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Early Childhood: The Issue missing from the Education Debate (in Australia)

April 7th, 2012

Substantial heat is generated in Australia about child care and parental leave. Whilst there are economic issues involved in respect of the parents, the much more important aspects concern the young child and the future economic and social impact, let alone the impact on the individual. For the most part those issues are being ignored in the debate being held over the last few years in Australia. The situation in the US and in Britain in respect of early childhood and parental leave contrasts with that in much of continental Europe including Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands and in some Asian countries including Singapore where childcare is funded by governments or at least heavily subsidised where parents are unable to afford it.

Australia is lagging in this matter as in many others. The consequences are future significant economic impacts in unemployment and social dislocation. Funding untrained persons to mind the young children of parents enjoying more than reasonably satisfactory economic and social conditions, as is advocated by some politicians, completely ignores all the evidence and is a waste of taxpayers money! Failure to invest in early childhood leads to increased costs later on either in educational expenses or in countering antisocial  behaviour, it leads in many families to poorer educational outcomes and a diminished life not least because of the economic conditions of the parents relating to excessively demanding working conditions often for both parents or no employment at all. The experiences of young girls growing up in those circumstances is visited on the young children they have in adult life. The experiences of young boys influences their passage into adolescence and adulthood.

Early childhood intervention is not child minding but an investment in the future more important than almost any other intervention in education. It must involve qualified early childhood educators. Think of parental leave and the costs of good support in early life, the experiences of urban settings of high rise apartments and the lives of “minority” families which are portrayed time and again in police dramas brought right into our living rooms on our TV screens. Numerous studies demonstrate just how significant the physical, social and economic environments portrayed in these dramas are in producing the tragedies which perpetuate poverty and violence.

Around 50 per cent of the educational achievement of children at school is contributed by what the child brings to school, as Professor John Hattie’s meta-analyses have shown and a substantial part of their subsequent achievement involves the relationships established in the early years of the child’s life.

Study after study in many countries shows extraordinary gains for investment in early child care as well as the critical importance to the child in later life of the relationships developed in the first few years. Yet firm meaningful policies are not put in place in countries such as the US. This would be considered astonishing until one realises that most of those involved in approving the necessary legislation are not directly affected by such policies. They more often find it useful politically to exhort parents to exercise their parental responsibility!

The investment we make in very young children is the most important investment we make!

Continue to the essays Early Childhood: A World of Relationships, Early Childhood: The Nature of Early Experiences and Early Childhood: Critical Relationships with the Mother

Continue to Education: Life’s Choices – Introductory Background


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