Page 296 - Week 01 - Thursday, 12 February 2015

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We all know how important it is to have quality education and care that is accessible, affordable and meets the needs of working families. Here in the ACT we have a high level of female participation in the workforce and a strong demand for education and care for children from birth to school age. We also recognise that the vital importance of early childhood education and care extends far beyond simply supporting their parents’ workforce participation.

As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother I have experienced many facets of early childhood education and care, from total absence while working in a remote area of the Northern Territory to working in the community sector in the Tuggeranong valley in the late 1970s and early 1980s as we set up and developed early childhood services to meet the growing need of nappy valley. Through national and international research, we are becoming more and more aware of how a child’s early experiences impact on its later health, development and educational outcomes.

Historically, the focus of education has been on children over the age of three. Yet we now know that the first three years of life are particularly influential on a child’s developing brain and while physical care of infants is important, so too are the interactions and experiences that will lay the foundations for all aspects of their learning and development. That is why the national early years learning framework recognises children as learners from birth. It is not about teaching children their letters and numbers while they are still in nappies; it is about play-based programs that support children to develop a strong sense of identity, becoming confident, successful learners. It is also about recognising the incredible capacity of young children to actively participate in their learning journey and to have a say in matters that affect their lives.

As a grandmother and a great-grandmother, I am daily reminded of this amazing capacity. It is so exciting to be part of their journey. The ACT has a high number of children using formal early childhood education and care settings, and we owe it to these children and their families and our community as a whole to provide them with opportunities that maximise their potential and develop a foundation for future success. That is why the ACT government has been such a strong supporter of the national quality framework. This historic reform set a new benchmark for quality education and care in Australia. It was based on solid international and national evidence about what elements of service delivery are likely to lead to better outcomes for children.

The Productivity Commission has acknowledged the national quality framework as a driver of improvement in the quality of education and care. Their draft report makes a number of recommendations to improve the regulation of education and care services around the country. At the same time, all Australian governments are reviewing the national quality framework to ensure it is achieving its objectives and to identify any opportunities to streamline requirements for service providers and governments. We should be clear that these regulations are not red tape but a series of robust and well-researched standards to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young children. Regulations provide the framework for structural elements of quality education and care, such as minimum qualifications and educator to child ratios, that directly influence the quality of teaching and learning in the early childhood settings.

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