throughout their schooling.

An OECD study in 2016 revealed that 15-year-old children who attended more than one year of preschool were associated with a 33-point gain in test scores, equivalent to an extra year of schooling. Other studies indicate that disadvantaged children benefit the most from an extra year of preschooling before school.

It’s great to know that the ACT leads the charge on this issue with last year’s announcement to move to introduce universal preschool for three-year-olds, starting with supporting the most disadvantaged kids in our community.  

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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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